On Christmas Day 1976 when I was two years old, my parents gave me a present that sparked a life-long love and interest in me. They gave me my Lionel train set, sparking a love of trains that lasts to this day.
It was the Santa Fe Twin Diesel set (#6-1285) and came with:
- A and B unit set of Santa Fe Alco diesels (#8020 and #8021)
- Northern Pacific flatcar with trailers (#9122)
- Penn Central log dump car (#9300)
- TA&G hopper (#9012)
- Burlington Northern gondola with canisters (#9141)
- Southern boxcar (#9700)
- Santa Fe SP-type caboose (#9061)
- Figure-8 of track and a transformer.
That following Christmas (1977), my Lionel train grew. My parents gave me a Mickey Mouse Express Hi-cube boxcar (#9660) and Tropicana reefer (#9861). For Christmas 1978, I got a Santa Fe boxcar (#9784).
My train now had eight cars, two locomotives, and a caboose.
But there were two more additions to my small collection. In the early- or mid-80s, our neighbor's son, who was coincidentally born exactly six years before me and is also into trains, gave me a couple older Lionel train cars. One was a Sunoco 2-dome tank car (#2465), and the other was a Lionel Lines stock car (#6656). Over the summer of 1999, I did some research on these cars, as well as the rest of my trains, and while I'd known that these two cars were old, I didn't know how old. The tank car dates back to 1946, and the stock car dates back to 1953. Unfortunately, neither car rolls very well. However, I do keep them out on display.
From the late-70s through about the early-80s, we had a table set up in our basement for the Lionel train to run on.
It was around 1978 when I got started in HO-scale model trains. After the last layout in my parents' house was constructed around 1986, my interest in the Lionel train had pretty much diminished. It was usually boxed up except for when I would occasionally get it out once or twice a year.
Sadly, that's how it remained for several years.
During the summer and fall of 1997, I was in grad school and got to thinking about the Lionel train. The last time I had even seen it out of the box was sometime in high school. That Thanksgiving, I went home to visit my family, and that afternoon, I went down to the basement to check my train. In the past few years, I'd seen the boxes on top of the basement refrigerator and freezer in the food pantry.
However, when I went to find them, they were gone!
I searched the basement, and I was shocked to find the boxes in a cold, damp, and dirty crawlspace. I pulled the boxes out. I opened the box of track. The moisture had taken its toll. There was a solid coat of rust on each section of track. I was then worried about what condition the train itself would be in, but upon opening the box, I discovered that it was still in excellent condition, just as it had been several years before.
I took the train and track back to school with me. I decided to replace the track since it wasn't salvagable. I got a small oval of track at a local hobby store, which had a ton of Lionel supplies. I hooked the transformer up to a 5-foot section of track, put the locomotive on the track, and turned up the power, not sure of what to expect.
The engine started right up, although it ran a little jerky. After cleaning up the motor and wheels and applying some fresh lubrication oil to the gears, it ran like new.
In a few days, I had a large oval of track in my living room. When I'd gotten the train from home, I also grabbed some old cardboard boxes, cut them into strips, and put them under the track to keep the carpet from interfering with the wheels and exposed gears on the locomotive.
That following January, I got a little ambitious and got some more track, expanding my loop from the living room into my bedroom. Not counting the 90-degree crossover, I now had 76 pieces (or 57 feet) of track. The train, at a moderate speed, took about a minute to circle the apartment.
During the summer of 1998, while living at home with my parents, the Lionel train was boxed up in storage since I didn't have any place to set it up. However, not long after moving into my apartment in Ashland, a loop of track was set up in my living room. Towards the end of my time there, I took some of the leftover track that I had and expanded the loop some out into my dining room.
The train was boxed up again in late October 1999 when I moved back home with my parents, unpacking it briefly for Christmas Eve 2000. However, in July 2001, I moved into a townhouse close to my job at the time and set the train up on a loop around my living room. In late-September 2002, the Lionel was packed up again when I moved to Hilliard, Ohio, to be closer to my job in Columbus. A couple weeks after moving, the train was back up and running on a loop of track in my living room.
Sadly, on Thursday, January 30, 2003, my Uncle Wilber ("Web") passed away. He was my grandma's brother. Collecting trains for as long as anybody can remember, he was the one who had given my parents the Lionel train set that they gave me back in 1976. I can remember how every time we were at his house down the road from us while growing up, he was always wanting to show us what he was working on with his trains every time we came to visit. When visiting our house, he always enjoyed seeing my trains and loved seeing what new train cars and stuff I'd gotten at Christmas. Needless to say, Uncle Web is missed.
Since I was the only other family member into trains, I assisted a couple months later with organizing his collection for sale. While assisting with that, I also purchased from his estate some new items for my collection, including:
- Conrail GP9 locomotive (#8757)
- Morton Salt billboard covered quad hopper (#9114)
- Planters billboard covered quad hopper (#9115)
- Chesapeake and Ohio boxcar (#9715)
- Canadian National boxcar (#9718)
- Illinois Central Gulf hi-cube boxcar (#9601)
- Union Pacific hi-cube boxcar (#9606)
- Southern Pacific hi-cube boxcar (#9607)
- Burlington Northern hi-cube boxcar (#9608)
With my new additions, my collection had literally doubled with three locomotives, sixteen cars, and a caboose. However, there was one item that was missing: a caboose to go with the Conrail GP9.
That problem was solved later that spring when I purchased a Conrail caboose (#9186) from Ebay. For me, my collection is now complete.
Over the winter of 2005/2006, I purchased some new track for my Lionel trains, getting new curved sections of track that were a wider radius than the curved track sections I'd been using. This allowed for wider curves as the train went around the living room, reducing the drag on the locomotives that would slow the train down as it went into each curve.
In April 2007, I adopted a kitten, who I named Chessie after the railroad company. He wasn't sure what to think at first of the Lionel, even hissing at it and keeping his distance. After a while, he got used to it and enjoyed watching it go around the living room, even following it and racing from one end of the couch to the other to keep up with it. Later that summer, I packed up the Lionel and put the boxes in my home office so that he wouldn't get into things once he was declawed and out of his kennel.
In September 2007, I brought home Casey Jones, a kitten who I had adopted from my uncle back home. With two young cats that love to explore living with me now, I'm no longer planning on putting the Lionel back in my living room. I currently have the Lionel set up on a loop of track on the floor in my home office.
Below are links to some videos I made of my Lionel collection. The first two are of the full train running around the room. The second two are Christmas videos that I made for Christmas 2004 and Christmas 2006, the latter commemorating the 30th anniversary of the start of my love of trains. Enjoy!
Kevin L. Wagner
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