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A Typical 1950s Small Town...

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A Typical 1950s Small Town...
Posted by Tracklayer on Monday, March 24, 2014 7:25 AM

Hi gang. I was just thinking about the little town on my layout and what I might add to it to make it appear more realistic. The thing is no two towns are exactly the same and where as one might only have the most basic businesses and so forth another might have that and a whole lot more. Right now I have a station/depot, a hotel, a corner market, a post office, a dry goods store, a cafe, a barber shop, a fire house, a Gulf gas station, a school and a Baptist church with a cemetary next to it as well as several houses. There's also a lumber mill up on the side of the mountain. Anyone else out there have a small 1950s era town with just the basic businesses ?.

Tracklayer

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Posted by slammin on Monday, March 24, 2014 7:39 AM
Unless your town is in a dry county, you need a bar.
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Posted by IRONROOSTER on Monday, March 24, 2014 7:45 AM

Also a movie theater.

Enjoy

Paul

If you're having fun, you're doing it the right way.
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Posted by wjstix on Monday, March 24, 2014 7:57 AM

The smaller the town, the less likely they'd be to have a hotel. You could have a bar on the ground floor of the hotel perhaps?? Many hotels had good bar & grills.

Sometimes the small details can trip you up. For example, 60 years ago octagonal STOP signs were yellow with black letters, and mailboxes were Olive Drab.

Don't forget the flag for the post office.

p.s. The white letters on green background road signs didn't come along until the later 1960's. Each community and state had it's own design; where I lived, streetsigns were cast metal with raised letters. They were painted white, with the letters painted dark blue.

Stix
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Posted by mbinsewi on Monday, March 24, 2014 8:00 AM

I guess location would have a lot to do with what might be in a small town, but riding my bike around the small town I grew up in, in SE. WI., There was a lumber yard, which also had coal silos that were used. An oil dealer with heating oil, kerosene, etc., the biggest factory in town at the time was a stainless steel tube and pipe manufacturer, the next biggest was a milk products (powdered milk, later on, baby formula, and dryed dairy products used by other food manufacturers), a co-op and a feed mill, two farm equipment dealers (John Deere, and an independent) and repair shops, and on the downtown "square" was a hardware store, two grocery stores, one had a great butcher shop, an independent butcher shop, a "dime store", a drug store with soda fountain, a movie house, two insurance offices, a couple of lawyers, one jewelery store, two general merchandise stores, like mens and womens cloths, housewares, etc., an electrician's store which sold lamps, parts, radio tubes, radios, and later tv's.  A bakery, two banks, 4 taverns, two doctor and two dentist offices, and small manufacturer that made parts for Parker Pens, a couple of car dealerships and repair shops, one was a Pontiac dealer, the other was an independent that also fixed trucks.

That about all that comes to mind, besides the schools.  There were a couple of plumbers shops, and a small contractor's office.

Is that a start?

Mike.

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Posted by cowman on Monday, March 24, 2014 8:44 AM

As Mike mentions, location has a lot to do with what businesses would be there.

If your set in a somewhat rural area, a feed dealer.  Often, I think because of trackside location, they also were coal dealers.  Whether your coal dealer was part of the feed operation or seperate, in the 50's many coal dealers were adding fuel oil tanks or new dealerships were coming in.  A feed dealer might also have a line of farm equipment.

A diner was often found near the tracks, especially if crews might frequent it on break or for lunch.

Depending on the size of the town, two gas stations was not uncommon or one service station that had gas pumps and repairs, then a general store that had a set of pumps out front.  Auto repair shops without pumps were also common.  Small town newspaper, bookstore, bank, auto parts store (Western Auto), furniture store, bakery, auto dealership, 5 & 10 cent store (Woolworth, Fishmans) and upstairs over some of the store fronts were dentists, doctors, lawyers as well as other offices.

Just going over some memories.

Good luck,

Richard

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Monday, March 24, 2014 8:54 AM

I've got a few of those, too.  I've also got a movie theater, a cigar store (complete with a wooden Native American), a hair salon, bicycle shop, train shop and a few restaurants.

One business, though, stands out as an emblem of the era - Woolworths.

It's an older DPM kit, as I recall.  I found a picture of the sign online and printed that and the awning.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by cedarwoodron on Monday, March 24, 2014 9:07 AM

Don't forget the American Legion or VFW post where the locals gather! Every small town I ever travelled thru had at least one!

Cedarwoodron

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Posted by dknelson on Monday, March 24, 2014 10:30 AM

A hotel, maybe not, but a place with rooms to let, very likely, generally above a store or bar.   Back in those days doctors and dentists and even some types of retail occupied the second floors of various buildings.  

A bank.  Maybe two.  

Pharmacy, probably not a chain.  

In my small town that I grew up in there were, curiously, two jewelers and two funeral parlors.   An Ice and Coal company that by the 50s was mostly coal, maybe exclusively coal.  

A florist shop.  Library.  Masonic lodge.  Radio/TV repair.  Also typewriter repair!   And a tiny tiny place hardly wider than the door -- shoe repair.  With a coke machine outside which is probably where the shoe guy made his real money.  You could smell the shoe repair place half a block away, even when you were near the fish shop.  

There were barber shops but interestingly, the ladies hairdresser shops mostly seemed to be in residential homes for some reason.  And back then residential areas often had really tiny stores, grocery stores but very marginal.  And some doctors practiced out of their houses back then too.  

Dave Nelson

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Posted by DSchmitt on Monday, March 24, 2014 12:10 PM

wjstix
Sometimes the small details can trip you up. For example, 60 years ago octagonal STOP signs were yellow with black letters

 

The 1954 revision to the 1948 Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devises changed the required "STOP" sign colors from yellow with black lettering to red with black lettering. The switch to red signs was probably fairly rapid in populated areas and along Highways even in rural areas. The MUTCD is a nation wide set of standards agreed to and adopted by Highway officals from the various States. In many places the introduction of red signs would pre-date the adioptopn of the standard.

 

I was born in 1947 and remember only red signs.  Probably because I didn't pay attention earlier. I was really supprised when I saw a yellow stop sign at the intersection of two very rural un-paved county roads in between Paso Robles and Shandon California around 1960. The sign was really old, but suprisingly in good condition.  It had the American Automoble Association logo on  it, which means it was installed prior to when State and local goverments took over signing in California.  In many areas of the country road signing was origionally done by the triple "A".  I don't know when that ended,

I tried to sell my two cents worth, but no one would give me a plug nickel for it.

I don't have a leg to stand on.

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Posted by dstarr on Monday, March 24, 2014 1:02 PM

Lot of very small New England towns would have a very large brick mill building, especially on a waterpower site.  Maybe three stories high, rail service, nice brickwork, sometimes a mansard slate roof.  Framingham, where I grew up, had three, the Dennison Paper Company (stationary and labels) , the Roxbury Carpet Company, and a GM assembly plant.  Even if your town is small, you could have one quite large mill. 

   Also typical, a war memorial (often Civil War) in the very center of town.  Hotels, not so much.  Motels were new in the 50's, but there were a lot of 'em.  There were also the older "tourist cabins" a bunch of tiny little separate dwellings with a larger office/proprieter's residence in the center.   Highway center strips were white in the fifties, the yellow was just coming in.  A single white stripe, the dashed line with a no passing stripe wasn't common until the '60s.  Traffic lights were a single four way lamp, hanging from a cable over the center of the intersection.   A town office building,  often next door to the post office.   No zip code on the post office.  Bright red Coke machines at gas stations, motels.  Often a stack of wooden coke bottle crates piled near the Coke machine to collect the empty bottles.  And every small town had a town library.  And a school.  Even quite small towns would have a big two story brick, flat roof, school.  With a bike rack.  And not much parking. 

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Monday, March 24, 2014 4:18 PM

wjstix

 

Sometimes the small details can trip you up. For example, 60 years ago octagonal STOP signs were yellow with black letters, and mailboxes were Olive Drab.

 

 

Not all STOP signs were yellow back then, it varied from State to State in those days.

Sheldon

    

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Posted by tgindy on Monday, March 24, 2014 4:34 PM

CR&T is circa 1956 for a few reasons:

1st -- Conemaugh Poster Advertising likes "I Like Ike" billboards.

2nd -- Pennsylvania Railroad was fully-dieselized only in 1957.

3rd -- 1956 has motive-power flexibility of traction - steam - diesel.

Also see How to Model Railroads of the 1950s, and TOFC like PRR's TrucTrain before double-stacks came into play with a team-track unloading platform.

Conemaugh Road & Traction circa 1956

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Posted by BRAKIE on Monday, March 24, 2014 4:54 PM

tgindy
TOFC like PRR's TrucTrain before double-stacks came into play with a team-track unloading platform.

Actually PRR called them "piggyback" terminals instead of team track-a catchy advertisement name.

The trailers was loaded/unloaded circus style then in the 60s a oversize heavy duty type forklift did the loading/unloading.. 

Larry

Conductor.

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Posted by tomikawaTT on Monday, March 24, 2014 5:00 PM

In the 1950s, if the only church in town was Baptist, the town was probably located south of the Ohio River and east of the Rockies.  Growing up in Da Bronx, I never even heard the word Baptist until I got well out of the area.

Another thing that said 'small town' in the grain growing regions was an old-style wooden grain elevator - either one with added corrugated steel storage silos (frequently Co-Op) or two or three lined up in a row.

Chuck (Modeling Central Japan in September, 1964 - rice warehouse, pagoda, no churches)

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Posted by Tracklayer on Monday, March 24, 2014 6:56 PM

Many thanks for your replies guys. However, I failed to mention that the town and area I model is a small rural community out in the western part of the US around northern New Mexico / Nevada. I also left out the bank from my list of businesses. One of the suggestions that I really like is the addition of a movie theater as well as a few other small mom and pop businesses like a shoe repair place and possibly a drug store. I may also replace the Baptist church with a Catholic church but that could cause a stir with my family who are mostly Baptist... Anyways, thanks again!.

Tracklayer

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Monday, March 24, 2014 7:29 PM

Visitors to my layout have to do a bit of looking to find my shoe repair shop.  I put it in a basement beneath a City Classics structure, the Grant Street Building:

At night, the Miniatronics sign shows when Mr. Liebowitz is working late.

Your shoes will be ready Tuesday.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by jmbjmb on Monday, March 24, 2014 10:55 PM

Many things have already been mentioned.  I'm doing a small town in the Carolina piedmont.  Many of these were focused on a single large industry -- the cotton mill.  With the typical lumber yard, oil, farm supply, and coal, though often by the 50s, the coal dealer was combined with the lumberyard or farm supply.

For business, gas stations (even the tiny town I grew up in had Gulf, two Texaco, Esso, Phillips, American, Atlantic, and Pure, with several of these really being pumps added to general stores (kind of a 50s precourser to today's gas marts).

In the town proper, grocery, drug store, barber shop, cafe, Post Office.  Banks would be in a little larger town, as would theater.

One thought is to keep key store names common to the location and era.  For example, for your NM region, I'm thinking Shamrock, Sinclair, would be more indicative of the location than Gulf which was common in the south.

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Posted by JAMES MOON on Monday, March 24, 2014 11:41 PM

Grew up in a small midwest town in the 1950's served by the C&NW switching with steam power until about 1954 and the FtD, D & S RR running electric freight engines that looked ancient even in the 1950's.  Town had a small wooden depot painted grey.  We had passenger service in the early 50's on FtD,D&SRailroads interurban service. Railroads serviced a bulk oil dealer, a lumber yard and two feed mills.  Also, the only big industry was a John Deere plant that opened about 1950 and had several rail spurs.  Local businesses included a printer, a combination grocery and bakery, doctor's office and a dentist located behind the post office in the same building, a Ford dealer and later a Chevy dealer.  Texaco and Conoco gas stations.  Very small and old movie theater.  Drug store with soda fountain.  Local bank.  An auto parts store.  Couple of barber shops located in the front of people's homes on the main street.  Also had a local frozen meat locker slaughtering business but not on rail access.  Small towns all had at least one school building and one to four churches in the 50's.  During the 1950's a pickle factory located on the edge of my neighborhood and had rail access but don't remember them using rail shipments for anything.

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Posted by azrail on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 1:46 AM

If it was New Mexico it would always be a Catholic Church. And the town would have a Safeway (in the 50s most of their stores were in the downtown areas.), a Chevron/Standard station, a Conoco station, and a Blake's Lotaburger stand.

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Posted by davidmurray on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 10:48 AM

I grew up in a town of about 1500 in S. Ontario in the fifties.  Houselots were bigger, and families were larger, so lots of kids play unsupervised putside.

To Dstarr, I would suggest that most the GM plants were most likely to be making parts.  A car Assembly plant has since the 1930 employed a thousand or more. and in the 50s that meant men.  They went in a city.

 

Dave M

David Murray from Oshawa, Ontario Canada
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Posted by BATMAN on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 3:27 PM

If you wanted to do something a little different, how about a Quonset movie theatre. This was our local theatre I went to for the Saturday matenee's. It was built in the 1950's and from what I was told, was an surplus Airforce Aircraft hanger. Lot's of war surplus stuff made its way into the community after the war and this is a good example.

Brent

It's not the age honey, it's the mileage.

https://www.youtube.com/user/BATTRAIN1/videos 

You can never ever out-train poor nutrition.

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Posted by dstarr on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 3:49 PM

The Framingham GM plant was an assembly plant.  I got a tour of it when I was about 9.  It had the moving assembly line.  We watched them start out with just a couple of frame rails and finish up by driving a new car off the line and out to the storage lot.  And yes, it was a big place.  A fair number of my friend's dads worked there.  GM kept it going into the 1980's, they invested some serious money in the '80s to upgrade the pollution controls in the paint shop.  I forget just when GM finally closed it, 1990's probably.   It was a sheet metal Butler building kinda place, no classic brick mill.  Framingham was fairly large town, compared to say Littleton NH. 

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Posted by wrumbel on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 3:55 PM

Batman

That looks like our local bowling alley.  They later added onto the front and the roof changed but if you went around back it was like the back half of your theater.

Wayne

 

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Posted by Tracklayer on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 10:53 PM

Late last night, it dawned on me that the little desert community in the classic movie Bad Day At Black Rock which was supposed to be set in the period just after World War Two only had a train depot, hotel, cafe, sheriff's office/jail, gas station and undertakers office. Talk about a boring place to live... The most excitement that went on there was when the train went through but it never stopped except for the day it did to let Spincer Tracy off to investigate the murder of his Japanese friend's father.

Tracklayer

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Posted by West Coast S on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 11:51 AM

Not the fiftes, but the twenties in Southern Ca, several oil derricks would not be out of place, very few had any connection with railroads, pipelines being in vogue even then, Atlantic Richfield and Union Oil Of California gas/service stations, just about every town had a Union Ice, some used rail service, can't forget about the local A&W and in citrus country when one tired of the local eatery/watering hole (often catering to local cuisine) we had the giant orange juce stands. Industries were interconnected and all required rail service, citrus packing houses, canning, shook/lumber, fuel-smudge oil for my prototype, concrete was the in thing for road pavement.

Dave

SP the way it was in S scale
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Posted by Southwest Chief on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 1:47 PM

I model the 50s in both G scale and HO...and O scale too.  Take a look at the link in my signature for photos.

The outdoor G scale layout has a section that is somewhat based on northern New Mexico (Dulce) in the late 40s to early 1950s.  It's a very small town with a depot, general store (with a Conoco pump), Catholic church with small cemetery, and two adobe residences.  The livestock pen is probably the busiest place in town.

Some photos (note the depot in the middle photo was replaced by the one in the 1st and 2nd photos):

Matt from Anaheim, CA and Bayfield, CO
Click Here for my model train photo website

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Posted by tomkat-13 on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 1:48 PM
I model MKT & CB&Q in Missouri. A MUST SEE LINK: Great photographs from glassplate negatives of St Louis 1914-1917!!!! http://www.usgennet.org/usa/mo/county/stlouis/kempland/glassplate.htm Boeing Employee RR Club-St Louis http://www.berrc-stl.com/
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Posted by peahrens on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 2:31 PM

My grandon's layout includes a grocery, gas station, school and KFC.  A church is to be added.

Paul

Modeling HO with a transition era UP bent

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Posted by softail86mark on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 6:03 PM

How about a military base? Could be offline, but maybe the front gate where the tracks go in. New Mexico you say? Nevada? Skunk Works or Roswell? Many combinations come to mind...

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