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Model train enthusiasts meet in Howard Beach

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Photo gallery

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Anthony Gerace, 9, (r.) of Glendale watches as Nicholas Ranzie adjusts his train. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Tony Piwowarski (l.) has his train tested by Rem Hunnewell from The Train Doctor. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Mark Ranzie (c.) presents youngsters Joseph Tesoriero (l.) and Andrew Worn with first- and second-place prizes for one heat of the drag race. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Nicholas Ranzie (l.), of Maspeth and John Dresscher, of Astoria, watch their speeding trains pass by during a practice run for the drag-race competition at the Metropolitan Division Train Collectors Association's train show in Howard Beach. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Joseph Teroriero, 9, checks out a train display. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Rick Salcer from the Brooklyn N-Trak Train Club peers onto his club's display. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Victor Crecco takes his grandson Noah Feigenbaum, 5, to the show in Howard Beach. Photo by Christina Santucci
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A number of trains were on display and for sale. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Visitors to the train show (l.-r.) Chase Wyatt Pfluger, Crystal Pfluger, John Dresscher, and Erich Worn watch a train speed by. Photo by Christina Santucci
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Noah Feingenbaum, 5, celebrates his win. Photo by Christina Santucci

The MTA’s A line was not the only train heading through Howard Beach over the weekend.

On Saturday, the Metropolitan Division of the Train Collectors Association held its fourth-annual train show at the Saint Helen School on 157th Avenue, where enthusiasts came together to buy and sell model trains as well as paraphernalia and to try to breathe new life into a hobby some believe may be getting toward the end of its line.

Show Chairman Bob Amling said there are two kinds of model train enthusiasts: collectors and operators.

“A collector needs to have every version of a box car ever made, and in the six different shades it came in,” said Amling, who prefers to build and operate his own scale models of trains and scenery. “An operator would be happy if he had one to look nice in his layout.”

About 40 vendors filled the rows of tables with trains ranging from the original and much-sought-after Lionel tin cars from the early 1900s to the plastic cars made during and after World War II to the Model Products Corp. sets built in the ’70s, after that company acquired the Lionel name.

Another popular brand, Mike’s Train House, was founded by Mike Wolf, who started out producing reproductions of the original Lionel sets for the Williams Electric Trains Co., and would eventually come full circle when MTH, through an out-of-court settlement, acquired the rights to produce Lionel vintage reproductions.

Amling said that nowadays, most model trains are made overseas. “We joke that the factory makes Lionel in the morning and MTH in the afternoon,” he said.

In addition to the seasoned enthusiasts, a few youngsters enjoyed going head-to-head on a specialized drag-racing track that had been laid out.

The owner of Ike’s Train Shoppe in central New Jersey traveled from the Garden State with a number of train sets, including a brand new, Lionel QJ to Jamaica’s 168th Street subway set.

“It’s all electronic; it even announces the stop,” Ike said. “What really makes it unique is that the electronic doors open and close.”

The four-car set had a price tag of $695.

Lionel last listed the set in its 2009 catalog, and the models depict the R30 subway cars that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority retired in 1993 after 30-plus years of service. The R30s, known as Redbirds, were originally dressed in kale green, and were repainted red in the late 1960s.

“MTH used to be licensed to make the MTA subway sets, but they decided they wanted to do a graffiti set. This was back in the ’70s and ’80s and the MTA was like, ‘We don’t think so, this is a bad time for us,’” he said. “So MTH went ahead and made them, just without the MTA on them, and that’s why Lionel has the license now.”

Sam Constan said that 10 years ago, the 408E tin car Lionel set he was selling for $1,175 could have fetched upward of $6,000.

“Over the last 10 or 20 years, the business has gone dramatically down,” the 75-year-old from Long Island said.

“The real issue we all face is that our hobby happens to appeal to older people who come from an era when the railroad was a key part of transportation, and our toys reflected that. Today, if you ask a 10-year-old to take a trip to Boston on a train, he asks if you’re nuts,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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Chris Swendsen says:
I wish that the suggestion of combining of Metro-North Upper Hudson Division with a LIRR non- electrified line such as the Upper Port Jefferson Branch.via Penn Station was simple as building a model railroad. The combining of routes should be looked apron with fresh eyes; I know that Metro North and long island railroad do use different configurations on third rail shoe setups

However the MTA, should still have Metro-North should combine trains from its, Upper Hudson Division with the LIRR Upper Port Jefferson Branch via Penn Station for better train service to a Manhattan Railroad Terminal. This would make both railroads more efficient. In the 1990’s Amtrak operated a through train from Albany to Shea Sedum Station on the LIRR Port Washington Branch, known as the Baseball Special. Part of Amtrak’s Albany to Shea Stadium Station route, includes Metro-North’s Upper Hudson Division. Amtrak used a dual mode train set which includes locomotives and rail passenger cars.
Dual mode locomotives operate using third rail power or regular diesel power. This train may have been able to operate with adjustable shoes to configure to both types of third rail. A shoe is a device which sticks of the wheel of a dual mode locomotive to get third rail power so that it can gain access to Penn Station. This type of equipment is needed for rail lines that have no electrification, but its passengers need access to Penn Station.

Amtrak also planned to operate one daily round trip between Albany and Port Jefferson Station via Penn Station using that same type of equipment
This proposed idea never materialized. See Newsday July 1991 article for more info on Albany and Port Jefferson Station train. The Baseball Special Train was also stopped it was said due to LIRR work rules at the time.

There were also proposal by Metro-North, to operate beach trains to Long Island using dual mode train sets. See New York Times Articles 1991-1993. One such article is entitled “‘back to the Beach”.
Metro-North did not go through with this at the time, becuase they said it not generate enough passengers to cover the fare. They did not think of making both railroads more efficient and provide better service.
Nov. 27, 2011, 6:48 pm

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