Ted Weller's recollections remind us of the special ways in which toy trains intertwine our lives.
In connection with the request of Bob Mintz for authors for the TCA e*Train, I wrote this a few years ago with the Fort Pitt Division newsletter in mind but never submitted it.
As the youngest of five kids, I have great memories of my oldest brother’s Lionel trains, a fixture of our Butler County family Christmases for many years. Clyde ran two sets of postwar Lionel - one led by a 736 Berkshire and the other by the 1862 General. Each year we would decorate a Christmas tree atop a 4x8 plywood platform, with green matting on top and red brick corrugated paper around the sides. Beneath the tree ran two loops of classic Lionel tubular O gauge track, with a Type ZW transformer supplying the power and a sampling of Plasticville bringing some sense of a village to the whole affair. Rubber Santa waved from nearby furniture.
In the fall of 1971, two memorable events occurred in my 8-year-old life: the Pirates won the World Series and Dad took me into Pittsburgh. On one Saturday we stopped by his office and then went on to Gimbels. There they had a Lionel train display up and running. I did not realize it at the time, but the trains were of course the General Mills/MPC reincarnation of Clyde’s ‘50s-era gems. How thrilling!
A few months passed and the next thing I knew it was Christmas morning. By that time, I’d forgotten about the trip from our country home to the big city with Dad. A large gift sat on the couch near the tree and I waited to open it until there was nothing else left, having no idea what it could be. Alas - a Lionel Cross Country Express set!
Our dad regretted selling his own Lionel trains as a college student in the late ‘30s. We’re blessed as a family to still have these trains and they see time on our layout over the holidays each year.
I have the original, albeit somewhat battered, set box as well. Is this set highly desirable in the context of train collecting? No - but it means a lot to me. I’m sure there are others, like me, who have trains from their youth that may not be highly collectible on the market but have deep personal value. And if it weren’t for this set, I would not still have my interest in model trains.