Photo courtesy David Smith In a 1970 photo, T. Clinton Phillips showed off a small section of the huge model train layout in his Charleston Avenue basement. Note the circus train cars in the foreground of the photo.

Editor's Note: This is the 293rd in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.

HUNTNGTON — Some of the most disastrous train wrecks in American history took place in the basement of a Huntington home — at least in the movies.

T. Clinton Phillips built a huge operating model train layout at his Charleston Avenue home that more than once Hollywood filmmakers used to stage miniature train wrecks. Cecil B. DeMille's 1952 spectacular "The Greatest Show on Earth" was one of several films that included wreck footage filmed in Phillips' basement.

Phillips was a nationally known expert on model railroading. He loved to tell how the Lionel company once invited him to New York City for a six-week workshop on building model train layouts. "After three days they sent me home because I already knew everything they could teach."

He was born in Beckley in 1906. In 1925, he moved with his family to Huntington, where the shop he and his wife, Evelyn, created at 1140 16th St., became the go-to place for model train enthusiasts of all ages.

But model trains weren't Phillips' only passion. He raced motorcycles and boats. In 1927, he turned in a world record speed run at Daytona Beach, Florida, and later raced motorboats on the Ohio River at Huntington. He loved tinkering with motorcycles and automobiles. He restored and showed antique autos.

Turned down for active military service during World War II, he joined the Civil Air Patrol, flying and racing light aircraft. In 1945 he won a first-place trophy in a CAP cross-country air race from Huntington to Jamestown, New York.

Clinton Phillips died in 1983.


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