My first toy train set, if you don’t count the one I purchased for my son when he was three or the Marx set I had when I was 5, was purchased in November of 1979. For unknown reasons I answered an ad in the paper for an “Old Lionel Train”. What I found was a peacock 253 with 2 coaches and observation, plus a 4 wheel peacock gondola and a controlling rheostat, all in original boxes in the set box. I gleefully brought the set home and tried to run it on my son’s 027 track, but it did not like the curves. Lesson #1: prewar 0 gauge prefers 0 gauge track to 027. I call the set “Grandpa”, since it was my first very own Lionel train.
In December of 1979 I attended the Holiday Faire at our county fairgrounds, where there was an exciting (to me at the time) standard gauge layout. One of the men invited me to the Christmas Show of the Golden State Division of the Toy Train Operating Society, where there were bunches of toy train layouts. I thought I was in heaven, finding out that I could actually run and collect these wonders. I joined TTOS that January and four years later joined TCA as well. I had the honor of serving at the national level of TTOS for 18 years. I also was given 8,000 square feet of space to fill with layouts at the 1988 TCA convention in Oakland, and had a Marx layout at the Burlingame TCA convention as well as showing my layout on one of the layout tours that year. The clubs have certainly enhanced my enjoyment of my toy trains.
I negotiated the slippery slope from prewar 0 gauge to standard gauge rapidly. I managed to afford a 33 electric, then had to settle for buying the smaller accessories for some time. Unfortunately for my standard gauge collection I had the misfortune of falling in love with prewar Marx as well in 1989. My operating heart is with standard gauge, however. I love the noise, the derailments the moment I am not paying attention, and the bright colors. I am not a rivet counter nor do my steam engines have to be black.
For many years I operated only at shows, using 10 boards that were 8’ x 2’ with legs that screwed on. Three of us women built them together and covered them with green indoor/outdoor carpet, much to the amazement of our husbands. When my children finally left home for the last time we converted two bedrooms and 2 walk in closets upstairs into one big L shaped room and the 8’ x 2’ boards went up there for a standard gauge layout. I learned a lot from that layout and built the permanent layout in time for the Burlingame convention using RR track software to lay it out. I can walk upstairs and run my trains any time I want. I can run 4-5 standard gauge trains at a time, depending upon how I set the switches and whether or not the train control on the outer loop is working. Currently I can also run one 027 train on an elevated track, and the Marx layout comes out of the garage periodically to operate Marx in the living room (it’s MY living room, right?).
It is hard to answer which tinplate I enjoy collecting most, both the standard gauge and the Marx give me a thrill when I find them. I prefer to operate the standard gauge, however, as it is so big and hunky. If I could only keep one toy train from the collection it would have to be the Blue Comet or the McCoy circus train. I have the Lionel Classics reissue of the Blue Comet, an original is out of my price range. The one I don’t own and would like to own is the American Flyer Mayflower, but I don’t expect to own it now that my husband is retired.
I attend both the Pasadena and Santa Clara Cal-Stewarts each year in hopes of finding something to add to my collection as well as the TTOS conventions. I also search on EBAY I have found some very interesting things on EBAY, I think it is a great place to buy toy trains if you are careful. I am unwilling to buy anything I cannot run, so I leave prototypes and sealed boxes to other collectors.
I repair my own trains, as I repaired for over 11 years for the local Lionel Service Station. It was a great opportunity to handle many trains that I would never have an opportunity to own. I did all the standard gauge and 0 gauge repairs. Fortunately my husband is very supportive of my hobby and could usually help out if I came across a new repair problem that I did not understand.
As far as the rest of my life is concerned, as a little girl I looked at every issue of Model Railroader as my Dad received it, and learned from the NMRA publications that I was not interested in rivet counting. Dad was into HO traction, way too dull for me. I am told I was in the cab of a cab forward at age 3, and I remember riding across the San Francisco Bay Bridge on the Key System trains when my Dad was running them, sneaking into the cab (a tiny thing) when we were on the bridge and could not be caught.
I apparently had a Marx windup Commodore Vanderbilt as a young girl, but I don’t remember the cars. I ran it all over the floor. I went to a friend’s house as much as possible because he had a Lionel electric train AND an erector set. That was heaven.
I have been married to Peter for 42 years, have a son and a daughter, and a 9 year old granddaughter. She is more interested in my Pacific Electric coin box than my trains, but she does run them once in awhile. My son has a lot of N scale and now has my father’s small HO traction collection as well. School children come sometimes on a field trip, where they learn about electro-magnets while they are here and get to make one for themselves. My other hobby is dollhouse miniatures. I enjoy making miniature furniture especially. We live in the San Jose area of California, and enjoy sharing the trains with visiting toy train people. The train room is almost always operational and available.
As for the future, I believe that we will still be collecting and operating toy trains for a long time to come. Based on observation at shows for the public, some children are finding toy trains a relief from the hectic pace of computer games and other technological gadgets. I think the tin stuff and the postwar trains may last better than the newer trains, and as children grow up and can afford them they will be interested. I see a slump in the hobby for about 10 more years, but then I expect it to pick up again. The clubs will have a great deal to do with this, as we must operate trains for the public in places where they will easily find us and learn that these wonderful old trains can be repaired over and over and will still keep running.
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