How To Toy Train Layouts American Flyer store display photo from early 1950s

American Flyer store display photo from early 1950s

By Roger Carp | September 10, 2023

Reader shares a shot of an Albany train store named Charles Klarsfeld & Son

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Isn’t amazing how a single vintage photograph of a store that stocked electric trains can serve as a time machine to carry us back several decades. Pictures like this one are scarce, and so we at Classic Toy Trains know how fortunate we are to be able to share it with you. Our gratitude goes to CTT reader Stanley J. Kozaczka, who chanced upon this forgotten black-and-white picture at a toy train show a few years ago. He decided to let us in on the secret.

vintage photo of a train store display
This remarkable picture, taken in the early 1950s at Charles Klarsfeld & Son in Albany, N.Y., shows how a leading American Flyer dealer enticed customers.

What we know

According to Stanley, the picture was taken inside Charles Klarsfeld & Son, a business once located in downtown Albany, N.Y. The retail establishment owned and managed by Mr. Klarsfeld, who died in 1980 at the age of 89, was at 67 Hudson Ave. The building is long gone, having been demolished in the early 1960s, when the State of New York constructed the massive Empire State Plaza.

Life was much different 10 or so years earlier, when an unidentified photographer had snapped this picture. Various other retail outlets had crowded Hudson Ave., along with many rooming houses and restaurants.

What we can surmise

color catalog page from American Flyer
Gilbert introduced the first of its S gauge buildings in 1952. Seeing a few on the layout made it possible to conclude the photo was taken then and not in 1951.

Customers at Charles Klarsfeld & Son strolled through the front door to see a landscaped electric train display measuring maybe 6 feet across and 18 or 20 feet long. The layout consisted of an O gauge main on the perimeter and a pair of S gauge lines filling the innermost part of the principal level. Evidently, some sort of barrier, probably just thick wire, prevented people from touching the trains.

The two teenage boys, wearing winter jackets, lean over a glass barrier to admire a Lionel No. 313 Operating Bascule Bridge. Behind the O gauge set they gaze at an American Flyer 4-8-4 steam engine and tender pulling a long string of single-dome tank cars around the hill. A road winds up and around that landform, reaching a miniature church (most likely a Plasticville or Skyline item).

Farther down the S gauge main line, toward the mountain at the left end, another American Flyer steamer pulled a few passenger cars past what appears to be a No. 275 Illuminated Eureka Diner. A No. 566 Whistling Billboard can be spotted a few inches to the right, next to a No. 755A Automatic Talking Station.

Below the layout at the feet of the two kids some accessories await new homes. Easily identified are American Flyer Nos. 583A Electromatic Crane, 768 Oil Supply Depot, and 593 Signal Tower. Amid them is a Lionel No. 397 Diesel-Type Coal Loader. Above are Lionel Nos. 45 Automatic Gateman and 455 Oil Derrick & Pumper; on top of the cabinet is a Noma No. 450 Talking Station.


Sets for sale

Charles Klarsfeld & Son was listed in literature available from the A.C. Gilbert Co. as the sole authorized American Flyer sales and service center in Albany. That might be the reason signage at the far left referred to the store as a Hall of Science, the name by which Gilbert identified its offices and key dealers.

Turning to the enormous group of shelves erected on the wall behind the layout, we spy several American Flyer cataloged sets. Five rows of trains lay beneath the different trestle bridges and the boxes of Lionel track and accessories.

The S gauge sets there, along with items on the operating railroad, suggest the picture was taken during the holiday shopping season of 1952. Highest was the No. 5107W, a four-car freight train led by No. 365 Santa Fe Alco PA and PB units. Right below that top-of-the-line train was the No. 5108W, a three-car streamlined passenger set whose motive power was the same 365 combination.

To the left of the 5108W the proprietor had placed set No. 5004, a steam switcher train featuring a No. 342 Nickel Plate Road 0-8-0 locomotive. It came with three cars, including a No. 646 floodlight car, and an illuminated caboose.

The middle shelf had on the right side a brand-new No. K5210 four-car freight set. Its No. 335 Union Pacific 4-8-4 engine pulled three cars and a worm & boom car. To the left was a No. 5002T American Flyer circus train. Cataloged in 1950 only, it must have been leftover inventory the store wanted to get rid of.

The bottom two shelves showed potential buyers what else was on hand. First came set No. 5114, a three-car heavyweight passenger train with a No. 312 Pennsylvania RR 4-6-2 Pacific steamer and tender. To its left were two nearly identical freight sets: the Nos. 501T (with a No. 302 2-4-2 Atlantic and tender and three cars) and 4904T (with a No. 282 4-6-2 Pacific and tender and three cars).

On the right portion of the lowest shelf was another 4-4-2 Atlantic paired with three freight cars and a caboose. Nothing like that appeared in the cataloged line for 1952 or 1951. However, back in 1950 Gilbert had used such a consist in its No. 5001T American Flyer railroad system with a farm scene. So maybe that was additional inventory left from previous years – and priced lower than ever!

Finally on that bottom shelf was set No. 5112T, known as the American Flyer diesel switcher freight. It relied on a No. 370 GP7 road diesel to handle its Nos. 633 boxcar, 715 automobile unloading car, and 630 illuminated caboose.

What do you see?

About now, American Flyer collectors with their sharp eyes and deep knowledge of the train line have picked out other models or noted mistakes in my description of the sets. If so, we hope they’ll contact us with their correct findings.

Even better would be hearing from anyone who visited Charles Klarsfeld & Son. Memories of the store, the layout, and the personnel would enhance our knowledge and bring more life to this wonderful old picture shared with us.

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