The State Of Affairs In Model Railroad Trains

Back in November, I heard WDAY making the promo for that night’s broadcast — an alarming headline about model trains. I don’t recall word for word, but it was so alarming that I indeed remained glued to the station and watched the news especially for that report. While the headline sounded far more drastic (implying that something was preventing the manufacture of model trains or something), the segment (video here) was about the decline in model railroading membership and a decreased interest in model trains themselves. While it wasn’t particularly surprising, it was saddening… Even though we do not yet own a model railroad set.

Through the serendipity of the collecting gods (what some might call “luck”), we found ourselves days later in Wisconsin, visiting family, and there we discovered that the Lionel Railroad Club Of Milwaukee was having an open house — we transported ourselves there asap!

There were so many things to look at… Not just the trains, the engines and cars, but all the figures, cars, animals, and details in the layout. So much to take in, that even though there is a raised look-out spot for engineers and others to get a great “aerial” view, you really have to walk around — several times — to try to see everything.

And then you’ll need to make at least one more trip looking at the vintage railroad engines and cars displayed on the walls and on the side of the layout!

There’s an impressive 28-foot long, 250 pound, model of New York’s Hell Gate Bridge which spans above your head. You can see more photos and details on how it was made here.

The bubbling oil rig lights that look like vintage bubble light Christmas tree ornaments were a complete surprise.

The kids fell in love with the aquarium. I myself was completely smitten with the Lionel Madison Hardware Shop model — there was a miniature model train set in the miniature store window! Yes, the mini train worked too! Here’s a closer look:

As a family we greatly enjoyed the huge model train set-up. Being there just confirmed all the reasons why we want a model train set. It’s not just the rush of the choo-choos, the excitement of their woo-woos, but the chance to build the whole miniature world! I’m a girl who loves miniatures. And hubby’s a man with some model building experience — small toys and larger theatrical sets too. For both of us it’s a chance to get really creative!

The price of a model train set can seem steep. New, vintage, or antique, it’s not cheap. But if you consider the years you can take to build and grow your set, it’s achievable to do it piece by piece. And affordable when you realize this is a true hobby. Not to minimize collecting in any way (How could I?!), but model trains and railroads are about building, expanding, playing; these are not shelf-sitters.

The husband and I have wanted a train set for a long time; since visiting the railroad club open house we’ve grown not only more wistful but determined to make it a goal for ourselves. (Yes, you can expect more model railroad articles!) I’m sure the kids will climb on board once they see the train in action.

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Deanna is the founder of Inherited Values, among other sites. She is also an antique dealer.

9 thoughts on “The State Of Affairs In Model Railroad Trains”

  1. I’m probably doing the wrong thing here by including a link, but this is the first thing I thought of when I read your post: Here’s to all the Real Men out there…

    You can delete the comment if inappropriate, but I was pointed to this site a year ago by someone, and there were so many train layouts under Christmas trees that I spent the twelve days of Christmas looking at them.

  2. I don’t mind the link, Dave. But I’m still not sure what you mean about me and putzing… Isn’t all my obsessive collecting, writing, hobby stuff “putzing”? Was your comment supposed to be ironic or sarcastic in a funny way? Or is there another definition I don’t know about?

  3. No sarcasm intended. It was a short statement by me, thinking perhaps you’ve covered it before. Have you? I’d dig in archives if you had, just to be doing it. I enjoy your articles. This one caught my eye because the model trains caught yours.

    I can’t imagine collecting model trains or building a small layout in my basement.

    The included link was passed to me over a year ago. I looked at all the photos in their archives. I guess it’s like looking at photos of the interiors of General Stores from the past. You can read the labels, and in the case of the train layouts? There are those who know, by looking at a photo of a train layout not only when the photo was taken, but where the whole shebang came from.

    I’ve got grown kids who somehow manage to coerce us into storing their collective memories in our basement, so it’s nice to be able to look at a place where all of those memories (and trains) can be seen. Thanks for the article. I meant well, but I’m no wordsmith like you are.

  4. I still think we’re talking about “putzing” in different ways. But it’s not the first time, nor the last, I shall feel I am missing something 😉

    I did enjoy looking at the layouts — even more excited for our own set!

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