by Clem Clement
This story has some truth to it. Look for it.
Back in 1933 the Century of Progress World’s Fair was going on in Chicago. Among the many exhibits therein was that of American Flyer with their trains. After all, who better to represent toy manufacturers at the World’s Fair than Chicago’s own American Flyer Mfg. Co., right? There were many good stories to come out of that hall and here is one. In order to make the layout look like it had more trains than it did, some cars had the Flyer eagle decal pasted on one side and not the other. So a train coming by a visitor on the front pass, no eagle was visible. And as the consist came back around the back side of the loop, the car had an eagle showing convincing the visitor there were two sets involved.
Here is another: I have personally seen a blue American Flyer wide gauge steamer that was reported to have run at Chicago. According to the then owner, the loco was factory painted medium blue and had custom installed ball bearings which would roll with very little resistance. He said they had to do this as the regular motor could not take the strain of running all day long (I've found similar troubles in the TCA museum with locos that get excessive runtime.) I salivated over the loco and asked the price as it was for sale. The owner said “as much as a Lionel 400E.” I stumbled over my words and blanked out with the Q, well how much? Didn't matter as I did not have enough $$ for a 400E anyway.
In Greenberg’s guide to American Flyer Wide Gauge (ISBN 0-89778-089-2, page 19,) Si Chapman is quoted as saying “For the Worlds Fair he (Mr. Coleman, President of American Flyer. ed.) told me to order 6 Mayflower trains for Fair use. My suggestion was to make them out of brass. The reason was chrome platting applied to brass readily and did not require the cooper flash, brass plate, and then chrome on steel.
When my material list was completed and given to the Purchase Department, the 6 became 60 trains. So 54 were sold to the public.”
Now comes the lone chrome story: “It was both a dark and stormy night and a long way to Tipperary!"
Wide gauge Club car # 4390 Chrome ran many happy hours on a layout. How do I know? Fact: The electric pickup roller has a deep groove in it and the 6 wheel trucks show considerable road dirt and wear. The car bottom is quite scuffed where the trucks are mounted to the car body.
Fact: the body of the car is made of brass which has been chromed. The originals were made of brass. Did it finish the show before calamity struck? Dunno. BUT something happened and the car received a terrible hit amid ships. Fact: upper edge of the body is rolled down and under. Top dented. Side dented. There is evidence of a sharp metal hit with sharp gouges like steel on brass. The chrome plating at the spot of contact is abraded.
There are multiple bents, scuffs and wrinkles on the car. I would guess there has been some effort to straighten out the damage, at least to the roof. This could have caused secondary stress-related wrinkles. Now the poor dear is sent back to the AF factory and what do they do?
Now we must use conjecture. The company has a badly damaged
car. Do they recycle? I guess not. Do they fix it: too hard.
Did they know then that the Mayflower set would not sell well? Dunno. So they had a four car used set. Did the fact that it ran at the World’s Fair count for anything? Maybe, but the thing had run a bazillion laps and showed the wear and tear.
So why not break the car out of the set and sell it at the company store? Now, from Greenberg or Russell Park, we learned that Flyer was having trouble with bad guys raiding their dumpsters and recycling tossed-out trains for the free repair option. Fact: A box the car is in now is rubber stamped on the lid “X 4390 XCLUB CHROME” and “THIS ITEM IS REBUILT AND SOLD AS SHOPWORN MERCHANDISE AMERICAN FLYER M’FG. CO.”
Why not rubber stamp the car, you ask? The car body is plated and the stamp won’t stay permanently on the plated metal. And note I said “A” box, not “the box.” The box is an original Flyer box and is correct for that car, but shows no squishing from a hard blow. Since the set went back to the factory, did they add a fresh box, or was the car damaged while not in the original box?
Completing the conjecture, the bent car in its marked box goes to the factory sales store. (Companies had these to sell used stuff and rejects. This would not be in competition with their retail stores around the country.) Then someone buys the car hearing about its time at the World’s Fair and the legend of the Lone Chrome Mayflower car is born.
Here is what the owner has to say:
“Sounds like a plan on the chrome Mayflower Car. These types of pieces just don't surface every day and sharing the story with the collecting community seems to be the right thing to do. I know my Dad bought it at a train show in Florida (I believe it was a TCA show in either Orlando or Tampa) about 10-15 years ago. I can not remember if he mentioned the seller's name but he referred to the seller as an "old timer" - likely a reference to being a TCA member dating back to the '60's or earlier (my Dad joined the TCA in 1977). The story I shared with you about it being pulled off the production line at Flyer and specially chromed for an active layout display at the World's Fair came from his discussion with the seller. That may explain the rubber stamping on the original box that reference it as having been sold as shop worn. I'm not a publicity hound so I don't have any real need to be named. However, if it ever makes sense to reveal/identify the owner's name it would be a nice tribute to my Dad to simply state that it is from the Family Collection of the late Tony Campo. He truly enjoyed being a member of the TCA and going to shows with me and my brothers. He often times referred to the York shows as “Christmas in April and October” where he was genuinely transformed into a kid in a candy store. The Chrome Mayflower Car was certainly one of the prized possessions in his collection.”
For me and those lucky enough to have seen or touched the car, we are honored to do so.
Clem Clement, loving this wonderful train hobby.
Post Script: Recently the Lone Chrome and its box went thru eBay as separate items. The box stayed east and the car went west.
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