Prewar Elevated Railroad

The 1935 Popular Science article was a little vague on who built this wonderful layout. A little research discovered Mr. Louis V. Azzopardi was the builder. He began construction of this all-brass elevated railway in 1934.

Anyone know what became of Mr. Azzopardi or his railroad?


New Backdrop

Looks like a mountain, feels like a mountain... at least from the front! Fits flat against your wall and completely free-standing.

A mere 4" depth at the base. Approximately 30" plus in length and up to 12" high. Each includes one metal house.

Of course, they are all painted and decorated in the prewar style!


Transfer Turn Table

-click photos to enlarge-

Check out this wild project from the early 1950s! Ray Downs of Bay Shore, New York won first place in Railroad Model Craftman's 1952 Model Building Contest. The December 1952 issue of RMC has all the details, but in summary Mr. Downs wanted to get maximum efficency from a small area in building his HO layout. Boy, did he!

-pictured is the builder's son, Ray Downs Jr.-

The primary material for the entire structure was white pine painted silver. Ultimately his plan was to have 52 tracks feed from his oval-shaped pit. Though not all trackage is complete you can get the idea of what his intent is. What a way to display all your motive power! For all those guys with an overabundance of MTH, Atlas and Lionel locos this may be the ideal way to not only display the collection but operate it on-demand as well.

That giant gantry in the background operates to service the engine house. Wow!

More pics and text in the Dec 1952 RMC issue. See if there's a copy here!


A Special Treat!

The cloak of mystery is beginning to unveil.

Some of you know that I've been asked about Burplaspa Tunnels made by the Don Shasteen Studio. What little I did know was previously reported in an earlier post. Since that time I've been fortunate (or just darn lucky!) to have been in touch with one of Don Shasteen's grandchildren, Charla Fraley. Charla kindly provided a few photos that not only offers a look at Mr. Don Shasteen but also a glimpse of his factory and scope of his offerings. Take a look (and click the photos to enlarge):

Don Shasteen. What a dapper gentleman!

Company truck with person unknown at the Shasteen factory located at Miami and Jay Streets in Toledo, Ohio. Note the panel truck reads in part "Display Signs & Posters; Toys & Novelties"

Don Shasteen in front of his factory. Note the sign proclaiming the studio as manufacturers of "Baby Grand Golf Courses." Miniature golf was a big fad beginning in the 1920s with its popularity lasting into the mid-1930s.

Very special thanks to Charla Fraley for sharing these photos with us!


The Latest Journey

Mysteries are fun. They become especially interesting when you become part of the investigation and the subject matter involves an unchartered territory of toy train history.

I was recently contacted regarding an intriguing accessory, owned by Bert Schuck, that is often on tour with the SGMA, the Standard Gauge Modular Association. As pictured above, it's an impressive miniature NYC skyline that dwarfs Standard Gauge trains. Mr. Schuck must be rightfully proud to be the owner.

So what's the story on this thing? Well, let's start with the label:

First off, it refers to the Woolworth Building as being the tallest in the world. Immediately we're talking somewhere between 1914 and 1928. Bert Schuck says the portals are the same size as Lionel's Hellgate Bridge. If Mr. Shasteen used the Hellgate as his clearance template then we're dating the tunnel to the late 1920s.

Whatever its age, Bert Schuck has done extensive research in the toy train world and knows of one other existing example of the NYC version Burplaspa tunnel. Truly, his tunnel defines rare.

Some may call it crude but I find the structure to have loads of charm. Per the label it's a "Burplaspa Miniature" which I presume is a concoction of BURlap, PLASter and PAste (or PAint)? Bert Schuck says his example is made of plaster and is probably burlap reinforced, hence the name. Another Burplaspa Miniature was on eBay last November in the form of a small O gauge tunnel seen below.

Have you ever tried to Google Burplaspa? You don't stray too far from the tinplate pool with regards to hits. The real desire was to find some vintage advertisements for all things Burplaspa but so far no luck.

Fortunately there was better luck found searching for Don Shasteen, the manufacturer of the above tunnels. Who was he, what did he do, how long did he do what he did, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera?

Here's what I can tell you about Mr. Don Shasteen thus far:

He was born Donald Otis Shasteen on May 26, 1890 in Napoleon, Ohio to Harvey and Sidney Jane Shasteen. Don was the second youngest of eight children. According to the 1910 Census Sidney Jane was now head of the household with children Will, a printer; Charlie, a candy maker; Cora, who worked from home; Don, an actor and Edith, who was of school age.

By Spring 1918 Don enlisted in the Army and quickly rose to the rank of Sargeant until his honorable discharge on December 10, 1918. In 1924 he wed Fern Elizabeth Struble. Fern served as Don's bookkeeper at the studio. Together they had one child, a daughter named Bonny Fern.

Don's wife passed away in 1946. Don Shasteen passed away in 1955, exactly two weeks after his 65th birthday.

The daughter, Bonny, would later devote herself entirely to early childhood development until her final year of life.

Publicly, there is little to be found, so far, about the Don Shasteen Studio other than some miniatures, furniture and jigsaw puzzles that can be found on the internet.

The greatest amount of information about Don Shasteen came from his daughter's obituary in 2006:

"Don O. Shasteen, former Toledo, OH artist, interior designer and decorator, furniture and novelty manufacturer, old time Vaudevillian star with the Flying Ashtons, and acrobat...

"Bonny grew up during the 1930's in Toledo, OH on the old Brown homestead at Miami and Jay Sts., and then in the 1940s and '50s in Texas, OH on the Maumee River at a home her father built. Her father Don maintained his studios and factories next to the family's homes at both locations from the 1920s through the 1950s. Bonny spent much of her time with her father, watching him work at his studios and factories, and he greatly influenced her outlook on life.

Surely such a proud summary of Don is a result of many stories Bonny told to her children.

More to come...

I want to thank Bert Schuck for reaching out to me when I failed to do so. He provided wonderful insight regarding his treasure and his photos really illustrate a grand piece of prewar history. Please check and see where the SGMA will be appearing and perhaps you'll be fortunate enough to see it for yourself.