MONTANA’S MINIATURE ‘CANNON BALL’

article image
Clarence E. Mitcham
Courtesy of Clarence E. Mitcham, Route 1, Mead, Washington 99021 and with the permission of The Spokesman Review paper. Photo and write up by Bob Olson, Victor, Montana 59875.

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.

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