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Today's Family Magazine

Interest in model trains keeps chugging along

Nov 21, 2016 12:06PM ● By Today's Family
By Deanna Adams

Do you remember a time when a Christmas tree wasn’t complete without a miniature train underneath, running around and around the track? 

That tradition may not be as popular as it once was, but model train sets are still a much desired toy for children, and many adults.  The hobby of collecting railroad cars, and all that goes with it, is generational.  It nearly always begins with the grown-ups, whose passion for model train sets run like steel through their veins, and so, pass on the obsession to their kids and grandkids.

“My dad bought me my first train set when I was born, back in 1949,” says Tom Pescha, of Willoughby.  “He was a big enthusiast and I guess I caught that gene.  It was a Lionel set and I still have it and it still runs!”

Pescha recalls that his greatest childhood memories are when his dad took him to the hobby store to look at all the different model trains. “Soon as I got my own paper route, I’d use that money to buy more stuff for my train sets,” he says.

As he grew into a teenager, however, that passion was replaced with cars and girls.  Then jobs, marriage, and children.  “It took a backseat for awhile, but I finally got back into it.”
It wasn’t hard to resume his childhood hobby.  “I saved every train set I ever owned,” he says.  “I have a 10 x 20 ft. layout in my basement that remains up all the time.”  He attends all the northeast Ohio model train shows and has a website,, that features an ongoing list of model railroad shows and swap meets.

Pescha is among many model train enthusiasts in northeast Ohio, and he knows most of them because it’s a hobby that fosters longtime friendships.

You're likely to find him at the hobby shops such as Hobbytown in Mentor, and Stewart’s Hobbies and Collector’s Toys in Willoughby.  “I go to Stewart’s all the time,” Pecha says.  “I’ve known owner, Rob, for years, and it’s great having a place close by when you’re looking for a specific item.”

There is also CW Trains, which has a warehouse in Willoughby and is run by train collectors, Scott Klein and Brian McCloskey.  “We had way too much to keep in either of our homes,” says Klein, who’s retired and devotes all his time and energy into his model train business.  “So we have this warehouse, which I call my 25 x 60 ft. playhouse. We don’t keep regular hours, so you do have to call and make an appointment.  The partners buy and sell trains mostly through their website,

“My grandpa started me with my first Lionel train set in 1960,” Klein says.  “I was 4 years old, and I’ve been crazy about them ever since.”

“Scott is a walking encyclopedia on all things model trains, and the real passion that drives the company,” says McCloskey.  “He does all the repairs and gets them ready for the train shows.”

As these dedicated hobbyists confirm, collecting model train sets is a fascinating activity that can last a lifetime.  It also can be an entertaining family adventure.  Building a model train layout can be hours of fun.

“It’s great for the kids because it’s so hands on,” Klein says.  “However, trying to get kids involved in this kind of hobby is a bit different today.  They’re more interested in the modern sets because they want the high tech toys.  The more gadgets, the better.”

For that reason, most contemporary train sets are computerized.  While the newer sets do come with the standard remote controller, you can also run them using a smart phone.  And although that may be more appealing to today’s kids, the advanced technology can lead to more intricate problems.  “You can short out a circuit board, and that can be expensive and difficult to repair,” Klein notes.

McCloskey solves this problem by letting his grandson play with an older set.  “My 4-year-old grandson loves ‘helping’ me and Scott when we work on the trains.  We give him an older working train to run, so it doesn’t matter if he goes around a corner fast and wipes out trees.  While we try and make sure he respects the set, he’s still a kid.  And they’re going to push that throttle just as hard as they push your patience,” he says with a laugh.

Pescha suggest beginners attend the shows throughout the area, where they can meet and talk to other like-minded souls.  “There is always someone there to show you how to put together a layout, from wiring, to the bench work, to the scenery, and answer any questions you have.”
There are also online sites that show videos that teach every step that goes into model train set building.

The trains come in different sizes, such as the O scale, or gauge (the measure of the distance between the rails), the HO, N, and S.  “Choosing the right train set is very individual,” Klein says.  “The decision is often determined by personal interest, and amount of space you have.”
Pescha adds that becoming a member of one of the clubs is helpful for anyone interested in this hobby.  “I recommend joining the Train Collector’s Association, and the National Model Railroad Association, but also smaller ones for your particular interest, such as an O-gauge club, and such.”

And what about cost?  For those wishing to get their child interested, it’s best to start with a simple basic train set.  “For around $200, you can get a nice set,” Pescha says.  “Some might think that’s expensive, but when you look at what a PlayStation costs, not really.”

“Buy a basic small set, then you can add on to it as you go,” Klein suggests.  “Adding on can be anywhere from $10 a car, on up.”  He adds that a more elaborate set can go as high as $900.

“It’s always a good idea to start a kid off with an older Lionel, without the fancy electronics,” Klein says.  “Let them play and learn how it all works, and see if they’re really into it.  Then you can buy the fancy gadgets.  The older trains are extremely repairable.  The old Lionel trains are very well-built and can run indefinitely.” 

“Bottom line, they are toys and should be enjoyed.  It’s a great hobby for kids.”

Attending the area shows is a favorite pastime among model train fans.  “It’s like a reunion when you go to the shows,” Pescha says.  “You get to see the friends you haven’t seen in awhile, as well as meet new ones.  It’s fun to share your passion with others.”

“I still put up train sets underneath our family Christmas tree,” Klein says.  “I’ll run as many as three trains around my tree.”

Christmas Train and Toy Show
Sunday, December 18 • 10 am–3:30 pm
Lakeland Community College
Santa will be there from 12:30–2 pm

Railfest - Model Railroad Show
March 18-19 • 10 am–4 pm
Lakeland Community College

For a complete list of shows in the Greater Cleveland area visit

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