The Fessenden School Train Club


As the 1960s began, it was obvious that the train layout had taken a beating over the years. Not only were the Train Club members using the equipment, but the Fessenden Day Camp was using the layout all day, every day, throughout the summer.

The biggest problem with the layout was the condition of the main table. Made out of individual narrow boards during the 1940s, the table was neither flat nor stable. Many of the boards were warped, and all of them moved independently if anyone walked on them. Because of this movement, the track and switches had suffered a great deal of damage throughout the years. The layout had become very unreliable.

In early 1960, the decision was made to completely rebuild the main table. This would greatly increase overall reliability of the layout and significantly reduce maintenance requirements. Ken Dana '54 and I would do the reconstruction.

The project began the day after the Fessenden Day Camp closed in August 1960. Within a few days, the train room looked like a war zone. The new siding area was preserved, but everything else was demolished. Ken Dana is shown amid the rubble in the photo below.

Before long, the remains of the main table were ready to be hauled to the dump. Soon we had an empty room, except for the new siding area and the drawbridge.

Prior to the demolition phase of the project, the new table had been designed in detail. The location of every support post, every table cutout, every wire, every piece of track, and every track switch had been documented. Only a few days after the rubble was hauled away, the new framework was in place, and the wiring was being placed in special notches in the support structure.

Seen in this rare photograph below is the chief wireman (that's me!) installing one of the track power distribution cables.

As soon as all of the wiring was in place, sheets of plywood were fastened to the support structure, and the first layer of stainless steel track was laid on a cork roadbed. Track power connections and track switch control connections were easily completed by drilling holes at predetermined locations in the table and feeding the previously installed wires up through the holes.

A new control panel, raised two feet above the level of the table, was also installed. The old panel could not be used, since the new layout was somewhat different than the old layout. However, all of the controls, lights, and switches could be reused. The photograph shows the new control panel while it was under construction.

By early October, 1960, all of the track was in place, and the mountains were beginning to take shape. Built on a wooden superstructure and made out of window screen, plaster, and cork bark, the mountains were designed to last. In the new layout, the track that used to go through the rear of the town had been moved to the front of the town. (This can be seen in the two photographs below.) The track was moved to the front of the town to make it more accessible in case of a train wreck.

On November 1, 1960, the Train Club reopened for business. There was still much to be done to complete the scenery, but the basic layout was operational. Work continued on the layout for the next two years as time permitted. By the end of 1962, the train club renovations were complete.

In June 1963, my father (Howard Plumley, Assistant Headmaster) retired after 36 years with the school. As a result of his retirement, I no longer lived on the school property, and my involvement with the Train Club was significantly reduced.

I am not aware of any pictures of the Train Club layout that were taken after 1963. If anyone has pictures from the 1960s, I would be glad to add them to this Web site.

Although I am not sure of the exact year, my final involvement with the train room was in the 1970s.