American Flyer Displays & History

Mystery Layout

Mystery Layout

Photograph courtesy of Bill Drake

This photograph was purchased by Bill Drake and appears courtesy of him.  It does not match any of the other known layouts in any of the Gilbert Halls of Science.  We have shown the photo to several well known collectors but have not been able to definitely establish where this layout existed.  Andy Jugle suggested that it might be a layout from a New York Toy Fair show and that there might have been a Lionel layout on the other side of the mountain.

What we do know from the rolling stock pictured is that the layout was most likely photographed in 1951.  It has to be after 1950 because rubber roadbed and diesels are featured.  Also Circus rolling stock is pictured and the 290 Pacific is present so it is probably no later than 1951, the last year of the 290's production.   In addition, the well known Mini-Craft buildings, which Gilbert introduced in 1952 are absent.   Any layout of 1952 or 1953 would most likely have included those newly introduced items.  Don Rosa also noted that the Plasticville School and the Plasticville Police department displayed on this layout were first marketed in 1951.  Also the ground cover appears to be loose gravel, such as one might use in a fish tank which might indicate a temporary layout.

Some of the toys placed on the mountain also appear to be from that era, but so far, the dates of production we have checked span a wider range than those of the trains and accessories pictured.

The transformers are also interesting.   At first they looked to be non- Gilbert items, but a closer look reveals them to be 12B transformers which were available as late as 1952.  In the photo, the transformers appear to be deeper than they are wide, just the opposite of the actual transformer, but I believe the shot was taken with a telephoto lens which shortened the width of the relatively distant transformers.   Also, the long wooden handles appear to have been removed from the transformers. 

Earl Hunt recently pointed out that a photo of this same layout appears on Page 30 of the March 1952 issue of Toy Trains magazine, but it provides no information on where the layout was located.  It is interesting to note that the American Flyer sign is missing in the magazine photo, but the trains are in the same positions.

If any of you can shed any light on the location of this layout, it would be much appreciated.