Springfield man dreams of recreating childhood memory, paying tribute to his hometown


In 1969, with auto sales going as crazy as the times in Manson-Hippie-Jim Morrison-Bobby Kennedy assassination California, the Credit Life Insurance Co., which insured scads of car loans, tapped Dick Giles on the shoulder and suggested he go west to manage the office there.

MORE FROM TOM STAFFORD: Springfield couple married 50 years keeps the surprises coming. The golden year was one of the best.

For his son, Rick, who was looking forward to his senior year at Springfield North High School and was a drummer in a band that, in the era of psychedelia, switched its name back and forth from the Gum Drop Trilogy to the Isles of White, the move was clearly a bummer.

Whether the untimely departure deepened the boy’s sense of connection with the Champion City isn’t clear. But while looking out the windows of the Un Mundo café recently at the tracks that once carried Big Four trains through downtown Springfield, Giles, now 66, laughed appreciatively at the suggestion that his dreams for a tribute to his hometown railroad may have not just grown but metastasized.

What had started as a project to build a layout showing the Ohio State Limited pulling up on Washington Street beside the iconic and beloved Big Four Depot has turned into a vision that has Giles considering taking a wall out in his basement to make enough room for a model of the Big Four from Springfield to the “hump yard” in Sharonville and maybe even to the Procter and Gamble yard in Ivorydale.

MORE FROM TOM STAFFORD: What do you get a guy turning 64? This one got something very usual and something VERY unusual

Just as he’d go downtown from Home Orchards area to watch the Limited arrive at 5:15 p.m. during his youth, “I’d leave the windows open (at night) and I’d hear the trains whistle for the crossing at Kensington (Street). There’s always that romantic thing about trains in the distance,” though Giles points out that, by then, the sounds were coming from a diesel engine horn instead of the whistle of a steam locomotive.

That detail about the whistle speaks to the depth of knowledge and level of authenticity he brings to his quest. Giles called my home hoping that I’d be able to help him track down a photo of the West End tower, one of six in Springfield. Giles wants an original print. The copy he has from a 1950s newspaper isn’t making the grade.

Different from the towers on other sections of the New York Central, fans of the Big Four love them for their “spindly looking” design. Instead of being walled off on both the first and second floors, the first floors of the Big Four Towers were open, laying bare the lock levers tower operators pulled to switch trains from track to track. The structures were called arm-strong towers in the days before pneumatics and electricity powered them to reflect the strength required to operate the switches.

“These guys didn’t look like Charles Atlas,” Giles said, “but they had a technique.”

Just as the late Bill Swonger chose 1940 for his masterly model of downtown Springfield that has been such a wonderful contribution to the annex of the Clark County Heritage Center, Giles has a period in mind: 1954-62.

A model layout of that era “could run steam and diesel at the same time,” he said. “I’ve collected the locomotives and several dozen passenger and freight cars from that era,” a time in which Big 4 cars transitioned from a rusty red to green.

But Giles has more in mind recreating the railroad’s appearance. “I like the intricacy of actually creating an operating miniature railroad,” he said – of replicating the myriad movements of cars from the main tracks to spurs to serve customers and switching train to sidetracks to accommodate the flow on the main line.

As the operator of such a railroad, “You go out and you solve a complex puzzle every day.”

What’s more, the puzzle’s moving parts would reassemble this region of Ohio when it was an industrial powerhouse, in the days the tracks skirted the edges of factories and sometimes went into them.

In addition to the Springfield factories – and the railroad’s large Warder Street yard and roundhouse of the time – he envisions his layout including two large cement plants in Fairborn; the Union Terminal in Dayton; the Frigidaire works in Moraine; a paper mill in West Carrolton; the Mound Laboratory in Miamisburg; paper mills and fuel facilities in Franklin; and the Armco Steel works in Middletown.

It’s not clear how he will fit all this into the basement of his 1922 house while leaving room for a furnace and washer and dryer.

That he’s seriously thinking about it is a clear sign that Giles, back from California a year now, is running down a dream that began when a train whistle that sounded near the Kensington Street crossing came into his bedroom window on summer’s night long ago.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Community News

Police arrest suspect in stabbing death of DC jogger
Police arrest suspect in stabbing death of DC jogger

Police in Washington, D.C., arrested a 23-year-old man and charged him in the fatal stabbing of a woman jogging through the city, the Washington Post reported. >> Read more trending news  Anthony Marquell Crawford was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the death of Wendy Martinez, 35, who was attacked shortly before 8...
Tracking showers, threat for strong storms expected today
Tracking showers, threat for strong storms expected today

Quiet and mild morning Chance strong storms later afternoon/evening Big cool down for weekend  TODAY: A quiet and mild morning with temperatures quickly climbing by early afternoon into the upper 80s. A cold front will help spark off a broken line of showers and storms.  “An isolated strong storm is possible with wind being...
Jet Airways flight in India forced to return due to low cabin pressure
Jet Airways flight in India forced to return due to low cabin pressure

A Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Jaipur in India was forced to turn back Thursday when 30 passengers complained of nose and ear bleeds because of low pressure in the cabin, CNN reported Thursday. >> Read more trending news  "The B737 aircraft, with 166 guests and 5 crew landed normally in Mumbai," Jet Airways ...
Sprint Car driver Greg Hodnett killed in crash during race
Sprint Car driver Greg Hodnett killed in crash during race

Sprint Car driver Greg Hodnett was killed in a crash Thursday night during an event at BAPS Motorspeedway in York Haven, Pennsylvania, the World of Outlaws said in a news release. He was 49. >> Read more trending news  Hodnett, from Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, was a five-time champion at Williams Grove Speedway in Pennsylvania and was...
2 Missouri men found with 2 kilos of fentanyl, police say
2 Missouri men found with 2 kilos of fentanyl, police say

Two men from Missouri were arrested on federal drug charges Thursday after authorities caught them with two kilograms of fentanyl, enough for 1.5 million doses of the painkiller, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. >> Read more trending news  Two men, Ruben Lopez, 27, and Jonathen Andrew Aguilar, 31, both of St. Charles, were...
More Stories