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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Newspapers visit the Green Brook Lines, 1954-61

Working on the history of American OO it is such a mixed bag of what information exactly has come to me. At this point I am not even sure the source to thank, but a fascinating snapshot of OO history may be found in a series of three newspaper articles on the layout of David Sacks, the Green Brook line.

The first article was published in the New York Herald Tribune on Friday, Dec. 31, 1954. The photo (too muddy to reproduce here) shows the same Neil Vuyk that is seen in the cover photo of the issue of Railroad Model Craftsman (June, 1955) that has the first of the Greenbrook articles in the model railroad press (more here). Vuyk is in a similar location, but with Sacks.

What I love about all of these articles is the breathless, newspaper text. The title of the article is “Schedule Crisis for N.J.M. Railroad” (“Its President May Move”) by Robert L. Moore. It begins,
PLAINFIELD, N. J., Dec. 30. It was reported this week that the entire Green Brook Lines Railroad, from Somerville to Easton, may be out of operation for two years if its president, David M. Sacks, moves to a new home.
Last night, in the basement of Mr. Sacks’ home at 231 Hillcrest Ave., nine grown men contemplated somewhat glumly, in spite of an ample supply of beer, how they were going to keep the North Jersey Midland Railroad running on schedule while Mr. Sacks laboriously puts his Green Brook section back together in whatever house he moves to.
There was an article on the North Jersey Midland club in Model Craftsman in February of 1947, which I describe further here. The newspaper goes on to tell that the members of the group range in age from 27 into their late forties and meet every Monday night. The layout was reported to be 25 by 15 (but the track plan I have says it is 18 by 14) and ran using timetable operation. They used a fast clock, with each hour being five minutes.

We also learn a few details about members of the club as well. Former president Newton Guerin (seen in the final color photo below) was owner of Tri-State Engineering; William Johann was a design draftsman; David Sacks was a machinist; Howard McPeek was a police captain. “Others are cabinetmakers, draftsmen, clerks, and one runs a women’s apparel shop (Doop’s, in East Orange).”

Next up is the gem of this trio of articles, which ran in the “Sunday News” on 2/20/55. Titled “BIG Little Railroad” (“It takes 12 men to operate model trains”), the photos are from a different photo session. My copy is a color Xerox, and the scans are spread out over the current article. Click on any photo for a better view. The article has no author credited and begins,
THERE’S a saying that men are just grownup boys. You’d have no trouble agreeing with the adage if you could see the group of men in Plainfield, N. J., happily playing with a model railroad that’s believed to be one of the finest in the East.
The trains, all OO gauge and known as the Green Brook Lines, are housed in the basement of David M. Sacks of 231 Hillcrest Ave. He and his pals are members of the North Jersey Midland Model Railroad Association. 
The article goes on that Sacks started building the layout in 1940. A number of statistics are given quickly, the most impressive being he estimated that he had “spent $12,000 on his hobby.” The layout boasted 525 feet of track, 18 locomotives, and 95 cars. Actually both articles mention a “refrigeration unit” as well; I guess for the beer? The article concludes,
There’s one slight drawback. Sacks can’t run the outfit alone. When he wants to play with his trains he has to call in about 11 of his gang to help operate his system. Between them, the men have loads of fun as railroaders.
The last article of the set is dated Friday, May 19, 1961. The newspaper is not specified but it seems to be another local paper. By Francis Jones and titled “Green Brook Line to Send Last Train Out of City,” the article begins,
The Green Book Lines, Plainfield’s most noted model railroad, will make its final run from Plainfield to Easton Monday Night.
Area commuters will be unaffected, however, for the line operates on track less than an inch in width and run a distance of 55 feet, all in David M. Sacks cellar at 277 Arnold Ave. 
The article states that it is “perhaps the largest in the state constructed by a single man,” but it was being dissembled because the Sacks family was moving to Orange, CA, on July 1. As noted in the earlier articles, Sacks got into OO gauge in 1940, and he expands on that in this article.
“When I bought my first set of trains and track,” he recalled, “the clerk in the hobby shop predicted it would be gathering dust in a corner within a week. If only he could see it now.”
The article relates that Sacks was a machinist and die maker at Zimmer Machine Co. He was up to 130 cars by then. The locomotives are almost all steam and the setting is pre-war. “Only a few diesel switch engines run on the Green Brook tracks.” Then they get to the question of why call it the Green Book lines. According to the article
“The Green Brook is our largest waterway,” he noted solemnly.

The article notes that “King Features did a page spread” on the layout, which must be the article with the color photos above, and that it would be the topic of an article soon in Model Railroader. That article may be seen in their August, 1961 issue. This layout was a large home layout, an L shaped island with an overall size of about 35’ x 20’. That article will be a topic I come back to, but I would note that I see a Kemtron GP-7 lettered for the Greenbrook, so he had more than diesel switchers running alongside steam (and it looks like there are Greenbrook passenger diesels in the color photos as well). This final photo is from the MR 1961 article, taken from the same angle and cropped to imitate the very muddy photo in the newspaper article. The main difference is that in the newspaper photo it was set up so that Sacks is to the left, putting a steam locomotive in a box as if packing for the move (Bill Johann is in the MR photo).

The final section of the 1961 article speaks of his future plans in California and gives a bit more of his personal story. He was born in Somerville and is married with a wife and daughter. In conclusion he told the paper “Model railroading is a wonderful activity…. beats sitting around watching television.”

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