First Posted: 3/18/2013
“All aboard American Flyers trains to Chicago, Illinois and all points west. Boarrrrd.”
Visitors to Roger Beatty’s house in Exeter are likely to do a double take when they hear that announcement coming from his basement.
If the amplification distorts the voice just enough to make the bulletin sound like it’s coming from a 1950s train station — that’s perfect — because it is.
The model station, with miniature turntable inside, is part of the backdrop on the 140-square-foot model railroad world in Beatty’s basement.
Though Beatty’s model railroad hobby predates even his talking train station, the latest set up isn’t his creation. It was designed and built by his 17-year-old grandson Jim Quinnin, who put his grandfather’s model railroading hobby back on track in more ways than one.
“I pretty much grew up in this house and I’ve been with trains my whole life,” Quinnin said.
Quinnin is the son of Beatty’s daughter, Berdena. They live in West Pittston. Berdina said her son got started with Thomas the Tank, a toy train spun off from children’s books and a TV series.
Quinnin said from the time he can remember he watched, listened, helped and learned from his grandfather as he built his layouts each year, but it was always understood the layout was his grandfather’s.
“Then he said he was too old,” Quinnin said, “and didn’t do it for maybe three years and then I decided I wanted to do it.”
Beatty, 70, gave him the go ahead. “He was always interested. James wants to know everything,” Beatty said.
A junior at Wyoming Area High School, Quinnin started with an empty floor during Christmas break from school. He estimates he put in 70 hours of work before he declared his railroad open for business last month.
He put up trestles and bridges, raised one platform to create a tunnel and laid track. He placed switches, lights and a farm siding where cattle and milk cans are loaded and unloaded. He set up a coal loader and water tanks and 29 buildings to create a city, small town, rail yard, motel and trailer park and underlaid 200 wires to power it all.
The railroad can run five trains at once.
If model railroading is an unusual hobby for a 17-year-old in the digital age, Quinnin can’t explain why he likes it, he just does. “I don’t know, really. I guess it’s because I grew up with it.”
Beatty said his grandson’s love for the hobby is evident in the result. “He made it bigger and better. He out-performed me.”
Quite a performance, considering Beatty has 60 years of model railroading experience. Growing up, Beatty lived in Wyoming with his grandfather, Emery Supey and his Uncle Tom Supey, a mine foreman. “My Uncle Tom got us started on American Flyer,” Beatty said referring to himself and his cousin Tom Supey Jr. who is also a model railroader, and like his father, a miner. Supey is the superintendent of the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour and Beatty is the hoist operator.
“My uncle had the set up behind a curtain,” Beatty said. “He said we couldn’t see it until Christmas Eve. We’d sprint in the house when we knew he was working on the trains. He was under the platform and fell asleep because he was working in a mine all day and then he came home and was putting trains up for me and his son. He built wooden trestles and had the train go up and around the tree and then down and under it. All handmade trestles. It was unique.”
When Beatty and his mother moved out of his grandfather’s house in the 1960s, Beatty got his first train. “I started out with Lionel, but couldn’t stand that middle rail, third rail. It didn’t have choo-choo sound and I wanted more pull power, so I traded that Lionel in and got an American Flyer 1964 4-8-4 Challenger, its biggest locomotive.” (The numbers refer to the wheel configurations.)
Beatty prefers American Flyers over Lionel for another reason. They smell better. “The AF has a unique smell to the smoke like a pine scent.”
Beatty’s collection grew incrementally over the years as he bought engines at train shows and shops and through mail order. “I started with one train, then two trains, then I didn’t have a diesel and got a diesel. I kept adding on over years.”
Today, Beatty has 30 to 40 American Flyer diesels and locomotives, the earliest a Royal Blue Steamer from the 1940s. He also has Atlantic, Pacific, Great Northern and Southern Pacific diesels and the Frontiersman, a model of a steam train familiar in old Western movies.
His favorite is a Delaware and Hudson diesel which he painted himself, changing it from its original Santa Fe red and silver to blue and silver after D & H bought four Santa Fe ALCO (American Locomotive Company) diesels in 1967.
Beatty’s latest acquisition is a 2-8-8-2 locomotive. With exquisite detail on the drive rods, chug sound and a talking engineer, it has a value of $1,000.