Trainmaster

PrintPrintEmailEmail

“There’s a junction a little south of Baltimore where the Annapolis line went off to that city. Another line ran from the junction directly to Washington; it used the trolley tracks of Capital Transit down New York Avenue to the trolley terminal. And there was another line from Annapolis Junction on the B&A that crossed the old Pennsylvania Railroad at Odenton and then went on to Annapolis. Two routes to Annapolis! The direct B&A track from Baltimore is still there, unused, but the rest of that big interurban network was all pulled up in the 1930s.”

The 1914 Voltamp recalls the peak period of the interurban, for both toys and the real thing.

Nearby stood a Voltamp red interurban from the same line, with Washington on its destination board. It is twenty inches long, and Claytor dates it to 1914. Its clerestory roof, arched double windows, and four-wheel trucks recall the peak period of the interurban, for both toys and the real thing, before the onslaught of the automobile. I thought I detected a sigh from the man who not only runs Amtrak’s trains but has recently taken over commuter rail services for the state of Maryland. Think of the escape from all the traffic, inside and outside the Beltway, if full-scale WB&A cars like this still dashed hourly along their private rights-of-way under the singing wires.

 

Some electric toy trains employ overhead wires, but the ones most adults remember ran on the three-rail O gauge (1 1/4 inches wide) or standard gauge (2 1/8 inches) of Lionel, Ives, and American Flyer. Voltamp trains, however, used just two rails, with power from batteries or, after home electricity became more widespread, via a transformer. So did those of Carlisle & Finch, the first electric-train manufacturer in the United States. Touch the two rails with one hand and you can feel a slight tingle. You can also feel, quite distinctly, Claytor’s enthusiasm for Carlisle & Finch products. The firm made everything from a bouncy four-wheel trolley to the realistic locomotive No. 45 with nickel-plated boiler and side rods that actually move.

“No. 45 represents the first locomotives on the 20th Century Limited, on the New York and Albany run—over the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad, to give the full name,” said Claytor with warmth. “I think it’s well proportioned, and it pulled the most handsome toy train ever made. Carlisle & Finch put out a new catalog every year from 1897 to 1915, and I’ve got ‘em all. They were an electrical supply house in Cincinnati that turned out all kinds of appliances. They made marine searchlights, and, when the First World War came, they had tremendous business. Now this is just my conclusion and I haven’t read it anywhere, but I think that they they looked around and saw that the toy-train business was getting pretty competitive, with Lionel coming on strong and Ives too, and that’s why in 1915 they quit making the trains and never went back to it. They are still the largest manufacturer of marine searchlights in the world. We had them on our ships in the war. Our new frigates all have Carlisle & Finch searchlights. So does the old Mississippi riverboat Delta Queen—big thirty-six-inch arc searchlights, to find her way at night.”

I reflected that I was listening to not just a railroad man but also a former Secretary of the Navy and Deputy Secretary of Defense—and, in World War II, a lieutenant commander in the Navy. We exchanged the usual reminiscences. At the end he had been skipper of the destroyer escort Cecil J. Doyle and had helped rescue survivors from the cruiser Indianapolis, sunk by a Japanese submarine on July 29, 1945, only days before the war ended. It is one of the great scandals of the war that the Indianapolis, traveling alone, was not missed by any command, although long overdue. No rescue calls could have been made; the radio went out in one of the explosions. None of the planes passing overhead saw the approximately eight hundred survivors in the shark-infested water. The pilot of an Army plane did spot flares, which he reported to his base as a “naval battle” of some sort, but the base did not relay this, on the ground that the Navy must know about its own battles.

Back home, later on, with searchlights still in mind, I got down Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, vol. XIV, and found what I was looking for. On the morning of August 2, a Navy pilot on a routine flight spotted men in the sea and sent an urgent message giving the position. Without waiting for orders, Claytor, some four hundred miles away, turned his ship and started. As Morison writes:

Doyle, by bending on top speed (24 knots), was the first ship to arrive, about midnight 2-3 August. She recovered her first survivors at 0030 August 3. ...

“Lieutenant Commander Claytor’s dispatch . . . was the first to inform any shore command that the Indianapolis had gone down.” In a sea full of heads bobbing in the darkness, he picked up almost 100 of the 316 survivors. By searchlight.