Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Planes, Trains and .... Nope, Just a Train

By: John Hart, Assistant Curator of Collections

How many of you had electric train when you grew up? I had my little Lionel setup with a steam engine (which could actually throw off “steam”), a “diesel” locomotive, and my oldest train, a late 19th-early 20th century wind-up train that my Great-Great Uncle Fonz (short for Alphonso) gave me. I learned very quickly that the wind-up wasn’t really a toy, or at least that’s what my dad told me, so I played with my Lionel set mostly. I spent hours in the basement running those trains, and even went so far as to take old cracker or cookie boxes and make “houses” or “skyscrapers.”
Above: Charles Lemaire Zabriskie and his grandson, John Lippincott.

Charles Lemaire Zabriskie, from Cooperstown, took his love affair with trains one step further; he built a scale model he could ride. I’m not talking about the little trains you find at some amusement parks, no, in fact, think much, much smaller. He even built a coal tender, a caboose, and three flat bed cars so that he could carry passengers. Lemaire, as Mr. Zabriskie preferred to be called, built this train by hand, and up until 1972, it worked (he built it in the early 20th century) and was ridden. Though he may not have been the first to do so, there are groups all over the country that create scale models they can ride and even built intricate track layouts they can use. One in particular, the Adirondack Live Steamers, is from Saratoga County, New York, and run 7 ¼” gauge (1.5”:1”) locomotives. Check out their webpage for images, history of the club, and projects their members have undertaken.

Above: “Train,” made by Charles Lemaire Zabriskie, Early 20th century, Fenimore Art Museum Collection, Cooperstown, NY. N00012.2008

In 2008 Walter Poor, the grandson of Lemaire, donated this train to the New York State Historical Association, and we are certainly proud to have it. With its local provenance, uniqueness, and all around attention to detail, this train certainly has a place in the collection, and even though it sits on its carrying tray, you can still imagine the years of fun it gave Lemaire and his family.

1 comment:

Johnnyreb said...


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