Finding a connection to my Dad in a suburban St. Louis estate

Yesterday I wrote about my greatest estate sale find ever. Well, the very same month as that one, I found another estate sale featuring a Lionel 1110 locomotive, which happened to be my Dad’s first train. So of course I put that sale on my list. The 1110 wasn’t among Lionel’s finest moments, but I’ll note that in 1986 when Dad and I pulled his postwar Lionels out of storage, it was the first of Dad’s locomotives that we got running, and in 2003 when I got them out again, it was the only one that still ran.

Well, this 1110 didn’t run. The motor assembly was cracked and it wasn’t worth the asking price. But behind the locomotive, I found some paperwork. “Build these realistic models!” it urged. It was marked $4. The tag warned it was very delicate. I took it out of the plastic bag it was in, decided against trying to unfold it, and bought it unseen.When I got it home, I carefully unfolded it. At the bottom was a copyright notice: Copyright 1948 Lionel Corporation.

This poster, containing six cutout paper model buildings, must have come with the train set the 1110 came with. Therefore, it stands to reason that these buildings were among the first to grace Dad’s train table in the late 1940s. Given the flimsiness of the paper, there’s no question why those buildings didn’t survive for me to ever see them. But that didn’t matter now.

What survived of Dad’s collection was a group of late 1940s/early 1950s postwar locomotives and cars and a few Plasticville buildings. With it, we built a 1950s plastic suburbia on the basement floor of the 1970s ranch house we lived in.

But I use mostly paper buildings on my layout now. It seems like every postwar layout I see in every train magazine looks exactly alike, because everyone has the very same Plasticville buildings. Paper was the low-budget option in the 1950s, and I’m sure Dad didn’t keep those paper buildings around terribly long. Dad’s parents were the town doctors–yes, both of them–so there was a certain level of prestige expected of them. Being a good Scotsman, my grandfather didn’t buy extra track from Lionel–Marx track cost less and was indistinguishable from Lionel once it was mounted to the table–but there’s also a perception that a doctor doesn’t have nice things must not be a good doctor.

Since there was no prestige with paper, not many paper buildings survived. But the paper buildings did look nice, in spite of being paper, and chasing after paper buildings today is a good way to get a layout that doesn’t look like every other layout you’ve ever seen.

I unfolded the poster on the kitchen floor and borrowed my son’s camera to photograph it. The connection wasn’t lost on me. I could then take the images into the computer, fix the tears, fix the scale if necessary, and print new images on archival-quality paper to assemble properly.

Then I found a copy online in better condition. So much for needing to do that.

I would have bought this sheet regardless of whose name was on it. Seeing that they were from the 1940s was an additional bonus, but seeing that they probably were something Dad would have used some 65 years ago to build a train layout makes this one of my best estate finds ever.

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