2015 Train Fair visit

Sometime during the later years of my service at Kirkville I became an annual visitor at the train show on the NYS Fair Grounds. When I arrived in CT, I was delighted to discover that there was a huge train show at the Big E grounds. Well, technically, the show is in Massachusetts as the Big E is a couple miles north of the state line, but it hardly takes longer to drive there than it did to the fairgrounds when I lived outside Syracuse. I was also very impressed that this train show is at least twice the size of the Syracuse one, occupying four large buildings on the Big E grounds.

This year I went on Sunday afternoon, Jan. 25, as Saturday it snowed most of the day.   The number of train displays and vendors is overwhelming. All gauges are well represented.   I walked for hours just to pass by the various displays. I wasn’t looking for much in particular this year. I just wanted to enjoy the show. But I did make a few discoveries.

I enjoy the dioramas. Usually they are small showcases of the very best modeling skills. Usually they are in HO gauge but they don’t have to be. Soon after I walked in, I saw the one that I photographed. Snow scene ones are relatively rare. This one used multi-levels creatively and it featured the New York, Ontario and Western Railroad.   That was a key North-South railroad in the area just east of Syracuse back in the heyday of railroads. I took pictures as the train passed even though I only had my phone camera.

I found a couple passenger car trucks for a rail car that I am working on. My brother, Phil is a train collector and a recent large purchase of his included incidentally a couple unpainted passenger car shells that had been altered to 2 rail. He donated them to me and I’m hoping to completely redo one of them inside and out for my 3-rail Tuscan Red Pennsylvania passenger train.

When I was a pastor in my first parish, one of the men was a painter at American LaFrance fire truck company in Elmira.   I’ve been wanting a 1920’s era fire truck for my Christmas display. I found an American LaFrance model. The model itself will be rare as it was approved slightly before the company filed for bankruptcy and no more were made after the first batch. As you can see by comparing the picture of the box with the model, I have some work to do on it to add the accessories.

I also found two more early 20th century vehicles for my display. The Lipton Tea truck is a 1927 Talcott. The other is a Ford but according to the vendor, it also may become a rare item as it is a toy fair model.   But they will both look good on my old time Christmas display, don’t you think?



Christmas Trains for 2014

How it started

One of my hobbies is model trains, specifically, O-gauge trains running around my Christmas tree. Yes we had a Lionel train which we three Jones brothers shared when I was a boy. But what really started me back in this hobby was the gift of a Lionel train much like the one we had which I received from Bill Quick while I was serving as Pastor at Kirkville Community Wesleyan Church.   I promptly ran it around the tree the next Christmas and I’ve been running trains every Christmas since on increasingly more complex set-ups.

The first evolution

One big evolution happened when I moved the trainsets upstairs to the remodeled living room at Kirkville.   I was already running two trains. I decided to build a second layer and started collecting ceramic buildings, little figures and antique car models. I had two long bridges too. Then I started inviting children from church over to see the trains.   I let them run them too.   Of course, they would wreck them occasionally, but I have only had to make major repairs on two cars in all the many years that I have been doing this.

Children in CT love it too

When I moved to Connecticut, God blessed us with a large parsonage living room and my set got even bigger.  In the gallery you can see the first two steps in building the multilayer setup. I found my first Dept. 56 buildings (the Cadillac of ceramic Christmas buildings) on a yard sale in our own neighborhood.  Again, I invited children from church to come and run the trains. They have so much fun and it is a joy to work with them.  This set has only one bridge but it has more room for vignettes.   In the gallery are pictures of Shannon and Sam playing with the trains. The Mandirola boys, Schantz family and the Griffin’s also stopped by to check it out but I didn’t have my camera going.

Sam went for hands on

My grandson, Sam, was much more interested in the train set this year too. But he had his own way of investigating it.   He wanted to get right in it and touch things. I learned from the preschool teachers that this is a preschooler’s tactile way of learning so I tried to facilitate it as much as possible. It was great fun.

New this year

This year I purchased my first engine specifically decorated for Christmas, a Lionel Santa Flyer. I also added a city block of stores that I made from Ameri-town parts. I started it years ago but this year a change in configuration of the upper track made room for it for the first time. In addition, I purchased new track for the inner lower loop.   Last year that loop was hardly operable. This year is was a star. The fastest engine did not derail on it even though it was the tighter loop. It was Lionel Fast Track. If it holds up to the wear and tear of being assembled and disassembled for a couple years I will be a fan for sure. Also new this year, and something I have been watching for, was a ceramic building train station.  At last I have a train station for the upper level too.

Sam Visits for Christmas

My Grandson Sam is a hands-on guy. He was not very interested in running the trains, though he did that briefly once or twice. He liked the whistle on the train a little better, which is the main reason he might run a train at all. But the main thing he wanted to do this year was pick things up and look at them.   So I tried hard to remember the story about the father whose wife kept complaining that he and the boys were destroying the lawn with their sports. The father had replied, “Right now we’re raising boys, not lawn.” So I let Sammie right into the middle of the trainset so he could touch some things. Of course, I had to supervise so he didn’t try to pick up things that were glued down or wired in.   But he found plenty of things to touch.

His favorite spot was the left side access alley. I can barely fit in there as it is made just as a place to access electrical switches, position village items and retrieve derailed cars.   But Sam found it a great corner, just a boy’s size with lots to touch. He loved the tunnel which he could reach from there.  He took one car from the train and pushed it back into the dark.   There was a little grade and it would roll back out.   He liked the imitation pine trees too.   It was pure joy having him visit, a highlight of the season.

How to make a long winter shorter

An early morning shot from an upstairs window
An early morning shot from an upstairs window

Like many northerners, I enjoy seeing a little snow around Christmas but soon afterward begin to wish it were springtime.  But, alas, there are still three months until spring if it arrives on time.  Then if we have a cold snowy February like this year, it seems like winter goes on forever.  So how does one make the time fly by?   I was thinking about that today.   My wife and I must be doing a particularly good job this year as I have hardly had time to wish for spring yet.    Here are my recommendations for making a long winter shorter. 

First, be sure to make a big deal of Christmas and by all means, don’t tear all the decorations down on Dec. 26th.   For ourselves, we never take any decorations down before Epiphany (Jan. 6) which is the traditional end of the Christmas season in the Christian Church.   Then, since I invite children from church over to see my trains around the tree and there are usually some children who haven’t come by Jan. 6, I leave the trains up longer until all have had a chance to see them.   So what if it is sometimes February by the time I get it all put away. 

Second, I suggest having some winter-only hobbies.  We have two.  One is feeding the birds.  Here in rural CT, bears will tear your feeder apart, I’m told, if you feed birds while they are awake anyway, so bird feeding makes a great winter hobby.   It’s also a very cheerful thing watching chickadees, juncos, cardinals, nuthatches, woodpeckers, etc. outside your window.    Occasionally a hawk may visit seeking a fat junco for a meal.  This year I have a cute and perky Carolina wren visiting regularly.

Another activity that JoAnne and I save for winter weeks is putting together jigsaw puzzles.   We both enjoy the challenge.  After we complete one, we carefully bag up the puzzle and put it back in the box for storage.  We’ll get it out and put it together again in a year or two.  Some become favorites and go together faster every year.   Essentials for this hobby are a spare dedicated table spot that doesn’t need to be disturbed often, a small collection of puzzles you like in sizes you like, and a handy puzzle lamp.   We like 500, 750 and 1000 piece sizes the best.  


In addition to our work at church and our interaction with our daughter and her family, these 3 winter pastimes keep the cold days passing quickly.   Before we know it, it will be spring.   And I haven’t even resorted to pulling out the seed catalogs to make garden plans yet—well, maybe a few times.        

The Syracuse Train Show

A couple weeks ago on the first Saturday in November I snuck out to the annual Syracuse Train Show.  It is a massive display of working train sets of all gauges and vendors of all railroad hobby items from whistles and T-shirts to new engines and cars to antique parts and postcards.   The last two years it has been in the Toyota building at the State Fair grounds.   It is the third largest train show in the Northeast. 

I love to go for several reasons.  One, I guess it is the little boy in me.  My brothers and I shared an O‑gauge Lionel train set when we were children.   It had one oval of track on a 4 by 8 sheet of plywood with a road painted across it in black crayon.   We had a great deal of fun with it.  About ten years ago Bill Quick gifted me a set very much like it, which reignited my interest in the hobby.  Ever since then at our house, we have had trains around the Christmas tree.  

Special features of the show that I especially look for are two.   One is the Lego train display.  It is amazing to see their huge colorful set-up with its speedy trains made of Lego.   The other display is that of our local historical group chapter.  You can see more pictures on their website. http://www.hirailers.org/modular_layouts.htm. The detail model that they are building from pictures of the old station on Erie Blvd. with the elevated tracks behind it is awesome.   Their display had multiple sections.   Another section included a repainted two story station that I loved.  I have one like it but have not painted it yet. 

This year I went to the train show with a new perspective.  I’m starting to think about sharing the train hobby with my little grandson.   I’ve already bought him some Thomas the Train books and this year at the fair, I went looking for a good deal on what I learned was the second most popular train set ever sold,  Thomas the Train.  (Number one is the Polar Express.)  Thomas has just recently been reproduced with a new remote control feature that will eventually allow operators to run more than one train on the same track.   This is especially nice since most Thomas stories feature more than one engine.   The story has a happy ending too as I found one at a good discount and bought the vendor’s last one.


Christmas trains running!

Our annual Christmas display is a highlight of the season.  I’m a little late getting it up since we visited Keely and Mark over Thanksgiving weekend.   However, I finally have three trains in motion again around our tree.  One of them is the new (to me) 1776 bicentennial engine that my brother Phil purchased in a deal and let me buy from him cheaply.  I have since found a caboose and three cars to match.  It’s always just a little different from the year before.  Here’s a rough video of it in motion.   The clunks are because the cameraman got too close to the action and nearly derailed a train.