Story and photo by Bob Olson, and permission of The Spokesman Review paper. Courtesy of Clarence E. Mitcham, Route 1, Mead, Washington 99021
'RAILROADIN', once you get into it, stays in the blood,' says Roy Mabary, 71, a retired railroad machinist at Hamilton, Mont.
Mabary's little South Hamilton farm-where he and his wife Beryl have lived 35 years features a miniature train which he built piece by piece over some 15 years.
The train is not a toy that a child can pull around by a string. It is a genuine transportation unit, with a coal-burning steam engine, that pulls a string of four cars along 3,000 feet of track. The steel engine draws its coal car, a flat car, a gondola, a seat car and, of course, a red caboose. Mabary built every inch of this rare railroad equipment. He patterned the steam engine after 'Old 2223' a big locomotive that his father, George A. Mabary, piloted to pull No. 3, and old-time passenger train, out of Helena. His father was an engineer, Roy was a machinist, and Roy's brother George was a brakeman, so the Mabarys were truly a railroad family.
The Miniature Train's engine is 15 feet 10 in. long, including the coal car. There is a hand-operated switch on the track and the cars can travel a great deal faster than kids can walk or even run. Height of the engine is 3 ft. 3 in. and it weighs 3,200 pounds, has a 16-in. gauge and 16 flues with diameter of 1 in. Coal capacity is 300 pounds and water capacity 80 gallons. There is also a water tower.
'Coal power? Sure. Nothing diesel about my train,' Mabary beams. The steel to complete his engine was hard to come by during World War II. By 1942 he still had considerable work to do before his engine was railroad proof. But eventually the situation cleared away and the small locomotive, like its big regular model engine has the number, 'Northern Pacific 2223' for all to read. The Swiss sheep bell that clangs when the train moves may be a little out of railroad order, but it does the trick. Its companion noise-maker is a steam whistle which once capped a Model T Ford
As many as 30 young passengers have filled the cars and scooted into the caboose on the free excursions that Mabary gives the juvenile population during vacation months and 'until it starts to freeze, for then its time to put the little old train in the sheds for the winter,' he said.
The good weather weeks of nearly 20 years have found the Mabary 'railroad' plying its route of happiness for children. Teachers bring small boys and girls for the treat and recently the 'Head Start' classes of both Hamilton and Corvallis had their chances at holidays on the railroad.
Mabary says he has enough materials collected to build another train. 'I'll be working on it until I'm 100,' he chuckles and Mrs. Mabary laughs with him.
'Old 2223', Mabary's pattern engine, has a history of exceptional service. The old engine pulled trains for years between Missoula and Butte and then it was transferred to St. Paul. In its Montana assignments one stood out as most memorable. Mabary said the engine stood 'fired and ready' with wrecker and supply cars in 1918 in case anything happened to a special train in which President Woodrow Wilson was touring the Western states.
Mabary's miniature engine can get up a steam pressure of 110 pounds per square inch. It's a Q-4 just like the old 2223. The big engine was built by the Schenectady plant of the American Locomotive Works in New York in 1910.
None of the children who ride the little Mabary train love it more than Roy and Beryl's own grandchildren, Carol, Connie and Cathie who come from Littleton. Colo, each summer for a visit. Their father, George LeRoy Mabary, is an engineer at a missile site near Littleton.
Roy Mabary was born in Helena and all his years have been spent in Montana. His wife, whom he met as Beryl Freeze in 1918 and married the following year, was born in Iowa but has been a Montanan since she was two years old.
Their little farm, with its apple trees and colorful fields, is a happy place. They are still not retired people, they tell you, even at ages 65 and 71. Roy is operator of the one theater in Hamilton, and Beryl takes care of the ticket office. 'I'm still a machinist,' Mabary claims.
The Spokesman-Revies Sunday Magazine, July 23, 1967.