Don Cariss was destined to be a DL&W fan. His parent’s home in East Orange, NJ was a few blocks from the Lackawanna’s Montclair Branch. Chugging, whistling camelback steamers and rumbling electric locomotives serenaded him from the time he was two. As a boy, Don spent hours watching trains at DL&W’s Ampere Station. The noise and smoke of switching the busy Westinghouse and Crocker-Wheeler plants enthralled him, and he marveled at C-W’s manual turntable, rotated by two men. Don thought "it was the neatest thing in the world" when crews working the M&M candies siding, which crosses a street, tied up road traffic. Walking with his mother to shop in Newark, he hoped that by poking along he could time their arrival on a bridge just as a puffing steam locomotive passed below; decades later, soot-covered from a 32-mile cab ride in Steamtown’s ex-Canadian National coal-burner, Don recalled those attempted smoke baths of childhood.
Although entertaining, trains also proved troublesome for young Donald. One day the seven-year-old, trailing his mother through the supermarket, heard a locomotive whistle and bolted for the nearby Erie freight yard. Discovering him missing, Mrs. Cariss frantically searched the store. She eventually found the boy outside at a crossing shanty, the gatekeeper telling him railroad stories. Don's disappearance earned him the spanking of his life, but afterward his mother had a change of heart. On future shopping trips she dropped him off at the crossing, where he helped raise and lower the gate.
Don still has his first electric train, a 1928-vintage Lionel O-gauge locomotive and three cars. A tinplate layout, complete with working drawbridge, ultimately succumbed to an HO layout with Tru-Scale track. Once he got a driver’s license and discovered gasoline and girls, his interest in model railroading faded.
His relationship with the DL&W and its successor, the Erie-Lackawanna, continued into adulthood: Don commuted on the EL to his insurance job in Newark, NJ. But a growing dislike of north Jersey winters overcame his attraction to the home of the Lackawanna. After his mother-in-law moved to North Carolina and passionately praised the state, Don scheduled a job interview while in Wake County on business. He was hired by Craig Davis Properties, a commercial real estate firm, and moved to Raleigh in 1983. In 1990, Shor and Associates tapped him to set up and head its property management division.
Don has been a certified property manager since 1989. He has been president of the Eastern North Carolina Chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management. After his one-year term ended, he taught the 28-course curriculum required of property managers for certification.
Away from his job, Don sang as a baritone with the Concert Singers of Cary and in two church choirs. In fact, it was through the perseverance of N modeler and fellow church member Al Sauer that he changed scales — as in ratio of model to prototype. Don lacked space at home to model the DL&W effectively in HO, and he "knew" the scarcity of Lackawanna-decorated products eliminated N scale as an alternative. But Al, an experienced custom painter, told him that if N scale decals were available he could have anything he wanted. Don’s visits to NRMRC displays and Al’s layout, and Al’s persistent pitching of N scale, convinced him to give up HO for N. He joined NRMRC in 1992 and was treasurer from 1995 to 2015.
Don firmly believes in education. Whether for business or model railroading purposes, he asserts, becoming "as knowledgeable as possible in whatever you undertake" boosts the quality of a person’s work and the enjoyment derived from it. DL&W operations gleaned from research and remembered from his north Jersey days will be featured on his 10 x 11-foot home layout, under construction, set in the Keystone and Garden states during the steam-diesel transition era. His two 4' NTRAK modules represent Lackawanna County in the northeastern part of Pennsylvania. His two 6' modules model the Ampere Station area of East Orange, NJ. The mountain division is routed to the front and includes a small freight yard. The mainlines move toward the skyboard area and then back to the front. There is also a transition track from the mountain division to the blue line. Scenery includes the original M&M factory, Ward Baking Company and the original Ronson Lighter factory.
Don enjoys running trains. But talking with others about the Lackawanna is at least as pleasurable for him, because it brings back such fond memories. A DL&W license plate: Who would have guessed?
by Jan Poff
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