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Jones turns childhood love into family business venture

November 10, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - Eric Jones has loved trains for as long as he can remember. So when the opportunity came to buy the N&W Train Shed in Williamsport, he jumped at the chance.

"Nelson Deal was here for 33 years," Jones, 32, said. "He and my dad, Phil Jones, were friends. I kind of grew up in this store."

The shop at 34 N. Conococheague St. has been renamed E.L. Jones & Sons, and there are many changes as the age-old hobby of collecting model trains moves into the era of high technology, Internet sales and Web sites.

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Before beginning his business April 1, Jones worked in internal affairs with a large company and as an investigator with the State of Maryland, he said.

A graduate of St. Maria Goretti High School, Jones completed the criminal justice curriculum at Hagerstown Junior College.

"I was commuting to Rockville, usually leaving home in the dark and returning in the dark," Jones said. Much of his work was undercover and often involved 12-hour shifts, he said.

Now he and his wife, Ami, and their three children are getting reacquainted with each other.

"What a change for all of us," Jones said.

Sons Alex, 14, and Nathan, 8, are joined by daughter, Alana, 10.

"Nathan loves to point out to people that he is one of the sons in '& Sons' in the store name," Jones said.

Jones is familiar with today's technology and comfortable working with it. He has been successful combining that knowledge with the more traditional expertise in model train sales, repairs, etc.

Train sights, sounds and smells fill the 1901 building that houses the shop. Jones and his wife have extensively remodeled the building, lining the walls with trains of all sizes, styles and value.

A working train display is being set up on a large platform that dominates the showroom floor just inside the shop. The trains are operated by a modern remote control.

The biggest change is the Internet business that Jones has been able to tap into via his laptop computer and company Web site, eljonestrainmerchants.com.

A telephone call from a model train enthusiast one recent afternoon triggered an immediate computer search that hooked the collector up with the item he had been looking for and the deal was struck.

"We have a full-time person keeping our Web site current," Jones said, adding that already the store has outgrown the site.

"There are 186 different vendors available. That's amazing," Jones said.

He describes himself as a middle man for collectors. Jones said he prides himself on being able to find the hard to find. His investigator instincts kick in when a collector can't find something and in most instances, he zeroes in on it.

"I can also use a computer to diagnose problems with the newer model trains," Jones said. But there is still a fair amount of restoration work going on the old fashioned way too, he said.

The train shop, which always opens at 10 a.m., closes at 6 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; 5 p.m. on Wednesdays; 7 p.m. on Fridays; and on Saturdays at 4 p.m.

The telephone number is 301-223-8801 or 1-800-810-8138.

Ami Jones has her own enterprise in the back of the store - Country Creations by Ami - which also is doing well.

"We've got a lot of irons in the fire but we're having a great time," Jones said.

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