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Model train madness. November 26, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood and our friend Ben are pretty maniacal when it comes to collecting. Between the two of us, we collect stamps, marbles, Pueblo pottery, cookbooks, quilts and coverlets, even antique chesspieces (and much, much more). Our friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders has never met a book or magazine on Colonial and Federal America that he didn’t have to have. Even if we don’t share someone else’s collecting passion, we find it fascinating. What drives someone to choose to collect? What causes them to narrow their collection into a particular specialty?

All of which is a long-winded way to explain why OFB and Silence joined our friends Rob, Gary and Carolyn yesterday to see a lavish model train exhibit in the basement of the Kutztown Historical Society. No, we don’t collect model trains (and please don’t call them “toy” trains, unless you’re specifically referring to Thomas and friends). But Rob and Gary do, and as a result, we’ve seen a number of elaborate model train setups over the years.

Rob will only buy antique model trains made by one company in Germany. Why? Because he inherited some beautiful antique engines made by that company from his grandfather. Gary has devoted the upstairs room of his workshop to a train room, with tracks running around the walls and up to the ceiling. (We think his trains are Lionels, but are afraid to ask for fear of setting off a brand war with Rob.)

Rob’s trains are metal rather than plastic, but he’s not a purist when it comes to the buildings and accessories he buys for his train setups. Plastic’s okay, as long as it looks aged. However, he does specialize in Southwestern buildings and sets. This strikes us as a bit incongruous given the German trains, but it certainly makes for an interesting display: German trains in the wild, wild West?! But it combines Rob’s love of the West and his love of model trains, so it makes perfect sense to him, and that’s what counts for any collector. 

Getting back to the Kutztown model train display, it’s by far the best one OFB and Silence have ever seen (we know Rob and Gary agree). The buildings and settings are incredibly detailed: huge, completely realistic bridges, mountains, lakes, wildlife, elaborate town scenes. And amazingly, though the buildings and sets must have been plastic, they don’t look plastic: They look real. Someone must have spent decades creating that level of detail, then had the civic-mindedness to donate their life’s work to the Historical Society, which had the good sense to appreciate it.

If you enjoy model train displays and live within driving distance of Kutztown, we urge you to see (and judge) for yourself. Admission is free. There are other items of interest, too, including turn-of-the-century schoolrooms, World War I displays, and original Keith Haring artwork (he was born and grew up in the house, still standing, next door). And if you have a passion for collecting, please let us know what you collect, and what drives that passion! We can certainly relate.

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