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Mandy Patinkin’s layout and toy trains

By Roger Carp | December 24, 2021

A versatile performer relaxes by running old and new Lionel trains over his personalized display

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Overview shot of a model train layout
Mandy Patinkin layout
Rising high over the O gauge layout belonging to entertainer Mandy Patinkin and his family is a towering mountain covered with snow for tiny skiers to enjoy throughout the winter. Meanwhile, locomotives and rolling stock from Lionel’s current line parade across the double-track main line. The love two generations of Patinkins feel for New York led to the purchase of some specially decorated boxcars, as seen in this photograph

In the October 2000 issue of Classic Toy Trains, photographer William Zuback and I photographed performer Mandy Patinkin’s layout. We spent a couple of days with he and his family. Joining us was Rich Roman, whose highly successful layout building firm, East Coast Enterprises, was responsible for much of the design and look of Mandy’s layout.

Mandy’s toy train memories

Mandy shares much with Frank Sinatra and Neil Young. All touch their audiences with memorable performances and albums. All also developed an appreciation for toy trains that spanned their adult years.

Most fortunate of them all may be Mandy. His family was able to afford a Lionel outfit when he was growing up in Chicago in the early 1960s.

The pleasure of building a simple layout as a youngster never left him. Even when he was paying his dues as a performer, there was no doubt he would someday have the Lionel layout of his dreams. The only questions were if he’d have time to build it and where its home was going to be.

Overview shot of a model train layout
Capturing every section of the Grody & Patinkin Railroad Co. in a single shot was impossible, even for a photographer as talented as William Zuback. So, we’ll have to be satisfied with this expansive image, which shows many of the main lines and sidings that fill the 17 x 42-foot room. Mandy and his family enjoy operating long freight and passenger trains. Don’t miss all the postwar accessories and the modern-era reproductions.

Time for a layout

The answers came right around 2000, when Mandy was starring on Chicago Hope, a television medical drama set in Chicago.

He and his family figured out what the layout should look like and its features. Ideas included an animated carnival, a working ski lift, and a bustling rail yard with an operating turntable. It would also have a roundhouse with stalls built in a mountainside, and a tribute to the business his family established in Chicago – People’s Iron & Metal Co.

It would also have a superb sound system. The trains would be run via command control. Mandy insisted on having the latest and greatest in toy train technology. Since his boyhood, electricity has fascinated him, especially when applied to operating Lionel trains and accessories.

A perfect collaboration

What Mandy and his family ultimately named the Grody & Patinkin Railroad Co. (named for his wife, Kathryn Grody) might just as well have been named the Patinkin & Roman Railroad Co. The collaboration between the family and Rich and his crew proved to be perfect.

It wasn’t a lack of experience or skill that prevented Mandy from finishing the layout. Rather, the demands of his career meant time was always at a premium. If Mandy had insisted on doing everything, they railroad might have taken 25 years to build and troubleshoot.

Mountain scene on a model train layout
Another of the impressive mountains built and then landscaped by the craftsmen at East Coast Enterprises features coves they fashioned into the stalls of a multiple-track roundhouse. Pretty clever and definitely an eye-opener for the folks who drop by the Patinkin household and get to see the layout.

Once the builders understood what Mandy, Kathryn, and their sons want they found it easy to constructing the benchwork and lay track. Electronics also went forward relatively smoothly and quickly. Together, Rich and Mandy tested everything, making sure the postwar and modern-era Lionel locomotives on the roster were operating as well as ever.

Getting it built

As good as Rich’s team is with trackwork, wiring, and remote controls, they are equally skilled with making scenery and structures. The mountains and forests formed an impressive environment for the track work.

Structures also came together. There were scratch-built models with the names of businesses for each family member: Kath’s Books & Café, Gideon’s Groceries, and Isaac’s Inn. Everyone had a blast running the rides and attractions filling the amusement park. As for the mountain village, it calls to mind the years Mandy and his wife lived in Colorado.

Awaiting more

Prewar electric engine and house on model train layout
Mandy Patinkin and toy trains: The actor grew up running Lionel trains from the 1950s and early 1960s, and he has since become familiar with locomotives equipped to operate via TrainMaster Command Control and Legacy. Still, as this reissue of a prewar electric shows, he has come to appreciate what his favorite toy train manufacturer was developing and selling in the decades long before he was born. The superb scenery reflects the artistry of East Coast Enterprises.

In the 20 years since Mandy Patinkin’s layout was showcased in CTT, he has has bolstered his list of career highlights. Spare time seems as scarce for him now as it did back then. Little wonder the layout, while still wonderfully maintained, has not changed significantly.

We at CTT can keep hoping new projects lie ahead for the Grody & Patinkin Railroad Co. Perhaps Mandy will slow down just enough to sketch or suggest modifications. When he does, hopefully CTT will be able to make a return visit.

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