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If you have read Allan Miller's current thread on the psycho-Mom in the UK who sees evil in Thomas the Tank Engine, you might understand why I went searching for a kinder and gentler era when kids were innocent and (most) parents were not stressing about Junior's fragile psyche. I grew up in Cleveland and remember the wonderful Christmas windows and train layouts at Higbee's, Halle's and Sterling Linder Davis from the late fifties into the sixties. What a thrill for a little boy. I found these great photos on the Cleveland Memory Project website. They are from 1934 and show windows of Higbee's department store with Lionel standard gauge trains. I especially love the photo of the little boy staring at what appears to be a Lionel 400E. Hard to believe that this little boy would probably be around 85 years old if he is still alive. I hope he got his trains for Christmas.

 

Please post any photos you might have that evoke these sweet memories. (And yes, I do realize that 1934 was in the depths of the Great Depression and that not everything was rosy; I am hoping to keep this thread "upbeat" and not become a social/political discourse on the inequalities in American Society.)

Enjoy,

Mack

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Higbees trains

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Last edited by mack
Original Post

I don't have photos.....but I recall going downtown Los Angles to the huge Sears store. (still standing but not a store any longer) During Christmas they had the big O scale layout. And they even offered used equipment for sale....maybe traded in on new trains??? I bought a lot of Marx track with the black plastic ballast cast into the track....and a few cars too. Always looked forward to going there with Dad......

In the 50's there were 2 department stores not to be missed in New York City: B. Altman (5th Ave at 42nd St) and Macy's (down 42nd at Broadway).  My mother and my aunt would take my brother and I on the subway (F train).  I am sure they were shopping for Christmas but my brother and I could put up with shopping as long as we got to the toy department and the train layouts.  I am pretty sure some of my train gift were based on what I liked most.  Dad worked in the city so he did the actual purchase.

 

Other, non-department stores to see we're Polk's and FAO Schwartz and, of course, the Lionel showroom.

 

Good memories.

In Lancaster, PA the place for trains was Farmers Supply. They had a huge layout with switches and trestles, two things I didn't have on my 4x8 pike. Later on Joe the Motorist stores had a nice selection of Lionel. I usually received an operating car every Christmas, almost always purchased on sale AFTER the previous Christmas. Many of the boxes have the original price stickers with markdowns.
Originally Posted by Mike McCutcheon:

I remember buying MPC Lionel items at Kmart and Caldor dept. stores in the 1970's.  Then HO and N scale Life Like in the mid to late 80's at Kaybee toys.

In the early 1970's COOK'S dept stores carried a full line of Rapido N scale. It was just placed on the shelves in the toy dept. The turnouts came in little boxes....wonder how many walked out???

I can rember going to uptown monroe nc shoping around christmas.Belk store would have lionel train set in the window.And sometimes they also had marx trains.And smaller trains to that ran on 2 rail brass track.Some of those were they had a funny name.They were called tyco and another called cox.I would go home and I would have such big time dreams about christmas day.

Mack, I too was born and raised in Cleveland. Back in the 1950s and early  60s, it was a thrill to travel downtown to see the Christmas toy departments at the department stores you mentioned (and the spectacular and huge Sterling Linder tree). May Company also had a fun toy department back then, and the Hobby House was train central downtown on Huron Road at E. 9th Street.

 

I especially liked going down to the department stores just after Christmas where a boy could spend his Christmas money from relatives and get trains and other neat stuff at closeout prices. Picked up a fabulous chemistry set that way using my mom's green stamps (which May Co. accepted).

 

My Lionel train set (1955) came from Jaye and Jaye Hobby on Lee Road at Euclid (I think). Oh, how I fondly remember the pre-Christmas atmosphere there on a frosty Cleveland night, going in the back to see the layout run and then deciding on what Lionel item I would point out to my Dad as a possible Christmas gift. What fun days those were.

 

For me, born/raised in Washington, D.C. in the 40's, the must-see windows downtown were at Woodward & Lothrop, Kanns, Hechts, Julius Garfinkels,...and up in the northwest section called Tenleytown, just a few blocks from my house, Sears.  All had great huge corner display window areas wherein the magic of the season often included operating trains. 

 

One display in particular is burned into my gray matter.  And, that first photo of this thread could've been me in showing the particular advantage someone of my stature then had in making this 'discovery'!   In the display a lionel train raced along a track at floor-level just in front of the window glass.  It disappeared into a tunnel in a snow-covered mountain as it headed toward the wall.  But a few seconds later the train re-emerged several inches above the first opening, heading off in another direction at this new level!!  HOW DID IT DO THIS???  WHAT WAS IN THAT MOUNTAIN???

 

So I scrunched down to get a better peek into that tunnel opening as the train entered it, and THAT's when I learned about "Magne-Traction", not knowing that the phenomenon had a special name.  The train simply made a couple speedy loops up a hidden helix to the new level.  Way over on the other side of the huge display it apparently rode a hidden helix back down to the floor level again. 

 

I was mesmerized.  And only us miniature folks could easily get down to a viewing position into that tunnel opening to see the ruse....just like that boy in the OP's photo!

 

It would be a monumental task, I'm sure, for someone to search out, assemble, and publish, but a book or some sort of compendium DVD that captured detailed photos of all these special department store, specialty trains store Christmas windows from this bygone era would be a must-have for me.  ...From ALL over the country!!  Those window displays were definitely kid-magnets and part of the sheer magic of the season. 

 

Gone forever, I'm afraid.  Now kids probably stare in drooling wonderment at the latest Blackberry gizmo, X-box, cellphone, pda, pocket-Cray,.....whatever...., sitting ho-humly in a much smaller window area of a much different store. Ah, who am I kidding?...they simply search the web on their home computers in the warm comfort of their own homes for the electronic veeblefetzer-of-their-dreams.  Too bad.

 

(sigh.)

 

 

 

Last edited by dkdkrd

I grew up in Fall River, Ma. and there was a large department store by the name of R.A. McQuirs (unsure of the spelling) that had a huge train layout every Christmas. While my mom shopped I would go up to the 2nd. floor & watch those trains run, standing there mesmerized. Those were the days when you could let a child go alone in a store without worrying.

That was a yearly event along with going to Taunton Green to look at the Xmas lights, Lasallette Shrine in Attleboro, & finally Edarville R.R. in S. Carver.

It wasn't just the big department stores that had train layouts.  In 1951, we lived in Bloomsburg, PA, a small college town where Dad was a student.  Balshis Hardware Store (yes, that's where I got my userid) had a big train section every Christmas season.  My Dad would sometimes take me there on a Saturday morning to watch the trains.  In fact, one Christmas, when I was three years old, a Lionel 2026 followed me home, courtesy of Santa Claus.  And yes, I still have it.

 

We moved to another small Pennsylvania town after Dad graduated and got a full-time job.  Corcelius Hardware had an American Flyer layout in its basement-floor Toyland.  But even that was dwarfed by the big Lionel layout in CH Miller's Toyland.  Miller's was the only department store in town, and though it was pretty small compared to the major metropolitan stores, its Christmas Toyland was second to none.

 

We even had a sizable layout at Hoover's gas station, which was an official Lionel dealership.  That was the first place I ever saw Super-O track, a #50 Gang Car or a #60 Trolley.

 

In those days, you didn't have to go to a major city to see Christmas displays of trains.

 

Most of these posts bear witness to exactly how effective Lionel's promotional expertise was.  Christmastime was THE big season for selling trains....that's a given........but just the fact that SO many stores, big and small, in cities and towns, big and small, carried Lionel (as well as AF and Marx to a lesser extent) trains, is a

true testament to Lionel's selling power.

Originally Posted by Dave Warburton:

Mack, I too was born and raised in Cleveland. Back in the 1950s and early  60s, it was a thrill to travel downtown to see the Christmas toy departments at the department stores you mentioned (and the spectacular and huge Sterling Linder tree). May Company also had a fun toy department back then, and the Hobby House was train central downtown on Huron Road at E. 9th Street.

 

I especially liked going down to the department stores just after Christmas where a boy could spend his Christmas money from relatives and get trains and other neat stuff at closeout prices. Picked up a fabulous chemistry set that way using my mom's green stamps (which May Co. accepted).

 

My Lionel train set (1955) came from Jaye and Jaye Hobby on Lee Road at Euclid (I think). Oh, how I fondly remember the pre-Christmas atmosphere there on a frosty Cleveland night, going in the back to see the layout run and then deciding on what Lionel item I would point out to my Dad as a possible Christmas gift. What fun days those were.

Dave,

 

  Jaye & Jaye, The Trading Post and of course The Hobby House. When I retired from the Army we moved back to Ohio in 1988, about two years before the Hobby House closed the doors for good. I think they closed in 1990-91?

 

Bill

Last edited by Boxcar Bill

I am a full time store window designer and fabricator for a company in New York City and as you can guess, now is the middle of my busy season. My assistants and I are cranking full force to get our windows perfect for the big tourist onslaught. When we are installing the weeks before Thanksgiving we, the workers become the tourist draw during the days of installation. I have had people come by everyday sometimes more than once to watch the progress. 

 

A few years ago I worked at the Rockefeller Center location and I was able to sneak a MTH standard gauge Girls set into the holiday display window. The store was carrying the set that year as a special product even though they do not usually carry trains. The prominent window was seen by thousands waiting in line to see the  Rockettes and the big Christmas tree.

 

Moral of the story is that there are still holiday windows in the 21st century of stores that do not normally carry toy trains featuring them in their windows and there are still handcrafted display windows that are not flat printouts from home office.

Last edited by Silver Lake
Growing up in NYC (Manhatten) we had the Lionel Showroom on 26th street & AC Gilbert over on 25th & 5th Ave. Wanamakers Dept. Store had a Monorail set up on the ceiling of the main floor that ran around the entire overhead. Back on Fifth Ave. there was Altmans that had a large Lionel layout and they had a lake with real water in the center of the layout. A clear plastic or glass tube was in the lake & the SF F-3
2343 with alum. passenger cars went through it. That was an incredible sight especially in the 1950's. Of course Macy's on 34th street always had a wonderful layout as well.

As a side note in 1963 I worked at Macy's during the Christmas season selling Lionel Trains & Aurora Race cars. A woman came in one day and said she wanted to buy her husband a train set for him for Christmas. I talked her into buying a Lionel Hudson ($200.00) and various freight cars.
She said "My husband will kill me." I told her he'll probably say that it was the best Xmas present ever. A few weeks latter a gentleman came up to the 5th floor where we were selling the trains and he asked if I was the one who sold his wife the $200.00 Hudson and assorted cars. He wasn't smiling and I hesitated to say I was but I eventually said that yes it was me. He reached over and shook my hand & thanked me profusely. Said it was the best Xmas present ever.

Those are my best department store memories of Christmas.
Last edited by Captain John
Originally Posted by jim sutter:

My mother and father always took me to Pittsburgh to see the train layouts at Gimbel's, Kaufman's and Horne's. Also, they would take me to the Penn Traffic dept. store in Johnstown to see their train layouts. Christmas, what a wonderful time of the year.

Dang Jim, ya beat me to it!!  Yep the BIG THREE, Kaufman's, Joesph Horne, Gimbel's.  I also think Boggs & Buhl had trains but it burned down rather spectacularly as I recall as a wee lad.  Then there was Bill & Walt's Hobbies, though they did not have a layout as I recall.  Dad always got Lionel through Doubleday-Hill Company, an electrical supply house  that sold and repaired Lionel but had no storefront.

 

Still have every Lionel train and accessory I received growing up (and their pristine boxes).

Originally Posted by trainroomgary:

Hudson's Department Store, Detroit

 

They always had a Toy Land, I believe it was on the 12th floor.

American Flyer, Erector Sets & Lionel Trains, were always on display.

If you were a kid, it did not get any better

see photo of building from Woodward Ave.

Click to enlarge

Hudson's in Detroit 1950's

Yeah, it was the entire 12th floor.  Whenever we visited my grandmother in Detroit at Christmas - Hudson's was the place to go.  They had great Lionel & American Flyer display layouts, along with every toy imaginable. 

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