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January 12th- On The Soulders of Giants- Part 2

posted Jan 16, 2017, 6:34 AM by Sue Line RailRoad   [ updated Jan 29, 2017, 5:54 AM ]

This week I want to share with you another Giant in the Hobby- the late Cliff Robinson of Dallas, Texas. Cliff Robinson lived with his wife Mary in a simple house in an exclusive part of Dallas, Texas. In was in the building behind his house that the magic began. In this building was Cliff Robinson’s model railroad- The Marquette Union Terminal or MUT Lines.

This photograph of Cliff Robinson at the MUT lines is a copy of a photograph on the wall of Gil Freytag's model railroad the Stoney Creek and Western. It was originally published by Tony Koester in the February 1992 Model Railroader.

Cliff Robinson is a gentleman and he was a gentle giant in the hobby. I will always recall my first operating session with Cliff Robinson on the MUT Lines. Several friends and I had traveled to Dallas, Texas for the session. Prior to the session Cliff Robinson had spent some time describing his newest locomotive and the Swiss motor he had installed in it. It was clear that this locomotive as special the Cliff Robinson’s heart. During the session I was reaching up to a remote part of the layout and leaned over a lower track just a the “pride of the fleet” was about to pass. The locomotive and by “tummy” met and the locomotive fell to the floor which a loud crash. Cliff Robinson was seated as his dispatcher’s panel when the room fell silent. After what seem like an hour, Cliff Robinson slowly got up, walked over and picked up the locomotive. As he turned to take the broken locomotive away he simply said “It need some work anyway” and placed it on his work bench. The locomotive was replaced and the operating session continued as though nothing had occurred.

Cliff Robinson was a kind, gentle man who I never heard of harsh or unkind word come from his mouth about another model railroader. If we went to a layout where there were wooden blocks pulled by string, Cliff Robinson would say “Nice string” He was just that sort of man. Soft spoken and respectful of others. These were the qualities of a great man.

Cliff Robinson was also a generous man with things and wisdom. Many times I had seen him listen continently to some modeler tell about his “trials or tribulations” after which, Cliff Robinson would slowly and respectively give the fellow modeler a piece of sage advice, encouragement and praise.

When I was new in the hobby, I would go to conventions and meeting and try to see every clinic presented. In noticed that Cliff Robinson and several others would spend most of their time sitting on a sofa or chairs and talking with people who passed by. I wondered why they had no interest in the clinics. Years later I realized that they had “been there” and “done that” and they we all too familiar with what was being presented.

I recall spending man happy hours with Cliff Robinson and others on his magnificent MUT lines. It was well thought out, was fully sceniced operated flawlessly and was “well ahead of it’s time’ There was a secret to the MUT lines which was not at all obvious due to the operation scheme- you only did trailing point moves. There were no run around moved to be made. The layout easily accommodated six operators plus the dispatcher who was always Cliff Robinson when I was there. Often, as great as the operation sessions were, the best part of a session was the “discussions” which were held afterwards. Cliff Robinson knew all of his contemporaries in the hobby and had an immense wealth of knowledge, but he never flaunted it. Cliff Robinson was a humble man and lived by the motto “I would rather be happy than right”.

Cliff Robinson cared more about operating his layout than writing about it so there is very little published about the Marquette Union Terminal (MUT) and there are very few photographs. One day while we were talking, I mentioned to Cliff Robinson that I had just received the railroad author certificate from the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA). Cliff Robinson asked me, “and how many more merit badges do you plan to collect. Do you think you will be a better modeler if you are a ‘Master Model Railroader’?” Cliff Robinson had insight like that.

For me personally, one of the more difficult chapters in Cliff Robinson’s life actually came in the form of his epilogue. An auction of all of his railroad equipment was being held to help his wife, Mary Robinson, after his death.  While there. four well known collectors were all sitting together and making coordinated bids on locomotives or train sets in order to maximize the "deal".  During one of the breaks, I had a discussion with the person holding the auction and it was agreed that several items would not be put up for auction, but sold on consignment so as to maximize the value for Mary Robinson. 


When I think back on this time, I can almost hear Cliff Robinson saying “It’s okay, let them have them.  They needed some work anyway.”