Clarkson Bundick

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He loves trains, so he built his own

The Free Lance-Star

Fredereicksburg, Virginia

Monday, February 14, 1977

by Spencie Love

Clarkson Bundick poses with the NYC Hudson he built. Photo by John Paraskevas, "The Free Lance-Star", 1977.

Eighty-four-year-old Clarkson Ulysses Bundick looked at the model steam engine on the wooden stand in his dining room with shrewd and affectionate pride. After a contemplative pause, he pointed to its intricate steel workings and began to explain.

When Bundick was a mechanical engineer for the National Broadcasting Co. in New York, he labored 3,000 hours on evenings and weekends over a period of eight months to fashion the 3/4 inch-to-the-foot working model of the New York Central's Hudson-type streamliner in his basement. He constructed every single item, except the steam pressure gauge, with his own hands.

Now retired and living with his wife in a Fairview Beach home that is crammed with mementos, Bundick recently resurrected the train from a cold corner in his garage. Bundick could not lift the train by himself: it weighs a mere 400 pounds.

Perhaps only another mechanical engineer can fully appreciate the subtleties of the perfectly constructed engine, but even a passing glance at its gleaming rods and pistons prompts respect for the mind and the hands that accomplished the feat of putting it together.

What inspired Bundick to build it?

Puffing his pipe, whose white trails of smoke surely remind him of steam engines, Bundick recalls the trains that used to go by his house at 47th and Madison in New York City when he was a boy. They clanked and hissed underground, beneath a wooden bridge that covered the street and the smoke rose up into the air as he walked over the bridge.

His eyes twinkle as he sits in his armchair and recalls, "You coul dhear and see them. You could smell the smoke and have a fine time."

Bundick explained, "I just wanted one. I didn't know how to get it, but I wanted on that would run on steam and push the smoke out." The smoke, which evidently has an acrid aroma of hot oil and soft coal, appears to give Bundick special delight.

Bundick recalled an incident when he was 8 years old and his mother had dressed him up in a white suit to go to Coney Island for the day. As usual, he went to stand on the bridge and smell the smoke. When he came back black with soot, his mother was furious.

Bundick who designed gadgets and machines for NBC for 25 years until his retirement in 1958 built a smaller train made of brass in 1944 and 1945 in his basement in Scarsdale, N.Y. He apparently considered the smaller one just a practice run for the larger one.

Unlike the larger one, which is modeled after the very train that passed by Bundick's home as a boy, the smaller on was entirely designed by Bundick. Almost as intricate as the bigger train, it too stands on display in his home. It has no brakes, and as Bundick said, "It could run away with you."

The last time Bundick ran the bigger train was in 1950. he belonged to a club in New York for railroad buffs and could run it on 800 miles of track. The train is too small for anyone to ride completely on top of it but one can put the train on a three-foot-high wooden trestle and ride side-saddle on the first flat car behind the tender.

The train's speed is about 10 miles per hour and it can pull a weight on flatcars of up to 1,000 pounds. The locomotive's boiler, which holds just under two gallons of water, carries a working pressure of 125 pounds per square inch. Bundick said that the steam in the boiler can get dangerous. "It can blow up," he said, "You could kill yourself with it."

Among the many items for the train that Bundick fashioned in his basement are: a firebox which burns tiny grains of rice coal; a feedwater pump which will squire 1.745 pints of water per minute into the boiler as it operates at the rate of 20 strokes per minute; a miniature feedwater heater which preheats the water before it enters the boiler, and the train's 26 wheels, all fully spring and equalized.

Bundick's wife, Dorothy, stood by as Bundick explained the engine. "You'll never understand it," she said smiling and shaking her head. "I still don't."

Mrs. Bundick, born in Front Royal, was formerly married to an Army career officer and traveled extensively. Treasures that she brought back from all over the world fill the house: a brass dragon from China, an ivory-tusked elephant from India, a table made from a solid tree by Philippine headhunters, delicately painted figurines from Czechoslovakia.

If someone went to Fairview Beach and spent an afternoon drinking tea and playing Mah-Jongg with Mrs. Bundick--a game she enjoys--he could probably gather enough material from a novel.

However, since Bundick's trains were the subject under discussion Mrs. Bundick added her own lively comments about them. She told how Bundick used to come to Virginia for vacations and sit on his riverbank to dream up inventions. According to Mrs. Bundick it's very possible that the big stream-liner itself had its origins on a Virginia riverbank one summer evening.

Yet when Bundick walked over to the big train and contemplated it once more with the same canny expression on his face, one thing was clear: only Bundick knows all the train's secrets.

See also Model Maker's Dream Engine.