model train set on track

How I Got In To Toy Trains: Part 2, Bill Fuller

e*Train Issue: Mar 2022   |   Posted in: ,

TCA #87-26705     Spring 2022

The first start in toy trains was followed by several years of on-the-floor temporary “layouts” such as this one from 1955.

TCA member Frank Ventura kicked off this series of articles with “How I Got Into Toy Trains, Part 1” in the Winter 2022 issue of e*Train, and I promised to relate my own story in the next issue, so here goes, folks!

Actually, I got started into toy trains twice, once under the influence of my father and again, somewhat later, under the influence of my wife, Dorothy.  Taking these starts in chronological order, let’s begin with a couple of memories from my very early childhood, and that will require that we go back in time about seven decades.

One day, not an otherwise significant day, not a birthday, and not a Hanukkah or a Christmas day, my father came home from work carrying an old cardboard box stuffed with mysterious newspaper-wrapped parcels.  Whether this was a purchase or the result of someone cleaning out his closet I’ll never know, but those parcels turned out to be a small eclectic collection of well-used Lionel and Marx, including a Lionel 2026 steamer and a Marx Southern Pacific double diesel locomotive set.  It didn’t take this five-year-old kid long to figure out which train went on which loop of track and to start racking up mileage on the living room floor, my mother displaying remarkable forbearance for the tracks, trains and noise.

As the years progressed, so did engagement with the hobby.  Temporary loops of track on the floor eventually morphed into more permanent loops on a table in my bedroom.  Luckily, I had no siblings to take up space or to vie for real estate with their own interests, but I did have a cat who insisted that she be involved with the hobby, specifically with the thread with which I had laboriously created overhead utility “wires” glued to a long line of telephone poles.  Perhaps that’s why my subsequent layout towns all had buried utilities with no overhead wires!

In honor of my dad, who gave me my first start in toy trains and who loved fishing, a fisherman has had a spot on every new layout.

The challenge of 1:1 size cats on a 1:48 layout was solved about the time I entered ninth grade when we became a two-car family in a house with a single-car garage.  Daddy had a carport built to accommodate the family vehicles and converted the attached garage into a very nice room for my expanding layout.  To illustrate the extent of my parents’ forbearance for their kid’s hobby, those were the days when running an electric train resulted in massive static on the TV set.  Despite being bombarded with audible hiss and visual “snow” on the screen, my long-suffering parents never once told me to leave the train room because they were missing a show.  Yes, I was one lucky kid!

Years continued to pass, and I left home for university and employment, packing the trains and taking them with me until finally the real meaning of “cost of living” caught up with me and my new family.  Most of the childhood trains were sold for gas and grocery money.  The few remaining trains stayed packed, and adapting to the world of work took over my time and attention, and thus ended my first start with toy trains.

After the second start in toy trains, my daughters always knew what to give me for birthdays such as the one celebrated in 2004 with a new MTH Rail King steamer.

To explain the second start, I have to begin with the day at work that I saw a vacancy announcement for a position in Worms am Rhein, West Germany, this being well before the reunification of East and West.  I submitted an application, forgot all about it, received a phone call from company headquarters (which alarmed the boss’s secretary no end since she had no idea what sin I had committed this time to warrant a call from HQ), and a few weeks later stepped off the airplane to begin a five-year stint in Europe.

My wife, Dorothy, soon obtained her own position as a librarian with the Army Recreation Services Library in Worms, which was still unpacking after President de Gaulle decided that his country had played host quite long enough and sent the U.S. forces over the border into Deutschland.  One of the library boxes that she was to discard happened to be full of Model Railroader magazines, and she “discarded” it by bringing it home to me.  That gift, plus an invitingly favorable exchange rate between the US dollar and the Deutschmark, plus a plethora of utterly fantastic Spielwarenladen (toy stores) seemingly in every town of any size at all marked the end of my separation from the hobby and explains why today, over forty years later, my O scale layout has N scale Minitrix running along the mountainside in the distance and why Spur 1 (1:32) Märklin trains are running loops on the carpet underneath the benchwork.

The resurrection of Lionel by General Mills MPC was instrumental in my second start in toy trains, and its 9200/9700/9400 series of boxcars from the decade of the 1970s provides the wall decor in my train room.

Helping cement my renewed toy train addiction was that our return to the “land of the round doorknobs“ coincided closely with the resurrection of Lionel under its new ownership by General Mills and its Model Products Corporation.  Since adding to the Märklin collection had suddenly become far too expensive, my return to Lionel, now with MPC stamped on the body molds, was entirely predictable.  The consequence?  The wall decor in my current train room includes rows of 9200, 9700 and 9400 series Lionel MPC box cars.

After giving me my second start in toy trains, my wife, Dorothy, keeps the excitement alive by fashioning new details for the layout, including the 1:48 scale flowers in these planters.

Dorothy also ensures that I’ll never need yet another restart in the hobby by continually supplying new additions for the layout such as 1:48 flower boxes, squirrels, cats, groundhogs, lizards, and weeds.  Finding the best spots to incorporate these tiny details keep creativity bubbling.  My first start in the hobby in 1950 and my second start in 1972 both fostered warm memories of loving parents and a loving spouse, and both have resulted in a creative and rewarding lifelong hobby.

Keeping the second start going, Dorothy creates details for my layout,

such as the window box of flowers in the shed window.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part 2 of an ongoing series and is designed to share the knowledge of how TCA members got into toy trains.  Wether you joined in 2022 or in 1956 we all have a story to share.  Send your story and pictures to the TCA e*Train editor [email protected] for a future edition.