Lionel 113 Station AF 4689 Lionel Trolley Ives 1764

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Why We Love Tinplate Trains - An Interview With Laura And Allison Keil, 9 Years Old

by Rick Keil, with Elizabeth, Laura and Allison Keil

Dad: When did you two enter the tinplate train hobby?

Allison: Daaaad! When did you?

Dad: About four years ago. We had been acquiring modern era toys since the winter before you were born, and we have some of your grandpa’s pieces, but our first prewar piece was a Lionel 252 set in terra-cotta.

Laura: That is one of my favorites because our Littlest Petshop animals stick to it magnetically.

Allison: Yeah – it is great to be able to put the animals on the old trains and let them ride around the track.

Laura: It looks like they are having a good time on the trains because their heads bobble as the trains move.

Allison: And they never fall off in the tunnel like the plastic people do.

Dad: Do you have other favorites?

Laura: I really like the red one (Lionel Jr. 1700) except that the toys don’t magnetically stick to it. It looks like it is going fast even when its stopped.


Dad: We have been on the real version of that train at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago (the Burlington Zephyr).

Allison: I like the tiny one that looks like it is made from old tin cans.

Dad: That’s our early 1920’s American Flyer.

Allison: But it smells weird when it runs.

Dad: It is our responsibility as toy train enthusiasts to make more ozone for the atmosphere – it is good for the earth.

Laura: (frowns) What are you talking about Daddy?

Allison: And the Mickey and Minnie windup is fun (author's note – it is a late 1990’s reproduction.)

Laura: I wish that we had more flat cars so that the trains could carry cargo around the layout.

Allison: And maybe you can finally fix the coal car so that it works like it is supposed to and dumps the coal at the depot when you press the button.

Laura: And get a whistle. The older trains don’t make any sounds like whistles or bells.

Dad: Okay, I get the idea. We do have a tinplate whistle station I need to fix.

Allison: Then go fix it and let us play.

Mom: My favorite thing about the trains is that the kids can play for long stretches of time without telling me ‘I’m bored’. I also like how realistic the new ones are.

Dad: Blasphemy!

Mom: Well, I do like the playful nature of the older pieces – they seem so much more approachable and they make me smile every time I see them. Plus, they don’t make that noxious smoke like the new ones do.

Laura: We can use the pine-flavored smoke.

Allison: (laughing) Have you tasted it?!

Laura: (angry) shut up.

Allison: The other thing I like is the color of the tinplate trains. They just look fun. The firefighters train is full of color.


Dad: You mean the Pride Lines custom firefighters brigade sets that we had made for you? Those are really for my grand kids.

Laura: You said you had them made for us!

Dad: Well yeah, but you won’t get them until you are older and move out of the house.

Allison: I can’t wait.

Mom: Sometimes neither can we!

(Laura and Allison frown)

Dad: (laughs) Well, you know what we mean. Now let's get back to the trains.

Laura and Allison Keil live in Seattle and are in the third grade. They enjoy setting up and playing with the family’s seasonal o-gauge toy train diorama. They hate taking it down each February. Allison is especially interested in passenger trains and on-time delivery of passengers to the layout’s carnival, where cotton candy is free and the lines for the Ferris wheel are never more than five minutes. Laura enjoys creating small scenes for people to notice, including this year’s secret spots where Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is presiding over a wedding and where Lightning McQueen and Sally Carrera are off having a romantic camping weekend. Their father Rick is a firm believer in playing with toys and accepts no shelf princesses into the fold of o-gauge trains. His interest in pre-war trains seems only to be growing. Mom Elizabeth is a supporter of this fun family activity. She lends her keen eye to direct and balance the pieces added to the layout each season.

You can view the Keil family layout on Youtube:

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