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All Aboard!

Model railroading is fun for all ages. That’s what a father just found out

By Lynette M. Loomis

Lyle Fair, the owner of The Train Place, shows a large-scale engine, the CSX.

Nestled in the hamlet of Mendon, Lyle Fair talks with customers about their shared passion, model railroading.

“Being a single parent, I wanted to find a hobby we could enjoy as a family. So I purchased a train set for around the Christmas tree. I then realized I was spending more time enjoying it than the kids were. Cell phones and technology were coming out back then and the kids were definitely more interested in that than in model trains,” Fair said.

But his interest continued. He said his hobby quickly expanded, as most hobbies do. When his children got older, he eventually downsized. But where would all these trains go? He decided to rent space in Mendon.

“I figured a train shop was something others could enjoy as much as I have through the years,” he said.

The Train Place officially opened in October 2022.

“I think trains have become a passion for me, mainly because they bring people and families together. This hobby allows children, as well as adults, to use their creativity and imagination to create something,” he explained. “My passion is more about the people I meet and the stories I hear, than just the trains.”

Fair is not alone in his passion.

The National Model Railroad Association has chapters across the country as well as Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

He gives credit to his father for some of his interest in history. His dad was an antique furniture dealer and collector and Fair watched him restore things to their former glory.

“I have really enjoyed the idea of getting trains out of basements and attics to be put back into circulation and to be loved and appreciated,” he said. “The older generation remembers the 4×8 sheet of plywood in the basement with the Lionel or American Flyer trains running around.”

Acquisitions come from estate sales, paper ads and his shop. The store has both new and used trains in all scales from N (little) to G (large) along with accessories and other hidden treasures that are train related. Train people collect all different-sized trains and railroad names.

The Train Place has all trains and accessories for the adult model railroad hobbyist, as well as a train play area for young children.

“The hobby brings back great memories for everyone when they walk into my shop. I have my regulars and people of all ages just starting in the hobby. I really enjoy making people happy,” he said.

Dick Budgeon, 86, lives in Victor and frequents The Train Place two or three times a week. As a child, he and his brother had model trains. His wife, Donna, bought him a train after their kids had grown and left the house.

“I thought it would be fun, but I didn’t imagine anything like this,” she quipped.

“This” refers to a 19.5-foot by 4.5-foot train layout in their basement. “He was going to design the train layout and I was going to design the scenery. That didn’t last long. He ended up wanting to do it all.”

Budgeon admitted he got carried away — a little bit.

He had sold conveyor systems for 50 years. So, of course, he created several moving conveyor systems in his layout. There is also a police car, complete with a flashing light on the roof.

“I sketch everything out several times to make sure I design and create it properly. I don’t want to leave anything out,” he explained.

He spends about four to five hours a day working with his trains.

“I like to fuss,” he added. “I started with the smaller N gauge trains. Now I prefer the larger trains as they are easier for me to work on. Making sure the trains can switch tracks easily takes planning and precise execution. The maximum track layout would be eight lanes. You don’t want them colliding. There is certainly a bit of love, along with the engineering that goes into the design.”

He has some rare trains, including a few that were only manufactured one year. These differ from their more common counterparts, by the color of their roof or the printing on the sides of the cars. He has two engines under glass at his desk that he cherishes. One of his rare finds was built only in 1951, another in 1953.

“It’s a hobby that will last me the rest of my life,” he said.

Jim Minno, 66, lives in Penfield and remembers fondly the train sets from his childhood. He and his brother would spend hours on the trains.

“It was the type of pleasure we enjoyed not only when we set up a train around the Christmas tree, but anywhere my parents would let us set them up,” he recalled.

He smiled as he said, “In the hours that we couldn’t go out and play, it kept us from being underfoot. Maybe that’s why my parents were so supportive of our love for trains.”

He has enjoyed talking with Fair and Budgeon.

“I could have spent an entire day talking with either of them. Lyle’s store has so many trains and accessories, I was amazed,” he said. “I also was impressed that there was an area for small children to play with wooden trains while their parents or grandparents studied all of the trains. What the guys can do with a sheet of plywood to create a railroad running through an entire city or village is impressive.”

Ron Lalogia, 77, lives in Fairport. “I became interested in model trains as a youngster in the mid-1950s. I remember going to Sibley’s and watching all the Lionel trains on display there,” he said. “Over the years, I have met some genuinely nice and interesting train people and I have learned how to repair older model trains.

“This is a great hobby for young and old. There are clubs for railroad enthusiasts that are great to join such as the Toy Train Collector’s Society. The society hosts events in Rochester, Buffalo and Utica. The National Toy Trains Collectors of America has a show twice a year.”

All of the men said the RIT train show, Tiger Tracks, at the Gordon Field House, held annually in December, is a great show (Dec. 9-10). It has operating layouts to interest adults and kids.

“I would like to see more girls become involved,” Lalogia added.