American Flyer Displays & History

What's New

7/17/2021 - A new entry has been added to the Layout Memories Section on Emil Suda's recollection of a childhood visit to Larrabee's Hardware store in Amsterdam, N.Y. in 1961.   Unlike many of us in similar situations, Emil remembers the exact layout he saw in the store that day. Click here to go to the new entry.

11/5/2020 - All the photo albums have been redesigned to allow better viewing on cell phones and tablets with larger images and more readable captions.  I have also redesigned the drop down menus to make finding what you are looking for easier.  No more 3rd level menu items and most of the menu choices are now in alphabetical order which should help in finding your choice more quickly.  Finally, I added some quick links on the index page which will take you to the most popular parts of website.  I hope these changes are useful to you. 

6/7/2020 - I have been delving into the Gilbert History section this week and have redone the Factory Photos section to better identify and document the photos from Ray Mohrlang's collection.  With a little research oriented reading of A.C. Gilbert's autobiography, "The Man Who Lives In Paradise," and a little online research, I have been able to document Gilbert's factory history from its founding in 1909 to its move to the now famous Erector Square facilities on Peck Street in New Haven.  I was even able to find one of those intermediate factory buildings that is still standing and you can see it in a Google Streetview image.  There is a lot to learn yet about some of the photos.  I have included comments on the photos, some of which serve to fully explain the photos, and others of which only address some of my questions about the photo.  If any of you can provide information, please contact me at flyerdisplays@att.net.

For those of you who are interested in Gilbert's estate and game preserve, Paradise, I have formatted my source clippings for your reading and provided links on the Paradise page.

6/1/2020 - As some of you may know, the numerous slide shows on the website are created with a program called Jalbum.  There are many different "skins" or templates that control the features and appearance of the slide shows.  For some time, I have been looking for a "skin" that will render well on cell phones and other smaller screens and also allow the ability to examine an enlarged view of the photos.   After a lot of experimentation, I have settled on a skin that seems to achieve those goals better than most.  The controls are still a bit small on a small screen, but it works pretty well in a horizontal format.  It is definitely a big improvement over the old skin, which produced images of less than optimal size that could not be expanded.  Take a look at some of the slide shows and use the expansion feature.  You may see some things you missed before.

4/13/2020 - I looked a little closer at the page for Lansburgh's Department Store in Washington, D.C., and cropped out close-ups of the trains featured.  Click here.

4/12/2020 - I have added a more convenient link to this page on the Home Tab of the drop down menu.  You no longer have to scroll down the page to get to that link when viewing on a horizontal screen.

4/10/2020 - A few additional pieces of paper have been added to the Gilbert Paper section under "From The Ray Mohrlang Collection."  In addition, a trade journal ad for the producer of the Boys' Railroad Club films has been added to that section.

4/8/2020 - A new section has been added to the History tab.   One of the photos from the Mohrlang Collection was of the last meeting of the Gilbert salesforce in 1963.   All these salesmen were fired in 1964 and replaced with independent contractors, hence the title "Death of the Salesmen."  For more details click here.

4/6/2020 -  I just finished adding a few images of Gilbert paper from the Ray Mohrlang Collection to the Gilbert Paper section.  You can see them here.

4/4/2020 -  One thing I have learned from maintaining this website is that there is always something new to learn.  When I first gained access to the Ray Mohrlang Collection I tried to put each of the photos in context relying on what may have been written on the back of a few of them.  Sometimes it was pretty clear but other times I was left with more questions than answers.  A lot of times we write things in shorthand and assume facts we already know.   When read by someone who doesn't know those same facts, the notes make less sense.

The photos taken at the Eastern States Exposition were particularly hard to put in context because the notes seemed contradictory at times.  The displays looked very similar and they were displayed in a large exposition hall, but there was something written on some of them that mentioned a Goffe Street Armory, but that is in New Haven and the Eastern States Exposition was in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Since they looked alike, I put them all under the Eastern States Exposition.   In the process of some other research, I came across a piece in the Gilbert News that was all about "Industry's Open House" which was held in 1952 in New Haven at the Armory, which is on Goffe Street.  One of those Mohrlang photos was used to illustrate the article.  It was the same exact photo, right down to where specific individuals were standing.  Here was the explanation for 5 photos that looked a little different and one that looked like the 5, except it was clearly taken at the Eastern States Exposition as it showed that venue's fancy draperies and tall pillars.  I concluded that the first 5 were taken at Industry's Open House in May 1952 and that last one was taken when that same display was used at the Eastern States Exposition in September of that same year.

As a result I added a new page and slide presentation for that newly discovered show.   I also included a copy of the article from the Gilbert News.    See Eastern States Exposition or Industry's Open House

3/30/2020 -  The following have been added to the website.

9/12/2019 - A lot has changed in the last few months and I have finally gotten the changes up on the website.  The biggest change is in the Wanamaker pages in the Department Stores section.   Previous versions have shown most of the Wanamaker photos to be from the Philadelphia store, but I have now been able to definitely identify some of them as being from the New York store instead.  In addition, I was able to date the newly categorized New York photos to 1946 by just staring at them long enough.   I finally noted that the tender lettering on the locomotives in the photo was"New York Central" and "Pennsylvania," a clear indication of a 1946 date.  I also went back to the original photos and pulled out some enlarged sections showing the tender lettering as well as a close-up view of the layout.

I have also posted a new color version of the 1947 display at the Wanamaker's Philadelphia store.  I have seen other versions of this photo, but they were so badly deteriorated that I couldn't put them up.   I knew this version existed and so I just waited for it to be found.  I also found an additional photo of the toy department of the Wanamaker's Philadelphia store in a Gilbert publication for dealers extoling the benefits of establishing a permanent "Hall of Science" in their store.  That photo shows the same staircase as the color photo.  That publication has also been posted under Catalogs and Documents in the Sources section of the website at this link.

I also corrected some display problems on the "Gilbert Goes Hollywood" page.

6/20/2019 - Another item has been added to the Gilbert Goes Hollywood Section.  The film clip is from a Howdy Doody show that aired on December 24, 1953 and shows both Erector models and the 2nd Floor Layout at the New York Hall of Science.  You can see the changes Gilbert made in 1953 and compare this video with the Boys Railroad Club videos filmed in 1950 and the Buckage photos from 1951.  This video plays fine on most devices, but for some unknown reason it may play without sound on some Android phones.

6/5/2019 - The Gilbert Goes Hollywood section has been changed for the Perry Mason film clips.   I was able to obtain clips of both instances where American Flyer trains were visible in the show.  The clips are also much better quality than the one available in the previously posted link.

3/1/2019 - Thanks to Lonny Beno, I have an illustration of another "Layout in a Box" product.  In addition to the Tom Thumb Traintown display I now have the Porto-Train Pak under the heading of "3rd Party Products" in the Layout in a Box section.  I think you will find this new product interesting.   I have also corrected  a link in the The Gilbert Goes Hollywood section.  It seems a Youtube video has changed its address causing the old link to fail.

2/1/2019 - The website has been redesigned to use drop down menus, which should make the it more readable by removing space wasting menus from the content pages.   This is especially true when viewing on smart phones or other smaller screen devices.  In the process, a new section has been added covering Gilbert Paper.  Content has been updated and the formatting cleaned up on several pages.

In the near future, an addition is planned to cover the Washington DC Hall of Science and its layout.  I am also working to add some recently found photos of the 2nd layout to occupy the first floor of the New York Hall of Science.  Finally I will be filling in the sections on newspaper ads with some newly found items.

7/28/2018 - Two photos in the Other Promotional Layouts section have been identified as displays set up by Hartigan's Department Store of Troy, New York at an unidentified trade show or public exhibition.  They can now be found in the Department store section with a bit more information. 

4/26/2018 - I am continuing with the enhancement of the website. The planned section on Gilbert History is now operational. Right now you can visit sections on the Gilbert Radio Car of 1922, some photos of the factory, from its earliest days to the last days of the company, and some really interesting Gilbert delivery trucks.  I plan a lot more for Gilbert History, but it all takes time. Also coming in the future are scans of some full color transparencies taken for Gilbert advertising. Most were quite faded and they are now being restored by my friend and Photoshop Wiz, Daryl Olszeski. They were a bit difficult to scan because they were mostly 8x10 sheet film color transparencies. I guarantee that they will be worth waiting for.

3/19/2018 - I was recently offered scans of some very rare photos that were in the collection of the late Ray Mohrlang.  The new owner of that collection is committed to spreading knowledge about the A.C. Gilbert Company and American Flyer and has chosen to do so through this website.  There are hundreds of photos in this collection and I have now completed the addition of all the display related photos to the appropriate sections of the website.  There are many other photos covering general A.C. Gilbert history that will be added soon to the new Gilbert History section. 

This new section will include photos of Paradise Park (the A. C. Gilbert estate), the Gilbert factory, and other subjects related to Gilbert History.

Here is what has been added so far.

To learn more about the Ray Mohrlang Collection, click here.

2/23/2017 - For some time now, the photos of the 1953 F.A.O. Schwarz layout and the 1947-1951 Bon Marche Layouts which were previously linked through Google Books have been unavailable online.  Now, by special permission of Kalmbach Publishing Co., I can now display scans of the photos which appeared in the Kalmbach book, Toy Train Memories, by John Grams.  Take a look at the revised pages under Department Store Layouts.

2/20/2017 - Recently I found an item offered on EBay that was identified as an instruction booklet for the "Tom Thumb Fold-away Train Town."  This was an ingenious set up that allowed you to fold a 4x6 layout for packing into a 2x3 box with the track remaining attached to it.  It also had a built in wiring system for a variety of Gilbert and even Lionel accessories, but it was clearly designed for Gilbert track and trains.   Take a look in the "Layout in a Box" section for more information and photos.

12/20/2016 - I have added two new sections to the website.   The first is a link to a photo of what I call the "Mystery Layout."   My friend Bill Drake, who runs traindr.com obtained a print of a layout that neither of us had ever seen before.  It is a very large American Flyer Layout which is easily dated to 1951, but what no one seems to be able to figure out is where it was.   It was probably a department store layout, a toy fair layout or a layout from one of the other Gilbert Halls of Science.  I have put it under promotional layouts but once it is identified, it could be moved to a more appropriate section of the website.

1/30/2016 - Viewing PDF files has changed with updates to the three main windows browsers.  Both Chrome and Firefox open the PDF file in its actual size, which may be too small for comfortable viewing.  Only Internet Explorer opens the PDF in page width view, which is probably best for reading.   Firefox has a dropdown menu under "Automatic Zoom" at the top center of the screen that allows you to view in full page or page width view.   Chrome is a bit more subtle with dots at the lower right side of the screen.  Plus and Minus are pretty obvious, but the top button marked only in symbols is what lets you go from actual size to full page view first and then to page width view and then toggles back and forth between those two views.  It does not let you go back to actual size view.

12/7/2015 - A new link on the "Gilbert Goes Hollywood" section has been added for a video clip of an American Flyer train appearance in the 1951 movie Roadblock.  Click here

11/7/2015 - A new photo of the 3rd first floor layout (The Super Layout) has been added.  It is from the cover of the second edition of How to Build and Operate a Model Railroad by Marshall McClintock.   It is probably a photo that many have seen, but were unaware of its location.  Click here

6/23/2015 - The website is now mobile friendly.

A major revision of the website to make it more compatible with mobile devices and small screens has now been completed.   This is the first major change in over a year.  Instead of seeing a shrunken and hard to use version of the desktop website when you view American Flyer Displays on an IPhone or Android device, you will see a reformatted page with readable fonts and links that are easy to select.  The graphics are also displayed at the maximum size that will fit the smaller screen.   On the desktop and large screen mobile devices, like IPads and other tablets, the site appears much the same as in the past, except for the fact that the menu is now at the top, rather than the side.  One nice side effect of this change is that the display can be a bit larger.  Because of the extensive format changes, if you have visited this site in the past, you may need to refresh your screen by hitting the "F5" key if you find the screen image looks strange

For viewing most pages on small mobile devices, I recommend that you view in the landscape mode by turning your phone sideways as that produces a larger image.

I also heartily recommend that you install the Dolphin browser and Dolphin "Jetpack" for your device.  This browser, unlike others, including Chrome, provides better support for video.   This makes the viewing of the many video links on this website much more dependable. 

I hope you enjoy these changes.

6/17/2014 - Unless I can think of more ways to add graphics to the menus of the website, the graphics enhancement project has been completed.  I have also added an Alphabetic Site index to make it easier to find what you are looking for.  While the menu above follows certain logical groupings, the fact that the website has gotten so large, may make it hard to keep track of where things are located.  I hope this new index helps.

6/12/2014 - I recently decided that the website needs a more graphic look to it so I am trying to add graphic features to the menu choices in the website, so you will have a better idea of what you are selecting.  I have completed this for the Factory Layout Displays and Static Displays Sections as well as the Hall of Science and Display Catalogs section.  Department Store Layouts and Advertising Layouts are in progress, but I have to extract some images from videos to illustrate the remaining Advertising Layout menu choices.  I have had a bit of a setback on the Department Store Layouts, as the source of the Bon Marche layouts has disappeared from Google Books.  I am not sure when I can find other sources for that layout that I can use.

6/12/2014 - After looking into the resources cited in an article in The Collector, the magazine of the former American Flyer Collectors' Club, I found nothing that supports the argument made in that article that the 1956 catalog cover photo was taken on a B&O layout.  The article cited in Railroad Model Craftsman is about how to do scenery and, other than the photo of the 1956 cover, all the photos are of the B&O Museum HO layout.  I even checked out a book called Scale Modeling at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and found nothing to support the assertions in the Collector article.     I have revised that section to cover these new revelations.  Just goes to show you that inaccuracy predates the internet and even print sources can be very wrong about Gilbert History.

3/12/2014 - Bobby Abrams recently provided me with access to his collection of Collector Magazines which were produced by the American Flyer Collectors Club.  In those magazines, I found an article establishing that the photo was actually taken on a mid 1950's layout at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum.  Click here for the revised section.

2/1/2014 - Right now, just about everything is new as this is a completely new redesign of the website.   The reason for the redesign was to better organize the information, which has grown significantly since this site was started in 2010.  The new design also takes into account the special needs presented when viewing the website on tablets and smart phones.   While there isn't a mobile version of this website, this version is easier to read and maneuver on these smaller devices.  In the course of the redesign, several sections were either added or expanded as noted below.

Gilbert Goes Hollywood

This section covers the information I have been gathering over the last several months concerning the display layouts that were prominently featured on TV shows.  It features clips of the shows featuring American Flyer trains.  Maybe this will bring back a few memories.

Layout in a Box

In this section we end up at the All Aboard sets, but there is more to it than that.  We trace the history of Gilbert's attempts to provide the train set buyer with a more realistic train layout experience with their initial purchase.  We start with scenic dioramas and progress to the less detailed modular sections used in one set offered in 1959 and in two dealer displays.  Finally, we end up at the molded plastic panels of the All Aboard Sets that were produced in Gilbert's last days.  While these All Aboard sets are not quite like the other layouts discussed on this website, they are, in essence, a mass produced version of a factory display. 

Roar of the Rails

This section is just the beginning of the exploration of the first model train television show.   According to IMDB, it beat Lionel's Tales of the Red Caboose by 3 days - Oct 26 vs. Oct 29, 1948.  In particular, I hope, in the future, to be able to present approximate track plans of the two layouts that were used in the filming of this show.