An American Flyer Tale for Christmas - 2017 Edition

5 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    January, 2008
  • From: Wausau Wisconsin
  • 1,429 posts
An American Flyer Tale for Christmas - 2017 Edition
Posted by Northwoods Flyer on Monday, January 01, 2018 11:30 PM
An American Flyer Tale for Christmas
2017 Edition
Adam had been looking forward to this train show for months.  It was only held twice per year so he had plenty of time to anticipate it.  He had been making lists of things that he was looking for so that he could do some repair work on the projects he had been collecting at home.  Occasionally one of his co-workers or a neighbor would bring over a box of old trains that “had been in the family for years”, wondering if he could fix it and get it running again.  The pace always picked up around the holidays; everyone wanted their trains to be running under the tree for Christmas.  Most of the projects were simple and very quickly he would have things working just like they used to.  So today he knew what he was looking for and he pretty much knew which vendors would have what he needed.
Both of the boys had come with him again; as they did to most of the train shows over the years.  He felt very lucky that at their ages they still enjoyed the hobby with him.  Of course they had other things that took up their time and drew their interest like sports, and music, and electronics and video games; but it pleased him that when he was tinkering in the train room or running their collection of trains at least one of them would come in and spend time with him.  Years ago he and his wife had decided to buy them a Polar Express set for Christmas.  They watched the movie together as a family at least once during the Christmas season every year since the boys were very young.  It had become a family tradition.  Adam smiled to himself as he remembered that first Christmas with the 1225 running under the tree.  Each year since that time they had added a car, track, switches or some accessory to their Polar Express collection.  Each time they came to the train show Adam looked for parts to do repairs, or scenic material for the layout, or some piece of American Flyer equipment to add to his personal collection while the boys went off to find the best deal on a new addition to the Polar Express.  This year they were looking for the Elf handcar.
After several hours Adam had covered all of the show once and was working his way around for the second time.  He had found all the things on his list, including several boxed S-gauge cars to add to his collection. The boys had checked in with him and reported what they had seen and were frustrated that they hadn’t found a handcar yet.  However, he knew where he had seen one and sent them off to check on it.
Adam walked to the concession stand and bought himself a very expensive cup of coffee.  He reminded himself once again to make a mental note that he should bring a thermos filled with coffee with him the next time. He walked back to an area near the center of the show where there were a number of benches clustered together.  He chose one of the empty benches, sat down with his bags at his feet, and began his second favorite thing about going to the train show – people watching.
The show wasn’t overly crowded, but there was a steady flow of people moving up and down the rows from vendor to vendor.  Many of the folks carried bags through which he could see the orange and blue of Lionel boxes.  He felt pretty satisfied that if anyone was looking they would be able to see the blue and yellow of vintage American Flyer boxes from the A.C. Gilbert Company through the thin plastic of one of his bags.  It was fascinating to watch how each of the shoppers approached their hunt differently.  Some were fast, barely stopping at a table to glance over its contents before moving on.  Others seemed to examine every item, and every price tag on the table.  A few walked several tables away and would pull out what Adam assumed was their “wanted list” or a price guide and check it over.
He hadn’t been watching very long when one particular shopper caught his attention.  He was a nicely dressed older gentleman.  He had snow white hair and a well trimmed beard. “Oh no.” thought Adam, “I bet he gets teased a lot about being Santa Claus.”  The man moved slowly from table to table, looking carefully at what each table held, almost as if he was looking for something specific. Then he would take a step back to see what was in the boxes on the floor under each table.  The other thing that drew Adam’s attention was the walking stick that the man was using that added to the Santa look.  It was at least 5 feet tall and as the man drew closer he could see a pattern carved into the stick that looked like railroad tracks winding their way up the length of the stick.  Near the head of the stick were two letters made out of what looked like brass inlaid into the wood of the stick and surrounded by a carved shield.  Adam could not quite make out what letters they were.
The white haired man reached the vendor’s table directly across from the bench where Adam was sitting.  He looked at all of the items on the table and then spotted something in a box underneath the table.  He squatted down and pulled the box out.  From what Adam could see it looked like a collection of 3 rail tinplate track.  The man examined each piece and carefully put it back in the box before sliding it back under the table.  With the help of his walking stick he stood up to his full height again and stared down at the box for what seemed like several minutes.  The man turned around and looked at the cluster of benches where Adam was sitting.  He walked over to Adam’s bench and sat down.  His eyes were focused on the box under the table and he seemed to be deep in thought.  Adam noticed the brass letters inlaid in the head of the walking stick were A.F.
Eventually the man nodded his head with determination as if he had made an important decision.  At about the same time he noticed that Adam was sitting on the same bench. “Good Grief, where are my manners?  I didn’t realize that this bench was taken.” said the gentleman. “Oh it isn’t.” replied Adam. “There is plenty of room.”  The gentleman reached out his hand and said “My name is Bill.” Adam shook his hand and said “Nice to meet you. I’m Adam.”  They exchanged a few more pleasantries about the weather, and the size of the crowd when Bill said; “I haven’t been here for several years.  There was a time when I never missed a show.”
Adam replied; “My boys and I try to come to every one. I’m always looking for American Flyer trains.”
Bill’s eyes seemed to twinkle a bit. “Two rail Flyer or three?”
“Oh, I’m an S-gauge guy; two rails for me.  It’s what I grew up with.  My Dad had S-gauge trains that we set up every year at Christmas when I was a kid and I’ve kept up the tradition. He gave me his trains when our first child was born and I’ve tried to grow the empire over the years.”
Bill smiled. “Up until a year ago I had a very large collection of American Flyer Pre War trains.  It’s the stuff they call Chicago Flyer because it was made in Chicago before Gilbert took over the company and moved it out east.  Somewhere in the move he lost a rail though.”
They both chuckled. “I noticed that you were looking at a box of track over at that table.  Is that 3 rail American Flyer track?” asked Adam.
Bill replied “Yup, it’s some pretty old stuff too, but in decent shape”
“You said that you had a large collection of Pre War Flyer, Bill.  What happened to it?”
“Well several years ago my wife and I decided it was time to downsize and move into a smaller place that was easier to take care of.  We made the decision that it was time to pass on the trains that I had collected over more years than I care to tell you to other collectors.  I figured that there were others that would enjoy them and take care of them.  I never thought of myself as really being their owner.  I saw myself as being their caretaker for as long as they were in my possession.  Other people owned them before I did so I was just one of their caretakers until someone else took up the job.  Boy did I have fun with those trains too!  It took a long time to get everything organized and ready for the auction, but once we made the decision to sell I put all of my energy into getting them ready to go to their new custodians.”
Adam thought for a moment and then asked; “Don’t you miss your trains?”
“Well, maybe just a little bit.” replied Bill, “But I kept one.  Back when I was a little tyke my Dad bought me my first train.  It was a streamlined grey steam engine and tender, and it had 3 cars; a sand car, a Bordens Milk car and a caboose. Later I learned that it was set #1716 from 1937.  We set it up every Christmas as soon as the tree was up and decorated. And it stayed up on the living room floor until Valentine’s Day.  It was a tradition in our family.  Every year Santa or some relative would give me a new car or track or switches, or an accessory.  It was all American Flyer O gauge.  Once they stopped making O gauge and switched to your S gauge we had to start buying trains that were used.  It never bothered me though.  I just kept on collecting American Flyer O gauge equipment.  I think I had the most American Flyer O gauge trains in a 3 state area.  In fact among the friends that I made over the years that are train collectors I got to be known as Mr. American Flyer.  In fact one of my buddies carved this walking stick for me and put the A.F. in the American Flyer shield.”
Adam asked, “So what brought you to the show today?”
Bill chuckled, “Well, when we sold off the collection I inadvertently sold all of my track too.  So I came today looking for some track so I can set it up around our Christmas tree in our apartment and run my old train.  We have to keep traditions going you know.  That box over there has 10 curves, 4 straights, and 2 turnouts.  With that amount of track I should be able to build quite a railroad empire.  Its labeled as a junk box and the vendor wants $5 for it.  He has no idea what Mr. American Flyer can accomplish with that much track.”
Adam wished Bill good luck and Merry Christmas as he stood up and headed back to the vendor’s table.  He watched as Bill took the box out from under the table and pulled a $5 bill from his wallet.   Bill tucked his prize under his arm and with a broad grin he walked back to the bench where Adam sat.  “See you at the next show.”  Adam smiled and saluted Bill as he headed for the exit.  He noticed that there was a little bit of a spring in Bill’s gait.
As Adam sat watching Bill walk away his two boys came charging up breathlessly. “Dad we got it.” they said almost in unison.  With obvious pride and excitement they held out their newly purchased Polar Express Elf handcar. “Come on Dad, let’s take it home and run it on the layout.”  “It’s the tradition.”  As they were walking to their car one of the boys asked, “Hey Dad, who was that guy we saw you talking to?”  Adam smiled, “His name is Bill.  He’s known as Mr. American Flyer.  I’ll introduce you to him at the next show.  He is a true Titan of Tinplate”
The Track
Bill's Train
American Flyer Set #1716 from 1937                 
 Pennsylvania Freight 
Enjoying the World's Greatest Hobby
Northwoods Flyer
                                                                    Merry Christmas

The Northwoods Flyer Collection


American Flyer Trains

"The Toy For the Boy"

  • Member since
    January, 2012
  • 234 posts
Posted by rrswede on Tuesday, January 02, 2018 1:24 PM

A belated Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you, Northwoods.

I have enjoyed your previous American Flyer Christmas Tales and was looking forward to your 2017 tale. Thank you very much.


  • Member since
    August, 2010
  • From: Henrico, VA
  • 8,873 posts
Posted by Firelock76 on Tuesday, January 02, 2018 6:58 PM

Great story, and thanks for posting it!

  • Member since
    March, 2004
  • 857 posts
Posted by mersenne6 on Tuesday, January 02, 2018 8:12 PM

Sorry - posted to wrong thread.
  • Member since
    January, 2010
  • From: Bayville NJ
  • 1,019 posts
Posted by AF53 on Saturday, January 06, 2018 9:47 AM

Awesome as usual.


Bayville, NJ


Life is what happens to you
While you're busy making other plans - John Lennon

  • Member since
    January, 2014
  • 175 posts
Posted by thesiding on Saturday, January 06, 2018 12:51 PM
Nice Tale Some nice stuff was made by prewar flyer

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community


Get the Classic Toy Trains newsletter delivered to your inbox twice a month