5/14/2013 2:41:00 PM Back on Track: Remarkable model train returns to Verde Valley
The model steam locomotive created by one-time Camp Verde resident Arthur Johnson around 1915 was actually a method for testing Johnson’s idea of an electric semaphore. It is 54 inches long, and weighs 95 pounds.
Johnson worked on a simple lathe to create each piece of the replica of a Pacific-style locomotive. It was exhibited at the 1915 world’s fair in San Francisco. The model is now owned by Arline Damer, who brought it back to the Verde Valley for National Train Day on May 11.
While Verde Canyon Railroad was celebrating the 60th birthday of Engines 1510 and 1512 on May 11, another little locomotive was enjoying its first return to the Verde Valley in 40 years.
Arline Damer brought the 95-pound model steam locomotive up from the Valley of the Sun for the National Train Day celebration at the Clarkdale depot. It was apparently last on display here at Camp Verde's Wingfield building in 1971, but much farther back it was a darling at a world's fair.
At more than four feet long and a foot high, the two-car set was built by train aficionado Arthur Johnson as an exact replica of a Pacific-style engine. It was not just a hobby. Johnson, who would eventually reside in Camp Verde, had a technical and monetary purpose for building the model nearly 100 years ago.
As a young man in Seattle, Wash., Johnson hand-made an electrically controlled semaphore to aid in track switching. Semaphore signals are used to send messages to the engineer. The early semaphore signals were purely mechanical using wire cables or pipes and a system of connecting rods to move the actuating lever.
The more remote the operator was from the signal and the harsher the weather, the more difficult it was for the signals to work correctly.
They also originally used kerosene lamps to light them in altering colors and then later used electric bulbs.
Several inventors were working on the idea of an electric or at least electro-pneumatic semaphore signal systems. However, getting a working model was a difficult task. Many a railway man had already seen many prototypes that just did not work the way they should.
Though men from the railroads - specifically Oregon & Washington, Great Northern and Union Pacific - came to Seattle to see Johnson's idea they did not want to pay to test it.
So 21-year-old Johnson meticulously crafted the Pacific replica in order to prove his semaphore system would work. Johnson made each part of the model by hand on a lathe. Sitting on its own sturdy set of tracks, the model train was on exhibit at the 1915 world's fair, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.
Its success there convinced the O&W representatives to test Johnson's semaphore idea on a narrow gauge mine track near Phoenix. It worked, and they bought it.
But Johnson kept the exquisite model train that allowed him to show off his electric semaphore system in the first place. Johnson and his wife came to live in Camp Verde in 1969 to be closer to their daughter and brought the model with him.
That led to him putting the steam locomotive on display at Wingfield's and a feature in the Verde Independent in 1971.
Clearly at a different class than the typical model train set up in many a basement, it was said to be capable of pulling 2,500 pounds. It has transferred hands over the decades but has always been cherished by its owners. All these years later, Damer not only has the train and track but also the wood box originally built for it.
Verde Canyon Railroad's Train Day celebration was a perfect opportunity for Damer and her sister Peggy to once again show off one man's enthusiasm for helping trains move along and reintroduce a remarkable creation to the Verde Valley.