I was born in January 1953, and my brother Steve came along 4 years later. Our little sister Pat was born in December 1962, but she was always a “girly-girl” and never cared about her brothers’ interests, including our trains.
And those electric trains were always from Lionel. I remember seeing trains running over three-rail track at Christmas from my early childhood.
Our family also had some American Flyer S gauge models, though, but I don’t recall them being used much. Those trains were known as “Steve’s.”
My parents probably purchased second-hand Flyer trains. They were frugal people, having lived through the Great Depression. Even though Dad watched the pennies, he still managed to build a nice-sized if sparse O-27 layout in our basement that consisted of two good-sized workbenches in an L shape.
This layout had a figure-eight arrangement (including remote-controlled switches) on the main level and a circle of track on the elevated section. A single no. 1033 90-watt transformer powered everything. To this day I can’t understand how my father did it, because I’ve never had a 1033 that performed half as well!
Dad probably bought the first of the trains when I was an infant, and he added a piece or two every year. I remember we had an original Pennsylvania RR caboose, which seemed ugly to me. So I was delighted when I discovered under our Christmas tree Lionel no. 6517 modern-looking bay-window caboose.
The flashy bay-window caboose represented one of Dad’s annual acquisitions. Others were a no. 50 gang car, a switcher, and many I just don’t recall. Of course, we picked up plenty of track and more switches over the years.
But the newcomer to our roster that I remember best was a Lionel no. 2065 small Hudson steam locomotive and tender. I still consider it my “greatest find” since I discovered it under the Christmas tree more than 50 years ago.
Our 2065 was a beauty and a fine puller. I always referred to this engine as “she” and “her” for a simple reason. Perched on the top front of the boiler was a cylindrical feature that I called a “hair curler.” Now I realize Lionel was trying to model an Elesco feedwater heater, but it looked like one of Mom’s hair curlers.
Well, time marched on, and Dad, Steve, and I lost interest in the trains. We packed them away after Christmas one year and never opened them up.
Meanwhile, I was growing up and starting to earn money doing odd jobs. I mowed lawns, shoveled snow, and delivered newspapers. Later I worked at a sub shop. I guess you could say that I was rather industrious. All I know is that I really enjoyed having my own money and buying my own clothes and more.
By the time I was increasing my bank account I started to remember all the fun Dad, my brother, and I had had with our Lionel trains. So I went looking for the boxes with the intention of having the trains serviced and run again.
When I couldn’t locate the train boxes, I asked my mother about them and learned the awful truth. Mom, who sold cosmetics for Avon, had given everything away to one of her customers two weeks earlier. When I expressed my discontent, she tried to get them back, but it was too late. The Lionel trains had vanished!
I never forgot what our family had owned, especially the 2065 steamer. But even as an adult I didn’t think I could afford that locomotive, much less the track, freight cars, switches, and even the transformer that had gone with them.
Years later, I met the owner of a hobby shop – John Copenspire of Overlea Hobbies in Parkville, Md. I understood that he had made his living in the earth-moving trade before retiring to the hobby business. He also had at one time one of the 1:32 scale road race businesses that were so prolific in the area, although he had said that he never made any money on toys.
John could be grumpy, so I proceeded with caution when I talked with him. Anyway, I walked into his shop one day and saw a freshly serviced 2065, with tender, priced at $125. Here’s when I learned that John could be a great guy.
I told John that I wanted the 2065, but there was no way I could afford it at the time. So I asked him if I could work off the amount needed for the steamer.
John pointed to a metal shed kit in his backyard. The parts were scattered on the ground; in fact, they had been there for so long that their cardboard boxes had rotted into shreds. Fortunately, all the parts were there. John told me to get to work building the shed and then the Lionel locomotive and tender would be mine.
Before long, my memories of a 2065 had been replaced with an actual Lionel model. She had, naturally, the “hair curler” on the front that I remembered.
Rebuilding the roster and starting my own layout took a lot of time. It all proceeded at a slow pace for many years until December 1983. That’s when my new wife and I spent our first Christmas together. She kept an orderly home, so I had to build something pretty, with a skirt concealing the mess underneath.
I ended up constructing a 4 x 8-foot O gauge layout (in the living room!) that had two independent loops, crossing at two opposite corners with 45-degree crossover. I put a village in the middle and illuminated each of the buildings.
On the layout I operated my cherished 2065 pulling a freight set and an Alco diesel pulling a passenger set. These two trains ran in opposite directions.
The operation was very slick! Through trigger tracks and control tracks I made, along with relays I salvaged and modified from heating equipment, when one train was approaching or in the intersection, the other would stop and wait.
The most fun came when someone new visited and wanted to see my trains. They would run synchronized for a while, but soon one would start to catch up. Then I walked away. My visitor expected a crash, but the relays took over.
That layout is gone now, and I don’t have any kids to pass down my trains to. Luckily, though, I have two lovely nieces, who have expressed an interest in “Uncle Kenny’s trains.” I am doing my best to encourage them to enjoy trains.
My wife passed away in 2006, and about a year later I ran into my high school sweetheart. My plan is to marry her and start a new life in the ranch-style house I’ve dreamed of having, with enough room for a woodshop and train room.
Meanwhile, I continue to buy lots of accessories because I sure like all the activity. I’ve also filled out my roster with more Lionel, a lot of Williams (which I thoroughly enjoy), and some MTH, and all the track that I’ve ever seen on sale.
It will be quite a large and attractive layout. That way, I can give my 2065 the home it deserves and remember all the model railroads my dad once built.
In 1,000 words or less, please tell us all about your greatest find, including what it is, when and where you got it, and why it qualifies as your top find. Send all submissions, including photos of your prized locomotive, set, catalog, and so forth, to “My Greatest Find,” Classic Toy Trains, 21027 Crossroads Cir., Waukesha, WI 53187-1612. Electronic submissions (along with digital photos) go to email@example.com