At Pa. show, model trains appeal to kids of all ages

July 28, 2003|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Ask just about any of the vendors or visitors at the second annual Cumberland Valley Model Railroad Club All-Scale Train Show Sunday and they would tell similar stories about their first toy train.

"I got a train set for Christmas as a little fella," said Bill Robinson of Chambersburg, Pa., one of the event's organizers.

Club President Harold Gabler of Chambersburg got his first set for Christmas in the late 1930s, but like many of the enthusiasts, got away from model trains until "I got gray-haired."


John Newbraugh of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., got his first train, a Marx, in 1951. "I got my first Lionel in 1957. You don't forget those things when you're a train collector," he said.

Model railroading has almost as long a history as the locomotive itself, predating Joshua Lionel Cowen, the man whose middle name is synonymous with the hobby that has fascinated kids and grown-ups for more than a century.

"There were electric trains back in the 1800s," said Newbraugh, who has written about some of the lesser-known companies, including Hafner, Hoge, Dorfan and Unique Art, for model railroading publications. Cowen got into the business in 1900, he said.

Newbraugh, a retired teacher, also is a maker of billboards, water towers and other pieces for train sets. Newbraugh Brothers Toys started in 1972 and primarily is a two-man operation now, with Newbraugh and his son-in-law Harlan Harmison, who does the artwork that appears on the billboards.

Newbraugh said the company made a Herald-Mail car many years ago.

"It's a highly collectible car if you can find one," he said.

"A lot of them are like me, mom and pop. They just make one or two things," Newbraugh said of the train manufacturers about which he has written.

Lionel had a local connection, assembling model trains in Hagerstown in 1968-69, according to Jack King of Hagerstown, whose collection consists primarily of post-World War II Lionels. Lionel bought Porter Chemical, King said of the company that also made children's chemistry sets in those days.

Lionel has changed hands several times in the past three decades, Newbraugh and King said. Rock musician Neil Young is now the principal owner of the company.

Although he had a vendor's table at the train show, King said he and others there primarily are hobbyists. He comes to shows when his collection starts to get out of hand.

Sam Kuhn of Chambersburg and Jack Mowbray of Carlisle, Pa., are affiliated with the Rockhill Trolley Museum in Rockhill Furnace, Pa., and had a table of trolley models on display.

"We have old Number 5 that used to come into Hagerstown from Frederick (Md.)," said Kuhn, who worked for Conrail for 41 years and is a member of the Chambersburg Transit Authority board.

The museum has two dozen real trolley cars, several of which run on the museum's track, said Mowbray, who taught in the mathematics department at Shippensburg (Pa.) University for 37 years.

Robinson said more than 200 people attended the show, proceeds from which are used to support the club's building at 440 Nelson St., Chambersburg. The club's 31 members have built large "HO-," "N"- and "O"-scale layouts in the old warehouse on which trains chug through miniature towns and valleys.

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