If you thought your days of model training ended after a housecleaning while you were at college, take heart. Today's buffs inhabit a new golden age of unsurpassed quality and scales that range from desk drawer trains to garden railways. Many of us caught train fever as kids with a Lionel set at O gauge or an HO scale train. Venerable Lionel still offers a steam freight set for under $200. But the company also pitches its Premier line to serious collectors. The top range includes the 1934 Pioneer Zephyr, the granddaddy of streamliners, and Amtrak's Acela high-speed Boston-Washington train. These retail for up to $2,000.
With tiny Z scale, at which several locomotives can fit in the palm of your hand, you can operate a freight train during boring phone calls or tedious presentations. High-quality models are produced by appropriately named Märklin Mini-Club and Micro-Trains Line.
Garden railways, with cars some 10 inches tall and 2 1/2 feet, long appeal to train buffs with space. Germany's LGB is one popular make. Jan Kucsma, of the Big Little Railroad Shop in Hillsborough, New Jersey, notes that "large-scale" couples garden together, one raising tulips, while the other constructs trestles.
An investment banker we know has worked for years to re-create the Colorado Rockies and its railroads in HO scale. The scale's delicate craftsmanship even duplicates handholds, brake gears and locomotive controls. Kadee freight cars and Athearn's "Genesis" locomotives and rolling stock are standouts in the gauge.
Commuters who have little patience with local transit ironically snap up models of their 5:15s. Lionel's New Jersey Transit set quickly sold out. Railway Classics makes HO-scale brass models of Connecticut's New Haven Railroad, vintage 1954. The individually powered cars are expected to retail for just over $700 apiece.
Highly detailed brass models are the premier collectibles. Railway Classics recreates the 20th Century Limited ($3,660) in which Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint coupled in a Pullman in North by Northwest. You might dream of an after-dinner smoke in the Century's observation car. Either way it re-creates a golden age.
Visit www.alliedmodeltrains.com, www.caboosehobbies.com, www.thecaboose.com, www.biglittle.com, www.lionel.com, and www.railwayclassics.com.