Hundreds turn out to admire toy trains in Northeast

Published by The Philadelphia Inquirer

By Melanie Bavaria, Inquirer Staff Writer

POSTED: November 21, 2011

The more than 500 toy-train enthusiasts who gathered Sunday in Northeast Philadelphia may be a little longer in the tooth these days, but for a while anyway, they were youngsters again, lost in the romance of the rails.

But the real youngsters, who lamented as they caught up with old friends and new finds on display, were few and far between, numbering no more than a dozen at a time.

"I don't think they see the trains like we did. We used to, sometimes stupidly, run over the train tracks. . . . I don't see the kids playing like we did. Their interests have shifted," said Ed Dougherty of Boothwyn, whose parents bought him his first train even before he was born in 1947.

Mal Kates of Society Hill, one of the more than 30,000 members of the Train Collectors Association, echoed the sentiment. "The culture is not the same in 2011 as it was 50 years ago in terms of people liking toy trains," he said.

But, he added: "It's popular enough that if you get someone interested, they'll fall in love with them."

That was true enough for the enthusiasts gathered at the Plumbers Union Hall, where a swap and sale had members recalling purchases that ranged from 50 cents to train sets of the 1930s costing upward of $10,000.

And, of course, there were plenty of tales about their firsts.

"I got my first train set in 1941, and I wanted them ever since. That was the same year that the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor, so I had to wait until the war was over to get any accessories or anything for my trains," said Chester Zmijewski of Cherry Hill, a former president of the association's Atlantic Division.

Said Clem Clement, a past national association president from Virginia who traveled to the local show: "This brings together all kinds of people from all walks of life."

A sense of whimsy helps, added Clement, a retired Air Force colonel. "We're all infatuated with this junk - and we don't know why."

For some, it's a family tradition of sorts. Dougherty, a former professional golfer, noted that his mother loved trains. His father couldn't stand them.

Dougherty said his path was cemented when he retrieved his first set of trains from his parents' attic. He took them to a shop for repairs, and the owner offered to buy them because they were collectibles.

"If it's a collectible," Doughtery said he decided, "then I'll be a collector."

Ed Kapuscinski said his passion for trains was inspired by the tracks near his childhood home.

"When I was a little kid back in 1947, we had a railroad yard outside my house in Port Richmond. I have liked trains ever since. I guess it's in my blood."

Paul Irving of Doylestown brought his two sons, Spencer, 6, and Hunter, 3, to the meet. In his early 20s, he said, he put his train hobby on hold. Then came the boys, and, Irving said, "It gave me an excuse to be a kid again."

Spencer is eager for Christmas and helps his father with track installation and other age-appropriate tasks. His favorite thing about trains?

"They don't stop, and they go fast!"

All of which was like music - or a train whistle - to Dougherty's ears.

"Whenever you bring a kid to a train room," he said, "their eyes light up every time."

Original article can be found here