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Annual show is ‘all about trains’

November 18, 2018

Ian Evans couldn’t stand still Saturday.

The kindergartner started bouncing from one foot to the other in the parking lot as he waited on his great-aunt, Linda Travers of New Haven. Ian, 6, knew that through the front door of Coliseum Bingo was a whole room of trains, including toy trains he could play with.

The first apartment Ian’s family lived in was beside a set of railroad tracks, Travers said.

“His dad held him in his arms when a train went by,” she said, explaining the fondness her great-nephew feels for locomotives.

The Maumee Valley Railroad Club Inc. organized the Model Railroad Show & Swap, which included 120 tables of merchandise offered by vendors selling model engines, passenger cars, tracks, buildings, books, maps, lanterns and other memorabilia.

Rick Popp was one of those vendors. Model trains have been the Fort Wayne man’s hobby since 1956, when he was 6 years old.

“I got my first set from Santa Claus,” he said.

These days, Popp also volunteers as part of the No. 765 steam locomotive engine crew, selling T-shirts, “bling and swag” at various events.

Popp also sells items at model train shows. Some things are his, others he sells on consignment for women who suddenly wonder what to do with model train collections after their husbands die. 

From September to May, he travels anywhere within a 31/2-hour radius of Fort Wayne to participate in model train shows.

The area he covers includes Chicago, Detroit and Cincinnati.

Richard Insley, secretary for the Maumee Valley Railroad Club, helped organize Saturday’s local show, which drew about 500 people last year. This year’s show attracted about 35 vendors from across the Midwest displaying goods on 120 tables.

“It’s all about trains, pretty much,” he said. “It’s hobby work, but it’s also artwork. There’s a lot of detail work.”

Model train displays can become quite elaborate, he said. For example, some collectors insert flickering bulbs inside hand-painted, miniature buildings to simulate flames. They place a miniature fire truck with tiny firefighters beside the burning structure.

“It’s real-life drama,” Insley added.

Most of Saturday’s drama was in the minds of the pint-sized pretend engineers.

Sitting on steps not far from Travers was Harry Myers, who was patiently waiting while his 9-year-old grandson, Brenton Zhang, played with toy trains set up in a designated kids’ area. They traveled about 45 miles to attend the show.

“He loves trains,” Myers said. “His mom and dad say he loves them too much.”

Myers has four of five train sets at home.

“It’s because of him,” he said, gesturing to the third-grader. “He was so enthralled with Thomas (the Tank Engine). We travel around to train shows.”

The Montpelier pair was making a day of it on Saturday. Brenton, whose favorite meal is hamburgers and french fries, was going to spend the night.

“He’s still just a kid,” Myers said. “They try to get kids to grow up too quickly. That’s the advantage of being a grandpa, you can let them be kids.”

sslater@jg.net

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