|Reading Society of Model Engineers
Berks County, Pennsylvania, USA
Written By: Russ Ingham
Written By: Craig Ingham
Written By: Craig Ingham
A History of the RSME
|Richard's Toy Store|
|711 North 5th Street|
|Part 4||The Story of the Lane|
|Part 5||The Story of the Lane (continued)|
|Part 6||The Story of the Lane (continued)|
A History of the RSME (Part 1)
by Russ Ingham
Although the Reading Society of Model Engineers was not incorporated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania until 1948, its beginnings go much further back into antiquity. Early in the 1930's the men of the Reading Area were already bound or grouped into informal clubs or societies to share and learn about the so-called 'Running of Trains'. The result of 'Running of Trains' was basement or attic layouts showing the specific talents and interests of the individuals. This grew into Christmas type displays or yards at various volunteer fire company locations. As in all model train layouts, there are four individual areas such as grid or framework, track laying, electrical wiring and scenery, and it seems that individual interest and talent decided who would do what. By the time LIONEL, IVES and several other companies were making relatively compatible equipment and what we know as "O" gauge was standardized as 1-1/4" between the rails so that different manufactures equipment could be operated on the same track. Information that this writer has indicates that many of the firehouse layouts or Christmas displays were the larger gauge known as "Standard Gauge" which was 2-1/4" between the rails. One of the fellows that participated in setting up these firehouse displays was a man by the name of Lawrence Gehringer. Larry was a master at building houses, churches and whatever out of scraps of wood. He was a genius that could build six identical buildings, and when he was finished painting them you would never recognize any similarity. He went his separate way when the men who were eventually to become the RSME decided they were more interested in "O" Gauge scale type locomotives and cars. Larry moved from the fire companies to buildings at Carsonia Amusement Park for several years before he created Roadside America near Schartelsville.
The RSME started as a loosely knit group about 1931 in a portion of the basement of Kroll & Keck men's clothing store (now torn down and replaced with the Meridian Bank building, renamed the Core States Bank building and soon to be renamed the Union Bank building if the 1998 merger is permitted by the responsible government organization) located in the 600 block of Penn Street in Reading, PA. This provided an area that allowed for the erection of scaffolding on which the first "O" scale layout would be built. The manager of the store was a Mr. Dodge, who must have had a soft spot or a penchant for MODEL RAILROADING! Whatever the reasons, one or more of the group got a key that permitted entry to the basement from Penn Street. With free heat and light, the small group quickly got some form of "O" scale railroad up and running. It was during this period that several members started building scale model 1/4" to the foot locomotives and cars from scratch and from kits that started to become available from catalogs. During this time the "O" scale layout grew to about 18' x 30' in size. Names like Ward Richards, Ed Hintz, Mose Brogly and Ed Wiswesser start to appear in the records. A new and smaller gauge called "HO" (for 'half "O" gauge) started to provide a type of model railroading for those enthusiasts that did not have enough space for "O" gauge. Several of the group, namely Ed Artz, started to model in this new scale, and a small layout began to emerge. The size and extent of this layout has been lost to the passing years. All was piece and tranquillity until sometime in 1933 when ownership of the Kroll & Keck name and the business was sold. Mr. Dodge was no longer in control, and you can guess what happened. What could be salvaged was carefully taken apart and stored in myriad places until another location could be found.
In 1935 the Reading Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society was organized and this brought together a group mostly young men with mutual interests. With this new forum stories were exchanged, types of controls were discussed and even some model trains were built or bought. New names such as Irv Kissinger and Jim Ziegler now appear in notes and letters. It was about this time that a marriage made in Heaven occurred. The basement area of a large warehouse building was made available to the group that was formerly located in the basement of Croll & Keck. This building was perfect and came equipped with sound effects. Only twenty feet or so from the north wall were the east and west tracks of the Lebanon Valley branch of Reading Company. For those that are not familiar with this area it is important to know that this section of track has a slight grade of about 1/2 percent or so. This was necessary to reach the higher ground on the west side of the Schuylkill River for those trains moving west toward Harrisburg. No sound system could be any more authentic than the stack blast of 2-8-2 Mikado's and 2-8-0 Consolidations at full throttle pulling heavy freights. Usually conversations ceased until the train had passed. For those not old enough to remember the building ( the building has long since been removed) had its own siding for loading and unloading. This warehouse was behind Richards Toy Store and on the east side of Front Street in Reading, Pa. Richard's Toy Store was probably the largest store devoted to toys ,year round, in the city and it was located on the northeast corner of Front & Buttonwood Streets. Heat and light were free but there was not much heat since the building was used primarily for the storage of toys.
The "O" Gauge Croll & Keck layout that had been in storage for about 2 years was uncovered, dusted and modified to suit the new space. The size was increased and soon an operating layout was in place. This layout was constructed with an outside third rail because it was simpler and easier to insulate the blocks and build reversing loops. With this type of construction it was not necessary to insulate wheel sets on the cars. This layout was more sophisticated than the first one. It was at this location the men first started to experiment with open type gridwork and plaster permanent scenery. Many new wiring ideas were tried and the best ones became the basis for new and better controls. Meeting nights were set up and operating schedules developed to make the operation more interesting and challenging. Peace and tranquility reigned for about three years or more and the railroad expanded and improved. The Reading Company continued to provide the sound effects until the United States Navy started to prepare for World War #2. While the following information may seem unrelated to the RSME you will find it an important part of the history of the life of our club. Located in the northeast part of Reading was a relatively famous fabricator of hemp rope, especially for long unspliced lengths. The Jackson Rope Works became a prime source for hemp rope for the U.S. Navy as our country started to prepare for possible entry into the conflict on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The Jackson Rope Works started to import large amounts of jute from the orient in order to have an adequate stockpile to meet its commitments to the U.S Navy. As the conflict in Europe escalated, the Navy started to import large quantities of jute for its own stockpile and some of it was moved into the area where our layout was located. The Navy does not like to share storage areas. As you can guess, we were requested to remove the layout. It was a sad night, but the men had one grand run night and then started to carefully take everything apart so that the rail, platforms and scenery could be salvaged. Again, any and all space available was used for storage and garage lofts and barns became home to the once grand railroad. Because the war effort was causing shortages of materials and also diminishing our ranks, no real effort was made to immediately start another layout. In short we went "on hold" until late 1944 before another layout was given any serious thought.
A History of the RSME
711 North 5th Street
by Russ Ingham
It was not long before an operating layout was in place and it became apparent to the men that with the larger numbers the loose organization was not going to be sufficient. It was at this time that the group decided to be known as the READING SOCIETY OF MODEL ENGINEERS. Rules were set up and regular work sessions were scheduled. The business meetings were held on Saturday nights, which went unchanged until 1998 when the meeting time was changed to Saturday afternoon to accommodate some newer members that had a great distance to travel. The group which soon began to be referred to as the club was always willing to share its fun and joy with the public and started to have regular Operating Nights for the public on the last Saturday of each month.
The layout at 711 North Fifth Street was constructed with an outside third rail and was built using the open grid type of construction with scenery of plaster over wire screen. Where the roadbed was visible sound deadening material was used to give appearance of the raised ballast and fine stone was held in place with glue to make the rails look as realistic as possible. On the south wall an isle or walkway was provided for the public to view the operation of the trains and the supporting scenery and buildings. At the west end of the basement area the 5th Street Yards were located and all scheduled passenger trains headed north, east, or south departed from this terminal. Provision was made so that trains entering the terminal could have their engines uncoupled, escape and be turned around serviced and made ready for their next assignment. 5th Street yard was also equipped to handle freight trains. This layout was a very complete and an exciting thing to watch. A 1945 roster of equipment showed that there were 15 locomotives, 60 freight cars and 25 passenger coaches cleared for operation on the pike. Before any piece of equipment was allowed to be operated it had to conform to club standards as to wheel spacing and coupler height. The records also indicate that there were 65 switches (turnouts to the purists that may read this document) both electrically and manually operated. On the last Saturday of each month the operation of the railroad was viewed by hundreds of local people and visitors from neighboring communities. Operation was by a prepared schedule or time-table and every effort was made to maintain the scheduled departure and arrival of each train, all of this was directed by a chief dispatcher. Ray Hamilton often served as chief dispatcher and as was mentioned earlier Ray did every thing by the book. A failure to maintain schedule was unthinkable, and he considered it a blot on his spotless record.
The reputation of this railroad spread and membership increased. Some of these new people were E. Ward Richards, Jan Deelman, who was to become the club secretary and writer of fabulous and humorous minutes for over thirty years, Dr. Merrill B. Dewire, a local urologist, and an ardent Pennsylvania Rail Road fan, J. Huber Leith and John P. Reber who was to serve as club president for many years. The railroad was basically a point to point type of layout and this meant that at the end of each scheduled run the engine had to be uncoupled , serviced, turned around and coupled up to another string of cars. To handle this function a turntable was installed at the east end of the basement where an ancient jelly closet once stood. Expansion of the railroad now became the prime subject at the regular business meetings and one of the visionaries in the group suggested that if a switch was placed in the main track leading to the turntable a spiral could be installed and the trains could be raised high enough to allow them to exit through a window about six feet above the floor. Once outside of the building it would be simple to locate roadbed on the fence between the adjoining properties and go to the garage some three or four hundred feet away. The fence was rebuilt and an enclosure was built on top of the fence to protect the rails and the trains from the weather. The railroad now had a place to go and in short order Church Street Terminal was born. A complete railroad was built in the garage located on Church Street. There were facilities to store cars, make up trains, turn engines around or leave them continue on their way back to the 5th Street yards. The fellows now had a railroad that any group would be proud to own, run or be part of. When the operating sessions were held on the last Saturday of the month, there was usually a line of visitors waiting to get in to see the operation. A short schedule would take about 40 minutes to complete all moves and a full schedule would take from 90 minutes to 110 minutes. Hundreds of visitors from all over the Reading, Allentown, Pottstown and Philadelphia areas enjoyed these operating sessions over a period of about eight years. We will continue with the saga of the RSME in the next issue of THE RSME TIMETABLE.
to be continued...
Even though the lane, now called Iron Horse Lane, was used almost every day for thirty years or more by RSME members, friends, and guests, a neighbor considered it abandoned and had a new description of their property drawn up that included the 15 foot lane that provided access to the RSME property. Much thanks is due Jan Deelman, now deceased, for helping headstrong members maintain their cool. Jan Deelman was a lawyer and a long time member of the RSME. A plate bearing his name and the dates of his membership is on the MEMORY PLAQUE in the station. Where is one to start in the search to establish ownership of a piece of land that several people have purchased for various reasons, one even purchased it a second time, and were never able to locate it or determine its borders? Without tax maps to locate it and a description of 7 acres more or less, the property of Ruth H. Bridegam, situated along or near Mount Laurel Road in the Township of Alsace, County of Berks and State of Pennsylvania, does not pinpoint the property with any degree of certainty. Shortly after April, 1984 Mrs. Darnelle Schneck approached Treasurer Robert Frill and then President Russell Ingham about the use of the 15 foot lane for the pending "OPEN HOUSE" that the RSME conducted each May and November. Her complaint was that the cars caused or raised dust and that any right of way or usage privileges did not extend to public use by 100 or more automobiles that did not belong to members. She and her husband threatened to reduce our access to eight feet. With the " OPEN HOUSE " only a few weeks away, Bob and Russ did some fancy negotiating, and finally got an agreement that they, the Schnecks, would leave the RSME conduct its "OPEN HOUSE " and they would give us a reasonable time to prove that the RSME had a right to use "their lane". If we could prove our position, they would not bother us in the future. This is what motivated Russ Ingham and Bob Frill with legal advice from Jan Deelman to spend over a year trying to unravel "THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING 7 ACRES" and the ownership of the 15 foot wide lane now known as IRON HORSE LANE.
to be continued...
A History of
the RSME (Part
The Story of the RSME Lane (continued)
by Russ Ingham
Deed Book Volume ( DBV ) 479, Page 616, records the sale of the residual of Shalters property, described as 156 acres and 10 perches to Jacob D. Kantner and his wife Rosa (ROSIE) K> Kantner on December 17, 1919. The records indicate that the Kantners did not sell off any of their land until June 18, 1934. This first partitioning is very important and really affects all future sales of land on the south side of Mount Laurel Road. This first tract of land was sold to George F. Werner and his wife Elizabeth A Werner. Now it just happened that George F. Werner was a nephew of Jacob Kantner and the marking off of the land as described by Mr. Werner was not very scientific nor accurate. Actually the land was surveyed or marked about two months before the sale took place. The deed was not filed and registered until June 18, 1934 because the mortgage holder that was to provide the loan to build the house required a full description of the land. This original description indicates that the distance along the lane is 417.5 feet to the center of the road also known as Mount Laurel Road. The next direction was N67degrees W and the distance was described as 417.5 feet. The area was described as 4 acres. The actual area was considerably more than 4 acres. A survey dated December 1949 indicates the distance along the 15 foot lane as 475 feet and the distance parallel to the road originally shown as 417.5 feet to be 464 feet 9-1/4 inches. This information that offers an explanation for the large dimensional discrepancies and the disappearance of most or all of the 7 acres was gleaned from a conversation that Bob Frill and Russ Ingham had with Mr. Werner on a very cold morning in February , 1987. Mr. Werners wife had passed away in 1981, and he continued to live in the house until the end of the year. The property was then purchased by a Michael Schaeffer and his wife Sharon in March of 1982. Mr. Schaeffer is an engineer for Conrail and still lives in that house. Mr. Shaeffer is as of this writing, the engineer that does the shifting and setting out of cars for pickup at the Pottstown yard by regularly scheduled trains. We located Mr. Werner through a chance conversation with a former neighbor of Russ Ingham whose name is Gloria Schwab. It just happens that Mrs. Schwab is or was the daughter of George F. Werner who for some reason or other is also called Amos by his children. The strange part was that the woman he married was a district justice and a notary and the phone was in her name and all contact with him was lost. Mr. Werner was a very accommodating host, and over coffee he related to us the story of the day he and his uncle marked off the land. Since the transfer of the land was to from be family to family, there was no need to hire a surveyor to write up a deed. The two of them , Jacob Kantner and George Werner, stepped off 10 steps/paces several times to try to get equal to 25 feet. After they were satisfied that they were accurate enough, they proceeded to step off the distance along the lane that would represent one side of the 4 acres (417.5 feet). According to Mr. Werner, after they had stepped off the proper distance his uncle suggested they take a couple more paces for good measure and drove an iron pin into the ground to mark the agreed location. They did the same thing along a line that they thought was parallel to the road and put another stake in the ground. This would have created a small error if the county would have had tax maps and required that all surveying be done by registered surveyors.
The next parcel of land that was sold of was to a Roy E. Stroll, but the writer has some questions about his notes and will visit the Recorder Of Deeds Office to make sure of the details. The next chapter will be in the next issue of THE RSME TIMETABLE.
to be continued...