Monday July 26, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Miniature Railroads

On this Day:

In 1847, Moses Gerrish Farmer built the 1st miniature train for children to ride.  All aboard!

A ridable miniature railway (US: riding railroad or grand scale railroad) is a large scale, usually ground-level railway that hauls passengers using locomotives that are often models of full-sized railway locomotives (powered by diesel or petrol engines, live steam engines or electric motors).

Typically miniature railways have a rail track gauge between 5 in (127 mm) and under 15 in (381 mm), though both larger and smaller gauges are used.

At gauges of 5 in (127 mm) and less, the track is commonly raised above ground level. Flat cars are arranged with foot boards so that driver and passengers sit astride the track. The track is often multi-gauged, to accommodate 5 in (127 mm), 3+1⁄2 in (89 mm), and sometimes 2+1⁄2 in (64 mm) gauge locomotives.

The smaller gauges of miniature railway track can also be portable and is generally 3+1⁄2 in (89 mm)/5 in (127 mm) gauge on raised track or as 7+1⁄4 in (184 mm)/10+1⁄4 in (260 mm) on ground level. Typically a portable track is used to carry passengers at temporary events such as fêtes and summer fairs.

Typically miniature lines are operated by not for profit organisations – often model engineering societies – though some are entirely in private grounds and others operate commercially.

There are many national organisations representing and providing guidance on miniature railway operations including the Australian Association of Live Steamers and Southern Federation of Model Engineering Societies.

A ‘model railway’ is one where the gauge is too small for people to ride on the trains. Due to the use of mixed gauge tracks, passengers may ride on a miniature railway which shares the same gauge as, and is pulled by, a large model locomotive on a smaller model gauge, although this is rare.

‘Miniature railways’ are railways that can be ridden by people and are used for pleasure/as a pastime for their constructors and passengers. In the USA, miniature railways are also known as ‘riding railroads’ or ‘grand scale railroads’. The track gauges recognised as being miniature railways vary by country, but in the UK the maximum gauge is 350 mm (13+25⁄32 in).

A ‘minimum-gauge railway’, which generally starts at 15 in (381 mm) gauge, is one that was originally conceived as a commercial railway with small gauge track, with a working function as an estate railway, an industrial railway, or a provider of public transport links.

In the UK a gauge of 350 mm (13+25⁄32 in) [or above] or crossing a carriageway are the criteria used by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), at which a railway is no longer classed as miniature and is therefore subject to formal regulation: they may be minor railways and/or heritage railways; the concept of minimum gauge is not recognised for the purposes of regulation.

Around the world there are over 1,000 miniature railways open to the public, with 7+1⁄4 in (184 mm) being by far the most numerous (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Did you hear about the children’s miniature railway which sold bubblegum? It was called “A chew chew train”…

Second, a Song:

Alton Glenn Miller (March 1, 1904 – disappeared December 15, 1944) was an American big-band trombonist, arranger, composer, and bandleader in the swing era. He was the best-selling recording artist from 1939 to 1942, leading one of the best-known big bands. Miller’s recordings include “In the Mood”, “Moonlight Serenade”, “Pennsylvania 6-5000”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, “A String of Pearls”, “At Last”, “(I’ve Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo”, “American Patrol”, “Tuxedo Junction”, “Elmer’s Tune”, “Little Brown Jug” and “Anvil Chorus”. In just four years Glenn Miller scored 16 number-one records and 69 top ten hits—more than Elvis Presley (38 top 10s) and the Beatles (33 top 10s) did in their careers.

In 1942, Miller volunteered to join the U.S. military to entertain troops during World War II, ending up with the U.S. Army Air Forces. On December 15, 1944, while flying to Paris, Miller’s aircraft disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

In 1938, Miller returned to New York. He realized that he needed to develop a unique sound, and decided to make the clarinet play a melodic line with a tenor saxophone holding the same note, while three other saxophones harmonized within a single octave. George T. Simon discovered a saxophonist named Wilbur Schwartz for Glenn Miller. Miller hired Schwartz, but instead had him play lead clarinet. According to Simon, “Willie’s tone and way of playing provided a fullness and richness so distinctive that none of the later Miller imitators could ever accurately reproduce the Miller sound.” With this new sound-combination, Glenn Miller found a way to differentiate his band’s style from that of many bands that existed in the late thirties. Miller talked about his style in the May 1939 issue of Metronome magazine. “You’ll notice today some bands use the same trick on every introduction; others repeat the same musical phrase as a modulation into a vocal … We’re fortunate in that our style doesn’t limit us to stereotyped intros, modulations, first choruses, endings or even trick rhythms. The fifth sax, playing clarinet most of the time, lets you know whose band you’re listening to. And that’s about all there is to it.”

“Chattanooga Choo Choo” is a 1941 song written by Mack Gordon and composed by Harry Warren. It was originally recorded as a big band/swing tune by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra and featured in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade. It was the first song to receive a gold record, presented by RCA Victor in 1942, for sales of 1.2 million copies (per Wikipedia).

Here is a slapstick train ride video clip by Lowbrow Productions featuring the greatest comedians from the Golden Age of Comedy – set to the pulsating rhythms of the Glenn Miller Orchestra playing “Chattanooga Choo Choo” from the movie Sun Valley Serenade (per

This clip stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, W.C. Fields, Fatty Arbuckle, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, The Stooges and many others…  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“There’s something about the sound of a train that’s very romantic and nostalgic and hopeful.” – Paul Simon

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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