Do you remember how you and your dad had a Lionel train set back in the late 1950’s? How every Holiday season the both of you would set it up in the garage on a sheet of 4X8 plywood?  There was a long sleek silver passenger train pulled by 3 of those big red and silver Santa Fe diesel locomotives.  That train ran around on an oval track on the outside of the layout. On the inside was a figure 8 with three switch track sidings, each siding had operating accessories: a coal loader, a log loader, and an oil drum loader.  Another pair of switches joined the outside oval with the inside figure 8. The train on the figure 8 was one of those big black Berkshire type steam locomotives, pulling a long freight train.


Typical Lionel train set 1950’s
photo from

You and your dad would spend hours playing with the trains. First setting them up, making sure the wires were all connected together correctly and then cleaning the trains and the track so everything would operate smoothly. You would sometimes disagree where the prefab tunnel and illuminated train station should go. Then you got down to the business of operating your railroad. It was a lot of fun, and every year something new would be added; you just could not wait for that new Lionel catalog to come out. Like the year dad brought home that missile launching train, complete with targets for the missiles to fire at.

But, as the years passed by, school work, football, girls, and eventually cars became the priority. The train set would just disappear from your life. Dad would soon give it away to your younger cousin who never had a train set, and you were happy he did. When your son was old enough you bought him a train set for his 8th birthday, just like your dad did for you. But you never had the time your dad did, and your son got bored very quickly.  All it did was to go around on a small oval of track, and most of the time it would derail. Plus there was that new Pong game to play on the TV as well as the VCR that kept him more interested.


Your car, girl, and dad
photo from

Years passed. Your son and daughter finished school and then found someone and got married. You now joined the growing number of empty nesters with lots of time to spare, asking the question what can I do? You have been to Europe and India and now you are looking for something new. Every week you pass the local train shop, however, you’ve paid very little attention to it until now. One day you decided to stop and check it out. You were now in for a huge surprise!

That old train store you and your dad used to go to was really the old Western Auto; they became an authorized Lionel dealer when electric trains were all the rage right after WWII. This place looked nothing like that Western Auto. First of all the entire store is nothing but trains, and trains of many different sizes. You could never have imagined that the hobby you and your dad enjoyed had gotten so big. Your attention quickly gravitates over to where those Lionel trains are, still in those orange and blue boxes. Here you’re quick to learn that Lionel no longer is the only way to go, and that other manufactures have joined in making those O gauge trains.

Then something else grabs your attention, sitting in the middle of the O gauge section was the store’s big (at least twice the size of your old 4X8 sheet) display layout! Here before you is not just track on a sheet of plywood, but mountains, trees, a river, and a whole town. Wow! You first begin to think about the fun you had with your father and the train set. You are quickly jolted back to the present by the sound coming from a steam locomotive stopped with its train. You hear a full range of sounds, including a voice talking about the train he has in tow. There is hissing, a clanking sound (the cross compound air pumps, and this man that says “we’re ready to go”!  Soon the sound of a bell begins, and then the whistle blows twice. The train begins to move with the full sound of a real steam locomotive in motion. You are totally mesmerized by the sight and sound of the train meandering its way through the miniature mountain, over the river, and by the little town.  You stand there somewhat teary eyed as more memories return, as well as totally amazed that so much has changed since you last looked at your old train set.

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 photo: Strasburg train shop in PA photo: Ready to Roll train shop in Miami
  A lot has changed from that old Western Auto!


You are soon back in total control, and you begin to explore more of the shop, row after row of trains and more trains. A man of your age approaches and asks if he could help. You reply, “I used to have a set with my dad many years ago.” He tells you he started out the same way, and then says a lot has changed in the hobby. You reply, “Yes.”  He shows you a section of the shop devoted to books and magazines. He recommends one of the magazines. You take him up on the publication and thank him for his help. You then return to wandering around the shop for a little while longer.

When you return home, you tell your wife about the train store and show her the magazine you bought. You have never told her about the train set you and your dad had. She seems interested and suggests it may be fun to get back into it. You spend the evening reading the magazine and in the morning you find yourself back at the model train shop.

It begins…


S scale model railroad

This could be you!

—Ray Del Papa




  1. Gene Steiner on August 27, 2019 at 8:09 pm

    Well written… could apply to many of us… great memories… and memories in the making for several future generations in families everywhere


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