American Flyer Displays & History

The Washington D.C. Hall of Science

Wash. D.C. Layout Photos - TCA Catalog

On August 7, 1946, approximately one year after the Miami Hall of Science opened, another Hall of Science was dedicated at 1610 K Street N.W. in Washington, D.C.  This Hall of Science opened just as Gilbert was introducing his line of more accurately scaled S gauge trains to the toy train world.  It was quite successful and during its first few weeks of operation received an average of 500 visitors per day. 1   There is also an article on this Hall of Science in the May 1995 issue of Classic Toy Trains magazine. 2   You should note that the photo of a layout at the top of page 105 of that article is actually a photo of the 2nd layout to occupy the first floor of the New York Hall of Science (The "Railroad Empire" layout pictured in late 1940's catalogs) and is so identified in a TCA archive of New York Hall of Science photos. 

Not much is known about the Washington D.C. Hall of Science.  Our only sources of information are a few paragraphs in Paul Nelson's Famous American Flyer Trains book, the Classic Toy Trains Article, cited above, and an article published in the January-February 1952 issue of the "Gilbert News," the employee newsletter of the A.C. Gilbert Co. 

There seems to be some confusion among the sources about the involvement of Oliver A. Quayle, Sr. and Oliver A. Quayle, Jr.  Paul Nelson's book cited above seems to indicate Oliver Jr. being in charge from the inception.  The Classic Toy Trains article does not specify whether their Oliver A. Quayle is Jr. or Sr., though it definitely describes Oliver Sr.'s accomplishments.  I believe that the Gilbert News article provides the most accurate information concerning this hall.  According to that article, it had originally been operated by Oliver A. Quayle, Sr., a "long time friend and associate" of the Gilbert Company.   It was noted that he served as head of the Washington Hall of Science until 1951, when operation was transferred to Oliver A. Quayle, Jr., presumably Oliver Sr.'s son, with Ted Cook as assistant manager.  The article states, "District Manager, Oliver A. Quayle, Jr. is in charge of the Maryland territory and the Gilbert Hall of Science Operation." 

The article does mention Oliver Sr.'s role at the time of the article as that of "Public Relations Counsel" handling "most government matters for the company.  Oliver A. Quayle. Sr., was a prominent Democrat, who at one time served as the Treasurer of the Democratic National Committee.  He was quite active in arranging the 1936 and 1940 Democratic National Conventions, which were held in Philadelphia and Chicago respectively.   If you Google his name, you will find many photos of him related to that period.  When that article was written in 1952, it appears that the Washington D.C. Hall of Science had been "command central" for Gilbert's government contract work.   Mr. Quayle's high level involvement earlier in Democratic politics may have served him in good stead in this work.  

Oliver Quayle's Sr.'s role in running the Washington D.C. Hall of Science is described in ways that would lead one to believe he was a private businessman running a parallel operation in cooperation with Gilbert, in much the same way as the Miami Hall of Science was run.  From the way Oliver Jr. is described, he appears to be a company executive and I believe it is most likely that the Washington Hall, like the New York and Chicago Halls, was totally a Gilbert operation with Gilbert executives in charge.  The fact that the Hall continued seamlessly after Mr. Quayle's (presumably Oliver Sr.'s) departure in 1952 seems to be an indication that it was a Gilbert operation and that he, like his son, was a Gilbert executive and not an independent operator. 

The layout operations appear to be the domain of Ted Cook, the Assistant Manager, who was described in the Classic Toy Trains Article as a Gilbert Co. employee.  The photos in the TCA Archives were most likely commissioned by Cook.

According to the Gilbert News article, there was one part of the operation that was operated by an independent contractor and that was the service department.  It was said to be privately owned and operated by a Dick North, who even handled overflow work from the Gilbert Factory.  He was described as a "former co-worker."  Mr. North's name will surface later at the opening of the Chicago Hall of Science in 1953.  Richard North is credited, along with Frank Castiglione as one of the builders of the layout at the Chicago Hall of Science.   It is unclear whether he handled those duties as an independent contractor or again became a Gilbert Co. employee.   He is among those who appear in the opening day photo taken on the sidewalk outside the Chicago Hall.

In many ways the layout was similar to the Second Floor Layout at the New York Hall of Science in that it was long rather than wide.  Assuming that the photos were taken in 1952, a time when Gilbert was not selling HO trains, one would not expect the layout to contain HO trackage, but clearly it does.  The trackage appears to be the Bakelite based track sold between 1940 and 1950. Based on the presence of S gauge rubber roadbed introduced in 1950 and Minicraft buildings marketed in 1952 and 1953, I believe the 1952 date is accurate and that the HO track is simply left over from the days when HO was also being sold.  It should not be surprising that the HO trackage had not been removed from this layout as it had not been removed from the 2nd Floor Layout at the New York Hall of Science until that layout was redesigned in 1953.

Notes

1  Famous American Flyer Trains, by Paul C. Nelson, Heimburger House Publishing, Forest Park, IL, pages 184-186

2  Travel Back to the Washington Hall of Science, by Roger Carp - Classic Toy Trains, May 1995, page 102.