American Flyer Displays

Year Catalog No. Description

Size

1951 116 American Flyer Train Display 4X6
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116 Advertising Brochure
Illustration courtesy of Lonny Beno & Mike Schmidt
(Reconstructed by Mike Schmidt)

 
The 116 display is basically an updated version of the 99 display from 1950.    The listing of included items indicates that the 577 Billboard Whistle of the 99 display has been replaced by the 566 offered in 1951.   1951 versions of the Talking Station (755A) and the Revolving Aircraft Beacon (769A) noted on the list of included items are also updates to 1951 items.  While the track complement as listed is different in the two sets, the illustrations indicate that the track plan was the same in both layouts.   Unlike the number 99 display, the display number was not the same as the dealer cost on the 116 layout.

The photo below is of a layout owned by Mike Schmidt and appears to be a 116 display from 1951.  This particular layout is a monument to the Gilbert concept of "Self-Liquidating Displays."   This layout served its purpose as a store display for 5 years.  Some of its accessories were sold and finally it provided two young men with a unique operating layout and is now being preserved by the current owner.  It is one layout that didn't end up in the department store's trash heap.
 
99 Display Layout
Photo Courtesy of Mike Schmidt

History and Description of the Layout

This Layout was originally used in Gambles Department store in Fergus Falls, Minnesota .  This was confirmed by the wife of the store manager, who ran the store from 1940 - 1970.   She remembers that it was sold to the family of the previous owner.  She thought that the green paint may have been applied in the store at one time or another along with the 1/4 round molding on the edges.  It was a birthday present which the previous owner received on December 29, 1956 along with a "New Black Diamond" train set, number 5615T.  It came into Mike Schmidt's hands on Christmas in 1961 and served as his childhood train set into the early 70's.  At that time it was put in storage for about 30 years and emerged along with Mike's renewed interest in trains in 2006.  It was at that time the Mike first came to the realization that it was a dealer display. 

The track on the layout is nailed to the board and shows no evidence, such as extra nail holes, of ever having been in any other configuration.  All the accessories are marked on the bottom at their respective locations with a rubber stamp.  The control button wires on the original accessories are soldered to the buttons and the other ends terminate in Fahnstock clips at the accessory location. 

The Aircraft Beacon, Water Tank and the Stockyard were missing when Mike received the set and he has theorized that they were among the accessories sold off the display by the store as part of the "self liquidating" feature of the display.  These have since been replaced by purchased accessories of 1950-1951 vintage and placed in the locations marked for them on the display. The replacement accessories have normal unsoldered control buttons, but they all match the white colored buttons that were used starting in 1951 and continuing for a few years after that.

While the talking station is wired to the track normally, the insulating track pins that would have enabled the station to stop the train have been replaced with steel pins, so that feature of the station is not available.   Whether this was done by the store or the previous owner is unclear.  It is unlikely that Gilbert wired it in this manner as that would disable a key feature of the product.

The log loader has a large, rather than a small hole and the wiring is soldered to a control button that can be dropped through the large hole.

The stockyard was not hard to replace as it was easy to fit it under the track and the absence of roadbed at its location also simplified its insertion.  Also, the 771 Stockyard was basically the same from 1950-1954.

A shorter than normal girder bridge is at the front of the layout on the first section of straight track from the left.  It does not take up a full section of track, as the S gauge girder bridge would have, and appears to be the HO version.  It is approximately 8 inches long.

Dating the Display

Since only the Talking Station, Whistling Billboard, Log loader, and Girder Bridge are original accessories, they are the primary means used to date the display. 

Wall Display

One key item on the wall display that clearly dates it as a 1951 item is the valance insert that notes "Air Chime Whistle," rather than "Electronic Whistle," as shown on the 1950 Number 99 brochure.  "Electronic Whistle" is also shown on the 116 brochure, which probably indicates that Gilbert used the illustration from the previous year.

Log Loader 

The most definitive dating of the layout comes from the log loader which is clearly stamped as a 751A and has a bottom mounted electromagnet.  Although Greenberg guides show this model beginning in 1952, it is included in the 1951 catalog and the T&M guides show it to have been offered beginning in 1951.  I believe the T&M guide has the correct dates.  If Greenberg were correct, there would be no log loader for 1951 and we know that wasn't the case.  Although the control rail for a log unloader car was only included with the log unloader car, and not with the Log Loader accessory, it is present on this layout and is also shown in the illustration in the brochure.

Talking Station

The Talking Station is a number 755A which contains the resistor which prevents the reverse unit from cycling during the stop.  This model was first cataloged in 1951 and was said to be the first with resistor, but models as early as 1949 also contained the resistor.   Earlier resistors were either tan or black.  In 1951, the color of the resistor was green and that is what the talking station on this layout has.    Although this model does not seem to be separately treated in the Greenberg Guides, it was offered only from 1951 to 1953.  

Whistling Billboard

The Whistling Billboard is the 566, first manufactured in 1951.  Even though the 1950 version of the 577 Whistling Billboard has the same illustration, the feet on the 577 are rectangular fiber strips on each end, rather than the 4 rubber washer feet, which are found on the unit on this display.

Girder Bridge

This is clearly an original item as it is mounted below the track.  It is obviously the 254 HO girder bridge because of its smaller size.  It is silver and that is the color in which 254 girder bridges were produced in 1950, the last year of HO production prior to the Korean War hiatus in HO production, which lasted until 1955.  The use of this bridge suggests that Gilbert was attempting to utilize surplus stock and that the display was prepared after the production and marketing of HO ceased in 1951.

Overall Date Determination

There is ample evidence that this is a 1951 display.  Elements of both the wall unit and the layout itself can be dated to 1951 establishing that this is an intact display containing matching units.

Other Accessories

Because this layout has for many years been thought to be a 1951 display, missing accessories were replaced with accessories as close to that year as possible.
 
Prototype Aircraft BeaconThe Aircraft Beacon is a 769 (1950) or early 769A (the version without the house offered in 1951 and 1952).  Those two models can only be distinguished by the stamping on their boxes.  It is also interesting to note that the illustration on the number 99 brochure above is of a prototype as shown on page 22 of the 1950 Advance catalog (see illustration to the right) and never produced in that form.  As can be seen from the illustration, the accessory uses the two platform tower of the 773 Oil Derrick and the light is similar to that used on the searchlight cars and does not appear to be capable of rotation.

Illustration courtesy of myflyertrains.org
& Lonny Beno
 
Bottom of Layout marked for Water TankThe water tank is puzzling.  It was a much older accessory than the newly released Water Tower.  The Number 116 display brochure lists a 772 water tower and one is shown in the photo in the brochure, but Mike's actual layout has stamping that clearly shows the words "Water Tank," rather than "Water Tower."  This nomenclature led to the replacement of this missing accessory with an operating water tank and the addition of the missing button.   Whether this is the proper accessory or not is unclear, but it fits in well.

Photo courtesy of Mike Schmidt