September 27, 2016

Utah Model Train Collectors

Train sets are not just for kids. Meet some of the proud model railroaders of Utah.

Old toy trains, little toy tracks
Little boy toys, comin’ from a sack.
Carried by a man dressed in white and red,
Little boy don’t you think it’s time you were in bed.
—Roger Miller

utahtraincollectorsChristmas, trains and kids all seem to go together…although the kids can be of any age! Eyes widen, smiles broaden and fingers point as a locomotive chugs down the track. Perhaps the joy comes from viewing a miniature world. Or perhaps the joy comes from reliving fond memories of model railroading shared by fathers and sons.

Model railroading started in the 1930s and expanded after World War II with the popular American Flyer and Lionel trains. Not only are there trains (with some classic engines costing as much as a used car), but elaborate backdrops of towns, mountains, waterfalls, farms and factories that are part of the hobby as well. Some railroaders specialize in collecting and trading cars still in their original boxes. But for Jim Buckley, the fun comes from having people watch trains clickety clack down the track.

Buckley, who lives in West Valley, is president of the Golden Spike American Flyer Club, one of seven model railroad clubs in Utah. Along with other Golden Spikers, he helps set up model train exhibits for schools, libraries and public venues along the Wasatch Front.

“Model railroading allows us to both relive our youth and pass the fun onto our kids and grandkids as well,” he says. “With video games there is so little interaction, but trains allow everyone to participate.”

Buckley enjoys the intricacies of creating dioramas and has devoted one third of his basement to a train room. As things get more elaborate, it is easy for railroaders to spend thousands of dollars on their hobby. But one does not have to start with a scale model of the Rocky Mountains. He suggests going to a local hobby shop and starting with a basic model that packages trains and tracks.

Eddie Strong has such a hobby shop in Orem. Strong has been a model railroader for 50 years. Five years ago he was paralyzed with West Nile Virus and could not even close his eyes for eight weeks. His love for trains has helped him to recover. “I used to have a massive layout but had to scale back because of the West Nile. But I have a sign in my office that reads ‘You don’t quit playing because you grow old. You grow old when you quit playing.’ I’m 72 years old and I’m still playing!”