The Southeastern Railway Museum
Many of us can fondly recall the small train sets that operated at fairs, zoos, parks and yes, even the occasional drive in theater. Trains such as this reached their peak popularity during the 1950s & 1960s.
Several years ago, two such part train sets were donated to the Southeastern Railway Museum by Ben and Joy Black. These train sets (2 Locomotives, and 8 Passenger Cars) were originally purchased, and used at the Birmingham Zoo. They were manufactured by the Miniature Train Company in 1957, and used by the zoo until they were retired in 1976.
P.A. Sturtevant, the founder of the Miniature Train Company, was a self professed tinker, and owner of a successful machine shop. In 1928, he built a 7.25" gauge scale model of a Chicago and Northwestern steam locomotive.
P.A. installed track around his home, and as you might expect, it soon became the hit of the neighborhood.
One of P.A.'s neighbors was a Sears executive, who asked if he could run the scale model locomotive at one of his stores at Christmas time. In 1932 P.A. leased the train set to Sears, and it quickly proved to be a huge attraction. Parents could complete their Christmas shopping while the kids waited in line to ride the train (yes, this was a much simpler time).
This immediately brought requests from other store managers asking for similar or larger trains. Since the Electo Motive Corporation (EMC), was about to introduce the "E1" locomotive, the team worked on a model of a Rock Island E1. In order to increase the number of passengers a train could handle, a 12" gauge was selected.
World War II brought a halt to production of miniature trains. By this time, they were leasing 36 electric department store train sets, and had sold over 50 gasoline powered units for use in carnivals and fairs.
In 1946, the G-16 train set was introduced. The "G" indicating that it was modeled after a GM locomotive (the former EMC) and the 16 indicated the track gauge (16 inches). The 12" train sets were renamed the G-12s. On April 4th, 1947, the first G-16 locomotive (#501) began a 30 year run at Griffith Park in Los Angles.
In November of 1956 the Miniature Train Company was sold to the Allan Herschell Company, the world's largest maker of amusement park rides.
Allan Herschell made over 20 amusement park rides, but a train was not one of them.
Allan Herschell continued to manufacture G-16 under the MTC name until 1963. During this period, ride operators pushed to increase capacity, and new larger 24" gauge trains became the norm.
Over 240 G-16 train sets were produced by the MTC. Approximately 70 locomotives remain in existence with 50 currently in operation. They are widely remembered as the little train that generations grew up riding at their local park or zoo.
The train set in use at the museum has under gone a complete restoration. This two year effort involved a tear down of the entire locomotive, & coach set.
When the train sets were ordered from the Miniature Train Company, the purchaser could optionally select the paint scheme. The museum's train set has been restored to the pattern used by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, as this was the scheme it was originally delivered in.