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The Orange Show Model Trains

Text and photos by Charles Seims

Although it's hard to see in the postcard scan, the oval inset shows two children posing with the model of the interurban.

Mention of the long-vanished Pacific Electric Railway will bring tears to the eye of a railway enthusiast. In its heyday, this giant interurban network blanked Southern California from Venice to Redlands with over a thousand miles of track and nearly a thousand cars.

I. C. Wood

In 1915, I. C. Wood worked for the electrical department of the Pacific Electric Railway. He was in charge of the Arcadia substation, on the interurban line from Los Angeles to Glendora. His job was to tend to giant motor-generator sets that supplied 600 volts DC to energize the overhead trolley wire. It was a boring job. The machinery itself needed little attention, which left Wood with a lot of time and little to occupy it.

The massive 65-ton electric freight locomotives that had been built by Baldwin-Westinghouse and just delivered to the Pacific Electric Railway in 1912 impressed Wood. He decided that he would build an operating model of one of these that could be used as a public relations tool by the railway.

Now, you or I would probably have bought a brand new Lionel standard gauge or IVES No. 1 gauge locomotive (this was 1915, remember) and “kit bashed” it into a replica of a Pacific Electric locomotive. But Wood did not think along these lines. He wanted a scale model, not a toy, and decided that there would be no toy components whatever in his finished product.

Soon, bits of scrap metal began to clutter the workbench at the Arcadia substation. Items like old bicycle spokes, parts from an old sewing machine, and channel iron from a discarded bed frame lay strewn about. Wood needed a small lathe for his model building, and built one by hand with similar junk.

After hundreds of hours of tedious work, Wood completer his model of Pacific Electric locomotive No. 1602 In addition, he made several model boxcars, refrigerator cars and a caboose to go with the consist.

The train was a masterpiece. The locomotive body was constructed from sheet brass, and was highly detailed. But it was in the trucks where Wood’s craftsmanship really came through. The wheels were brass castings, detailed even to the spokes for weight reduction. The side frames were also castings, highly detailed and cushioned by tiny springs. True to prototype practice, the electric motors were hung between the axles, not concealed within the cab as with Lionel and IVES trains.

Eventually, Wood’s handiwork came to the attention of Paul Shoup, the Pacific Electric Railway’s president, and Harry Marler, the railway’s traffic manager. Shoup and Marler were delighted, and asked Wood if he would build a passenger car as well. Wood was given access to all the railway’s facilities, including a better lathe!

Wood returned to his workbench, and labored on the new project for nearly a year. His prototype was one of the brand new 1200 class steel interurban cars that had just been delivered to the PE by the Pressed Steel Car Company. The 1200s were fondly regarded as the finest electric interurban cars ever built; and, certainly Wood’s model did credit to the originals. It was thirty-one inches long over the couplers, and meticulously detailed like the electric locomotive. The sides were of brass, with real glass for the windows. Inside, five 110-volt Christmas tree bulbs provided interior illumination, while another tiny bulb served as the car’s headlight.

This new masterpiece was completed around the beginning of 1917, just in time to be displayed at the National Orange Show in San Bernardino. The railway was justifiably proud of the models, and made every effort to show them off to the public. An operating layout was built for both passenger car and freight trains. It was displayed in bank lobbies and other public places during the World War I era, but most often the models made appearances at the various agricultural and citrus fairs that were popular at the time.

Millions of Southern Californians saw the models operate at the yearly National Orange Show. Although the railway’s exhibit was changed every year, it typically consisted of the passenger car and freight trains running on separate racks around a display that resembled a giant papier-mâché wedding cake. The display was decorated with real or imitation oranges, plus photographs and facts about the vast Pacific Electric interurban network in Southern California.

Almost every time the trains were displayed, Wood’s models and the Pacific Electric display won a trophy or a prize.

The displays were the subject of numerous magazine articles during the 1920s. For instance, the railway claimed that during the Orange Show, the two trains ran a total of 700 miles on the little layout, and that the engines had a draw bar pull of 200 pounds. (Frankly, I’m a little skeptical of these numbers, particularly the draw bar claim.)

The 1200 class passenger car and the freight train made frequent appearances at the National Orange Show and various other fairs until sometime in the mid 1930s. Old-timers recall them displayed (but not running) at the Pacific Electric Building at Sixth and Main Streets in Los Angeles. From that point, their history becomes a bit murky and somewhat apocryphal.

Harry Marler, the railway’s passenger traffic manager, was very attached to the models. When he retired in the 1940s, he took them home with him as a memento of his lifelong career with the railway.

As the story has been told to me, Marler’s son owned a typewriter store, which was having some financial difficulties in the late 1940s. Some of its assets went to auction in sealed lots. A purchaser of one of those lots was Dan Post, who owned a typewriter store in Arcadia, California. When Post opened one of the cartons purchased, he was surprised to find the train models inside.

Post was not a rail fan or a train collector, but he kept the models and enjoyed them. He was, however, an antique car enthusiast, and also the owner of Post Motor Books, which published a number of titles related to antique autos-Fords in particular.

I first saw the Orange Show models about 1975 when they were on display at the offices of Golden West Books in Alhambra, California. The owner of Golden West was Donald Duke (who was preparing my Mount Lowe book for publication at the time.) Duke and Post were friends, and Post had lent the models for display in Golden West’s office.

For the two power cars, an extra set of trucks (supposedly there had been a second interurban car that was damaged) and the four freight cars I paid about as much as it would take to buy the 408e in the photograph.

It was a case of love at first sight. I have a number of standard gauge trains, and when I met Dan Post, I naturally asked if the models were for sale. He laughed and said, “No.” He didn’t want to sell them, but if he ever did he would want a good collector price for them.

Time passed and I forgot all about the beautiful Orange Show models. In 1987, I relocated from Pasadena to Portland, Oregon. Most of my standard gauge trains were packed in the rumble seat of my 1932 Ford convertible, which I drove to Oregon. In 1989, the Western National Convention for the Early Ford V-8 Club was held in Southern California, and I decided to attend. At the car show, I felt a tap on the shoulder and it was a friend of mine from Pasadena, whom I hadn’t seen since I left the area. He mentioned that Dan Post had recently passed away and that his wife had put his antique cars and parts up for sale. I immediately remembered the Orange Show models and asked my friend what happened to them. He didn’t know, but suggested that I contact the Post family. You know the rest.

The gauge of these unique models is 2-5/8 inch. Why this particular dimension was chosen, I don’t know. I only obtained three short lengths of straight track with the models, and without expert advice, have not tried to operate them. I suspect, however, that they operate on 110 volts. These models are true museum pieces, and that’s where I hope they will end up some day.

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