News & Reviews News Meet the men behind “3 rails 4 dads”

Meet the men behind “3 rails 4 dads”

By Rene Schweitzer | June 3, 2024

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While at the TCA Eastern Division York show in April, I learned about a group of four younger men who had started a YouTube channel to talk about the O gauge hobby. Like the Train Dads I wrote about recently, these are also men who love toy trains, and are also dads.

four men standing in a row
CTT met with the men behind 3 rails 4 dads at the April TCA Eastern Division York Show. Left to right are Ray Cataldo, Art Ricciardi, Mike Lovejoy, and Del Hudson. Rene Schweitzer photo

The group’s goal is to produce a fun and engaging monthly YouTube livestream/podcast where they discuss anything and everything train related, from catalogs to product reviews, layouts, and more. They want an engaging conversation with their audience, so they encourage comments and answer questions that come up.

The group has both YouTube and Instagram channels, @3Rails4Dads, and they post updates on the latest content.

Ray Cataldo

Rays Trains

How did you get started in the hobby?

I was never an action-figure kid. I always loved trains, tractors, trucks, and planes. I grew up in Westchester, N.Y., which is along the Hudson River. One of the biggest commuter railroads in the country, Metro-North Railroad, runs from Poughkeepsie to Grand Central Terminal, which my father took to work for 40 years. I’ve been familiar with and taking that railroad since I was a little kid, even on my own. I had a small HO layout on the floor in elementary school. Video games took over my interests in the late 90s, and I didn’t think about trains for a long time.

man holding boy’s hand next to diesel locomotive
Ray Cataldo as a child, trackside with his dad. Photo courtesy Ray Cataldo

Then YouTube came along and I started watching guys like Eric’s trains, RBP Trains, and Chris’s Trains and Things. After being inundated with so much train content, I didn’t want to stay on the sidelines anymore and bought my first set in early 2023.

What’s your favorite era of trains to run and why?

boy inside of red, white, and blue train
Ray as a child, exploring a model from the Metro-North Commuter railroad. Photo courtesy Ray Cataldo

My favorite trains to run are modern diesels and modern freight, as that’s what I was used to seeing as a kid. I have also started to dip my toe into steam locomotives.

What’s your vision of the hobby 20 years from now?

I think I see the hobby getting much younger over the next 20 years. I see the importance of what YouTubers are doing for the hobby and bringing in a lot of new and much younger people.

Del Hudson

3 rails 4 dads

How did you get started in the hobby?

It started in 1976, when I was 5 years old. My siblings and I got a Tyco HO Bicentennial train set for Christmas. That red, white, and blue paint scheme really appealed to me, but over the next few years I lost interest because the cars would always come uncoupled and derailed often.

It wasn’t until my son was born in 1993 that I got back into trains. I walked into a local hobby shop and saw large-scale trains for the first time. I was blown away and instantly got hooked. He and I had about 10 years of fun running them until he discovered video games, and the trains went into the attic. Fast forward to 2019, and I wanted to build a tribute layout honoring my dad, who passed away in 2014. He was a postwar Lionel guy, so this was the first time that I entered the O-scale market. I started with a basic 4 x 8-foot layout with tubular track and a few operating accessories. That quickly was expanded to 5 x 9. I outgrew that just as fast, so I tore that down and built an elongated triangle 14’0” x 10’-0” x 6’-6” to be able to install O-72 curves. I have lots of work ahead of me to install scenery, sidings, and operating accessories.

What’s your favorite era of trains to run and why?

man behind toy train layout, stretching his arms out wide
Del Hudson has a multi-level layout. The top level features late prewar Lionel toy trains and accessories.

To be honest, I love all eras. I have a passion for the late prewar era (1937-1941). The tinplate buildings are gorgeous, and the scale engines they offered during that period are timeless classics. The upper part of my layout is dedicated to this grandiose period of Lionel. The thing I love about the postwar era are the operating cars and accessories. I own just about everyone they ever made, and my grandkids, (actually, all kids for that matter), love playing with them. I’m still amazed to this day how engineers designed these amazing machines with a simple vibration motor.

I blame my nephew for getting me hooked on the modern era. He would bring his Legacy and MTH Premier locomotives and rolling stock over to run on my layout, and I was impressed with their scale, details, and sound features. I mainly buy modern engines and scale rolling stock now, since I already own everything I’ve wanted from the pre- and postwar eras. Occasionally, I’ll find an older piece I don’t have, but the modern era is currently where I’m at in the hobby.

What’s your vision of the hobby 20 years from now?

vintage toy trains on layout
There’s always a locomotive on the top level that was owned by Del’s father. Del Hudson photo

What I’d like to bring “playability” back into the hobby. What I mean is to use modern technology to design and create new operating accessories and rolling stock. We haven’t seen anything like that from Lionel since they came out with the TMCC operating crane and boom car years ago. The VisionLine cars have a remote operating coupler, so that is a good start by allowing hobbyists to remotely drop off cars in sidings without needing an uncoupling track.

I’d like to see Lionel use their Bluetooth technology to create operating cars that remotely operate by using the Cab3 app without needing the Base3. Bringing fun back into the hobby is paramount to connecting with today’s kids who have many distractions fighting for their attention. Plug-and-play buildings that only light up or have sounds are nice, but do nothing to keep a child’s interest for more than 5 minutes. I like that MTH and Atlas are strong competitors in the O-gauge market right now. That pushes all manufacturers to get more creative to compete for a customer’s money, so we will see some amazing new things coming to market in the future. It’s a great time to be an O gauge hobbyist right now, so let’s all enjoy the journey ahead.

Mike Lovejoy


How did you get started in the hobby?

I got started with trains when I was younger; my dad brought a Playmobil train set home that my sister and I loved to play with. As time went on he’d buy more track, trains, and cars, and we’d expand things until eventually we helped him build a big layout in the basement.

Flash forward 20 years later, and now I have a son of my own. Every time we would visit my parents we’d go downstairs, and he was fascinated with the same train layout I grew up with. I thought it might be fun to do something like that at my home, but I didn’t have the real-estate for large-scale. I wanted something that would be kid friendly, and I was worried that something like HO would be too small or fragile. That’s when a friend gave us a “Lionel Junction” starter set, and my son was hooked. It wasn’t long before I was doing the same thing my dad had done for us — expanding the track, getting more trains and cars — and then in summer of 2023, when it was clear the trains were here to stay, I looked into building a layout of our own. Spurred on by online communities and with help and advice from my dad, we built our layout around the sectional couch downstairs, and “The Secondhand Overland” was born.

What is your favorite era of trains to run and why?

My son and I are both fans of all kinds of trains, but at home nearly the entire roster is some kind of Digital Command Control (DCC). The ability to follow the trains around anywhere and interact with them has been a big draw for my son. He likes making them talk at different spots or just laying on the whistle as it goes through the tunnel to hear the sound change.

We do have a conventional line that’s elevated, so it’s difficult for him to reach. But he knows how to blow the whistle from the transformer, and he likes doing that with some of the older pieces we’ve started to collect. There’s something fun about the simplicity of a stationary transformer with a throttle lever, but the other features and the ability to move around makes digital control too appealing.

We have been mixing more of the MPC-era stuff with our digital trains, as he likes the operating cars and interactive elements. I can’t lie, I love the ability to separately control engine speeds, sounds, and other features, especially since we have one main line. The only way to run multiple engines is to space them out on our winding 64-feet of mainline track. Sometimes I’ll have trains running while I control a switcher in the yards off to the side, but there’s not a lot of space to operate without inching onto the main line. If everything were conventional on our layout, it would severely hamper what we’re able to do.

What is your vision of the hobby 20 years from now?

Man with boy giving thumbs up
Mike Lovejoy photo

These trains are fun, but as my son has proven to me, it’s even better when that joy is shared with others. My vision of the hobby, no matter how many features and technological advancements are made, is a hobby that’s more connected than ever.

There’s certainly been an influx of people in this hobby making videos and sharing information through various social media outlets, and while some might see it as “flooding the market,” I see it as a sign that this hobby is gaining traction and support. The community I’ve discovered around these trains helped me dig in more and expand my interest in them. As my own venture started to gain traction, so did my interest to share that progress online. Even if others aren’t creating their own content or sharing things, at the very least they’ll see the activity with this hobby and continue enjoying it through whatever means they have. On the surface it can look like a bunch of folks just trying to make content or become “internet famous,” but the reality that I’ve found is most of them are just as enthusiastic and psyched about trains as their viewers are, and that passion is fueling others to get into it. If that can continue 10 years, 15 years, 20 years into this, then that’s where the real enjoyment will propel this hobby into the future.

Art Ricciardi

Art’s Model Trains

How did you get started in the hobby?

My father introduced me to model trains at a young age. Every year for the holidays he would set up his Lionel postwar trains (Lionel Lines 2023, New Haven EP5, and Santa Fe F3) on some wood in our basement. The layout grew in the 80s with the addition of an MPC-era Conrail Rectifier. We used all the O-27 track and buildings my father had collected, but he allowed/encouraged me to add my Hot Wheels cars, LEGO, and army figures to the layout. Once I had a family and house of my own, my father brought the trains to my house. He helped me build my first layout, starting with a simple 4 x 8 table. From there I have grown both the layout and collection.

What’s your favorite era of trains to run and why?

Man standing next to toy train layout
Art Ricciardi has loved model trains since childhood. His current layout features 4 main lines.

I run a combination of postwar, MPC, and modern (TMCC, Legacy, DCS). I have 4 tracks on my layout and one remains an O-27 loop, which always has one of my father’s original locomotives on it. Depending on the day of the week, I’ll get the urge to run either conventional or modern. I like having the option to do both on my layout; there is just something so simple about postwar trains. Lately, I have been collecting and running more modern locomotives, admiring the details, slower speeds, and advanced sound features.

What’s your vision of the hobby 20 years from now?

scene on toy train layout
There’s always something interesting to see on Art’s layout. Art Ricciardi photo

In 20 years I look forward to the “3 Rails 4 Dads” show celebrating its 20th anniversary! I believe that in 20 years, while the hobby will take advantage of new technologies, it will have the same basic makeup. You will continue to see some people embracing the new technology and others continuing to love the older versions of trains. I think we will also continue to see the growth of social media, and it will play a role in continuing to grow the hobby. I do also think that we’ll continue to see the physical stores decline and those stores that are able to transition to online/mobile stores will become more mainstream.

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