model train set on track

The Saddle River Railroad Line

e*Train Issue: Dec 2014   |   Posted in: ,

By Peter Willner

Editor’s Note: Different collectors get drawn into the hobby in different ways. As we see in Peter Willner’s story, sometimes fate brings them a circus.

My present for being the ring bearer at a family wedding was my first Lionel train set.  I was eight. This gift is the only memory I have of 1952.

Being drawn in to my imagination and by the fact that I hadn’t yet discovered girls, trains became my X-Box.  All other toys were abandoned.

As a child in Manhattan, room to set up was limited and never permanent.

Fast forward about thirty some years, my wife returned to law school.  I was home alone.  The last time that happened I bought a Porsche.

Speaking with vendors at train shows raised my interest in collecting.  I meet an eighty year retired electronics technician.  He was hand- making carnival rides in 0 gauge scale.  I thought, can I do without a carnival?  The answer was no.  I ordered five different rides.

The problem was he didn’t ship.  I made the pilgrimage to pick them up York Pennsylvania.  I was now committed.  My wife thought I should be.

At another week-end train show, I arrived late on the last day.  There was a fellow selling circus related small items.  He told me that he and his wife were both performers for Barnum and Bailey.

They would dress in clown costume and drive into the ring in a 4 door Lincoln. They exited the front doors, a full sized horse exited a back door.  They did their act.  They got in front, the horse got in back.  They drove out.  All was well.

There was little left for me to choose from that Sunday.  I expressed my disappointment at not having been there the day before.  The clown told me he had a collection at home.  He didn’t bring it as he didn’t wish to have it sold in separate pieces.

I arrived at his home the next evening.  He amassed a 40 foot long model of a circus parade.  Needless to say, I bought the circus parade as well as 2 circus tents.  As luck would have it everything was in the same scale size as my Lionel trains.  This stuff was from the late 1940’s.  What a find.  I was eight years old again.

When not traveling with Ringling Brothers, he would use the parade to advertise his independent circus by setting them up in store windows in the next town his circus was to perform.

As always, I had to wait for final exam week to sneak it into the house.  Janice was too occupied to see what I was up to.

I also met a rollercoaster enthusiast who built a four foot by eight foot working model of the Riverside Thunderbolt Coaster for me.  It is a triple figure eight.  It took Danny eighteen months to complete.  He made it from over ten thousand individual pieces of wood.  When it was delivered to my house we found it was too large to fit in the basement or my office.  I was now a charter member of the more money than brains club.

By now my wife was now not only ready to sign the commitment papers she was also able to draft them.

The coaster now lives in a client’s conference room.  I have visitation rights.

For the most part it has been much more fun to buy, design and build my layout than to run it.

Being a perpetual child has always keep me in good spirits.

Happy Holidays!