FAIR REPLICA, Queens Botanical Garden

by Kevin Walsh

I have a history with model trains.

In my youth our family set up at least two toy train layouts, on a foldout card table in my bedroom. A small town was created using materials purchased from Walt’s Hobby Shop in Bay Ridge (I got to be one of Walt’s regulars) located on 4th Avenue and 86th Street in Bay Ridge and later, on 5th Avenue somewhere in the 70s.

Now, I have to explain something. When I was a kid I was not first and foremost a train buff about trains per se. I rode the subways, but I was more interested in what I could see out the window when the subway emerged from the tunnel and traveled on an el, such as old ads, buildings, neighborhoods I’d never see otherwise, and, of course, lampposts.

Thus it was when we assembled my toy trains sets. I reveled more in setting up the town surrounding the trains — I scoured Walt’s for plastic trees, shrubs, buildings, roads, and, of course, light posts.

Our toy train experiments didn’t last long in either case. For one thing, dust was an ever-present problem. I believe the serious buffs have canvas coverings set up over their layouts to keep dust out, but we didn’t have those and we’d be constantly vacuum cleaning the train layout. Another problem was storage. Periodically we needed space, and the trains (N-gauge, one of the smallest size layouts) would be packed up and taken to a shed in our apartment house basement.

Unfortunately the shed was protected by just a single lock. Both times we took the trains to the basement, local youth defeated the locks and expropriated our train sets for community use. After the second time this happened, the old man and I gave up on the idea of train sets in the apartment.

However, I enjoy model trains to this day; during the Christmas season, my money situation permitting, I drop into the model train exhibits at Grand Central Terminal and New York Botanical Gardens, the latter one of the biggest in the world, with models of hundreds of NYC buildings, some of them quite obscure.

This past Memorial Day Weekend [2015] word came of a mini-train exhibit also featuring models of 1964-1965 World’s Fair exhibits set up by the Long Island Garden Railway Society, so, a beeline was made to the Queens Botanical Garden, itself a legacy of the 1939-1940 and 1964-1965 Fairs.


The Garden Railway Society, hereafter called the GRS to relieve my fingers, prepared several wood models of buildings and exhibits from the 1964-65 Fair, the largest of which was Philip Johnson’s New York State Pavilion, right down to its Texaco map of NY State on the ground floor. Allowed to deteriorate since its last use as a roller rink in the 1980s and concert venue in the 70s, it received a new paint job on its 50th anniversary and money has been raised to further refurbish it.


The Ford Mustang was first shown at Ford Motors’ 1964 Fair exhibit, and the “full-size” model went on sale the date the Fair opened, April 17, 1964. I was surprised to learn that the horse breed was not the initial inspiration for the model name; a WWII fighter plane was named for the horse, and the car in turn was named for the plane. Before its release, the new model was featured on the covers of both Time and Newsweek and a barrage of TV commercials, contributing to a marketing blitz that later became de rigueur for any new brand or brand variation. The Mustang was featured in the 1964 James Bond series entry, Goldfinger, and Steve McQueen raced a Mustang through the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt.

The car was marketed as an affordable sports car (the initial price was $2300) and the model was helmed by Lee Iacocca, who later became chairman of Chrysler and appeared on several well-known commercials in the 1970s and 1980s.


The centerpiece was the wood mini-Unisphere and reflecting pool, created by scale modeler Rick Bishop.

Designed by landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke, the Unisphere was donated by the United States Steel Corporation and constructed by the American Bridge Company. It is the world’s largest global structure, rising 140 feet and weighing 700,000 pounds. Some sources say the Unisphere weighs 900,000 pounds, a figure which includes the additional weight of its 100-ton inverted tripod base. The diameter of the sphere itself is 120 feet, or 36.57 meters. It is constructed of Type 304L stainless steel. wikipedia

Its rings represent the orbits of the first American astronaut, the first Russian cosmonaut and the first communications satellite (Telstar) to orbit the Earth. It was quite an engineering feat to make the Unisphere stay in place, because the sphere’s Pacific Ocean is much lighter than the section showing Africa, Asia and Europe. The Unisphere tilts at the same approximate 23.5-degree angle the Earth does as it orbits the sun.

The model Unisphere was circled by a replica of a Civil War-era locomotive, “The General,” pulling a miniature version of a 1913 Louisville & Nashville RR combine car, #665. At the 1964 World’s Fair, the full-size versions of each were exhibited.

“The General” is a part of American history– in April 1862 it was involved in Andrews’ Raid, or the Great Locomotive Chase in northern Georgia, in which Union forces led temporarily by civilian engineer James Andrews, commandeered the locomotive and used it to destroy Confederate installations along the tracks, al the while pursued by the Rebs. Eventually the Northerners were caught and Andrews and others were executed as spies, but survivors were later the recipients of the first Congressional Medals of Honor.


A small tribute to Sinclair Gasoline’s Dinoland. From the World’s Fair 1964 Guide:

Life as it existed 165 million years ago is authentically and vividly re-created in “Dinoland,” a large paleontological display bounded by a decorative wall and a partly concealed L-shaped exhibit building. Life-sized dinosaur replicas were created by the distinguished animal sculptor, Louis Paul Jonas.

Nine Fiberglas dinosaurs are displayed, three of them moving figures, each set in the terrain and flora of its own geological period. Visitors follow a winding path through the garden to meet ostrichlike Struthiomimus, 6 feet long, then the ponderous Trachodon, 38 feet long and 16 feet high. Tyrannosaurus Rex, a meat eater, is shown attacking Triceratops, a plant eater. Nearby is the walking fortress, Ankylosaurus, and farther along the duck-billed Corythosaurus in its natural habitat, a lagoon. On the pavilion roof stands giant Brontosaurus, 27 feet tall and 70 feet long, its head swinging back and forth as it peers down at traffic on the Grand Central Parkway. On the path beyond the pavilion stands tiny Ornitholestes, and finally, Stegosaurus with a double row of fins and four long spikes on its tail.

Within the building, erupting volcanoes, flashing lightning and bubbling streams show what the earth was like at several stages of its growth starting with its birth 4.5 billion years ago. Sinclair’s own operations and future plans are depicted in color pictures and dioramas.

Fairgoers could also receive small plastic versions of their dinosaur favorites, produced by a molding device in the exhibit.


The US Royal (Uniroyal) Tires ferris wheel was among the 64-65 Fair’s most popular attractions. It was designed by the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon — who had also designed the Empire State Building 34 years previously. The tire wheel stood 80′ x 83′ x 86′ and remains the largest scale model of  a tire ever built.

After the fair closed it was moved to a Uniroyal office in Allen Park, MI where it remains as a non-moving exhibit.


This is an model of the mini-train ride that was part of the Long Island Rail Road Fair exhibit. This train is still running as part of the Railroad Museum of Long Island in Riverhead:

The locomotive and three cars have been restored to operating condition and re-painted in the original World’s Fair colors. Track has been laid in an oval approximately 670 feet long at the Riverhead site and the train is available for rides during Museum hours. Tentative plans call for the restoration of one more car. Work is also in progress on a yard in which all the cars will be kept under cover when not in use. Currently covered storage can accommodate four cars, while the engine is stored in the engine house garage.

This 16 inch gauge train was built by the Alan Herschel Company and delivered to the LIRR exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in March 1964. After being part of the LIRR exhibit at the 1964-65 World’s Fair, the train went to the Grumman Aerospace Corp. Calverton, NY site where it was a featured attraction at the annual Grumman Family Picnic. Upon closing of the Calverton site the train was given to the Village of Patchogue, NY which, in turn, donated it to the Museum.

A couple of looks at the entire panorama.

A model of the Fair’s Swiss Sky Ride. From the 1964 Fair guide:

In one of the highest rides at the Fair, cabins holding four passengers each are suspended on cables 113 feet in the air. The cables run between the Korean and Swiss pavilion; a one-way trip covers 1,875 feet, takes four minutes and provides panoramic views not only of the fairgrounds but of Manhattan Island. 

Represented in the train exhibit was the New York Central. This tiled sign at the East 149th Street in the Bronx once directed riders to an exit that would leave them near the NY Central Railroad, whose descendant is the Metro-North. (The stop there is long closed never opened, and the tiled sign has since been removed.)


“Sky Streak” elevators on the NYS Pavilion towers once carried riders to restaurants and observation decks.

How about refurbishing the elevators, restaurant and towers and make Flushing Meadows a true destination spot in Queens?

(Sort of a “quickie” page this weekend, as I have a Who concert and a ForgottenTour. Actually I’d like to start doing shorter pieces, but the scope of my adventures sort of mitigates against it!)



NY2AZ May 31, 2015 - 9:43 am

Clarification: In 1978 Henry Ford II “Trumped” Lee Iacocca: Ford actually told Iacocca that his tenure was over. A few months later Chrysler Corp., looking to reverse it’s fortunes hired him. Chrysler’s situation was dire, later requiring federal loan guarantees. It was during those years that Iacocca took to the airwaves to elicit sympathy. Iacocca never did so for Ford, but while at Chrysler he used phrases like”.. it would be too bad for both of us” & “If you can find a better car, buy it” to motivate a skeptical public. Chrysler’s fortunes reversed in the ’80’s & for a time all was well in Highland Park. I doubt that there will ever be another American captain of industry like him. Chrysler’s destiny is now controlled by Fiat, who’s headquarters is in Europe.

Kevin Walsh May 31, 2015 - 4:14 pm

Thanks, forgot about that

Fred Mayer May 31, 2015 - 6:53 pm

Are the gondolas on the Uniroyal Ferris Wheel made from red solo cups?

Jeff B. June 1, 2015 - 1:27 am

I believe the World’s Fair Opening Day was April 21st, not the 17th. See: http://nywf64.com/fair_story01.shtml

Warren Westbo June 1, 2015 - 9:08 am

A fun post! The hobby store you refer to on 5th was most likely Polks. I also recall Madison Hardware on 23rd or 24th St., another fabulous model RR mecca. Both were quite schlep for a kid from SI… but well worth it.

ron s June 1, 2015 - 10:42 am

We let the actual Fair structures decay and crumble. We can now settle for miniature re-creations in a garden. Welcome to Queens.

Robert Conner June 1, 2015 - 1:41 pm

The full size “General” was also displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair.

Danny S. June 1, 2015 - 7:49 pm

>> Periodically we needed space

Space within your bedroom?

As for the N.Y. Central stop at 149th St., saying it is “long closed” is a bit misleading, as it never existed in the first place. There had been some preliminary plans to build one, and the subway builders dutifully added a sign pointing to where they expected the NYCRR station to be, but in fact it never opened. Either it simply was considered too close to the station at 138th St., or it just wasn’t practical to build a station in the wide cut with many tracks that the railroad runs through there.

Kevin Walsh June 2, 2015 - 12:01 am

Got it

chris June 5, 2015 - 6:10 pm

The dinosaurs were dismantled at the close of the fair which was a dumb thing to do.

dronequad March 7, 2018 - 12:56 am

There’s certainly a lot to learn about this issue. I like all the points you have made.


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