The Crooked Lake Review

Summer 2006

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The Lehigh Valley Railroad is Gone
But Not Forgotten


Richard Palmer

PHELPS - On April 1, 1976, the Lehigh Valley Railroad passed out of existence as a corporate entity, the most profitable trackage passing into the hands of Conrail. Its past was deeply rooted in Finger Lakes region. But it was not forgotten. In 1977, a small informal group of Lehigh Valley devotees started meeting at the home of Guil Mack near Phelps, N.Y. to look at slides and movies, reminisce, and inspect Mack's gigantic HO scale model railroad that he built in his basement. The rest is history.

Interest in the history of this railroad has grown with each passing year, and the "Lehigh Night" has become something to look forward to. Just when you think you've seen everything there is to be seen in the way of photos, slides and movies, someone always comes up with something new—whether it is on the main line or on one of the branchlines the railroad was noted for.

Mack himself, now 65, is a native of Geneva. He has always been a railroad enthusiast, dating back to the 1940s. He got his first wind-up train during World War II, later graduating to electric trains made by Marx and Lionel. Then there was a brief respite in 1954 when he and his family moved to a farm not far from where he now resides. "We had indoor plumbing but no electricity," he said. His father worked at the Experiment Station in Geneva. Guil, an electrical engineer, made the railroad model hobby his business in 1979.

Under the name Tiger Valley Models, Mack produces scale models of diesel and steam locomotives. He said he started the business to fill what he perceived as a void in the model locomotives produced by Alco of Schenectady, and its Canadian affiliate, Montreal Locomotive Works. He caters to serious modelers who work from kits. When assembled, the locomotives are as close to prototypical as a model can be. Mack has been widely-acclaimed in his field for his craftsmanship. He works in a shop at his home, building not only kits to sell, but producing locomotives and cars for his layout. Every Wednesday night, a small group of friends also in the hobby meet at his house to work on and operate the layout.

The train layout, in his basement at 107 County House Road, is so large that he planned and had his octagon-shaped house built around it in 1970. It covers 1,800 square feet and includes 5,700 feet of track which is the 87th scale equivalent of between 80 and 100 miles. He has nearly 500 locomotives and more than 1,000 assorted freight and passenger cars. During an operating night, four or five locomotives will be coupled to a 100-car freight train. It takes about 20 minutes at a moderate speed for the train to completely traverse the whole route. The layout, of course, is a major attraction during "Lehigh Valley Night." Many of the locomotives are modeled after actual Lehigh Valley prototypes. They and are painted in the many color schemes the Lehigh Valley used over the years, ranging from the traditional "Cornell Red," gray and yellow, black and white, and Tuscan red which represented the influence of the Pennsylvania Railroad which owned the line for years.

Following is a photo of Mack's massive train layout.

Photo by Dick Palmer
© 2006, Richard Palmer
Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer


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