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All Aboard

Realistic details and space-age computerized effects have created the golden age of model railroading
Marc Wortman
From the Print Edition:
The Best Places to Gamble, Sep/Oct 02

(continued from page 2)

Reflecting another side of the boomer lifestyle, an entirely separate category has emerged in recent years: garden railways. At 1:22.5 scale, the G gauge trains are almost double the size of the O gauge. They are designed to operate outdoors and can add an additional visual dimension to a backyard.

The range and variety of current model railroading possibilities are all the more remarkable because less than 20 years ago, the entire American industry, including the Lionel flagship, was in trouble. Quality had fallen and the range of offerings had been limited, with few technical innovations. A lifelong toy train buff and Lionel enthusiast, Richard Kughn took over the nearly struggling company in 1986. "I bought it despite my accountant's advice, but if I didn't do something, there'd be no more Lionel," recalls Kughn, the former vice chairman and president of real estate developer The Taubman Co. and owner of what is perhaps the world's largest private toy train collection. For the next decade, until he sold most of the company in 1995, Kughn revamped operations, expanded offerings, improved quality and, working with Young, added features. Soon, Lionel was back on track. The year 2000 was the most financially successful in the company's history.

Restoring Lionel, says Kughn, "was a labor of love." Now in his early 70s, he still recalls the first Lionel train set he got at age seven. Learning about layouts and trains and designing and constructing his setups and models fed into his successful career in the construction and real estate development industry. "They're great educators," he says. "You have to find solutions to problems. You learn to communicate with other people working on them. With computers and video games, you don't have that at all. You lose touch with other people."

Some people in the model railroading world fear that with today's children hooked on video games and television, toy trains will one day only be museum pieces. Mike Wolf, owner of MTH, however, has found that the average age of those buying his trains has been falling, to about 42 today. He thinks every train he sells will help build a new generation of toy train lovers. "Our train sets are our calling card. When you see a toy train run, it becomes addictive."

For Patinkin, it is an addiction he hopes will live long after he is gone and that his layout will serve as a legacy for generations to come. "I made it permanent because I want it to last forever," he says. "I want my boys to pass them on from generation to generation." He gestures at his train layout, which expresses so much of his life. "I want this to be the family heirloom." v

A Golfer and His Trains

"I don't even think about it," says Senior PGA Tour golfer Ed Dougherty. "You could offer me a $1 million and I wouldn't sell them. I have no idea what they're worth." What is he talking about? His putter? His driver? His swing? Uh-uh. He's speaking about his collection of Lionel model trains, a collecting passion that he has pursued for nearly as long as he has been a professional golfer.

"I started back at Christmas in 1976 when my sister said, ÎWouldn't it be nice to have a train running under the Christmas tree like we used to at home?'" recalls the 54-year-old Dougherty, who entered the 2002 season with two Senior Tour titles under his belt. "It was after my first full season on the PGA Tour, and I didn't want to think about golf. So I went up in the attic and found my old train set, and took it in to a shop to get it fixed. The guy offered to buy it, for more money than I would have guessed. But I said, ÎNo, I'd rather keep it.' And I've been collecting ever since."

This is not some little tabletop train set that Dougherty keeps in his basement. He tore down his garage at his home in Pennsylvania and built a two-story, 20-by-30-foot building that "has nothing but trains, floor to ceiling." And he's still in the market, buying and selling, and looking for missing pieces.

There aren't many gaps in Dougherty's collection. "I wanted to build a complete collection of post-war Lionel production from 1946 to 1969. As far as I know, and there are always people trying to second-guess me, I am only missing four or five pieces," Dougherty says while driving along a road in Pennsylvania, talking on his cell phone. Without missing a beat, he rattles off the coveted pieces: "The 3562-1 Gray barrel car with red lettering. A 3454 Silver Merchandise car, from 1947 with red lettering. A No. 68 inspection car, in blue and cream; there are only eight of them known to be in existence, so it may have been a salesman's promotional item. A 6827 or 6828 flat car, and I'm looking for the red one." He finally pauses. "I know there's one more piece, but I can't think of it right now."

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