From the first model train his father brought home in 1954, Cardiff resident Bob Shultz now has a collection of about 100 train sets in his home that have delighted local children and other visitors for years.
“I rescue trains because people don’t really have a place to go with them,” said Shultz, a retired real estate broker who has lived in Cardiff since 1971.
It all started about 10 years ago when he ran an ad looking for a cheap, plastic set that his grandson could play with without worrying about damaging it. He kept running the ads looking for anyone who had any kind of train set they were looking to sell, and kept getting responses from local residents who had old sets that had been withering away in storage for years.
“People pass away, people get older,” said Shultz, adding that storage space for old collectibles is often limited in Southern California, where many homeowners don’t have basements. “Whatever circumstances they have, they don’t need the trains anymore.”
Over the past few years, the family room and dining room in his home have become “kind of like a museum” of model train sets, the oldest a 1915 Lionel set that he received as a gift. Shultz said he can still get it to run. He also restores model trains to resell at train clubs, or sometimes he gives them away.
Each set has about three or four freight cars and a caboose, he said. His collection also includes accessories such as hats and oil cans. According to the National Toy Train Museum, located in Pennsylvania, Lionel made its first electric train for use in store windows, and by the 1950s, children all over the country had their own sets. The craze died down over the following generations, and Shultz said many children today are more preoccupied with their computers and iPads.
But model trains remain popular among passionate groups of enthusiasts. Shultz is part of the 50-year-old San Diego-based nonprofit All Gauge Toy Train Association, which holds monthly member train meets.
Many local children as young as 3 and 4 years old have stopped by Shultz’s home to admire his train collection and take their turns making them run along the track.
“They’re mesmerized by the fact that they can control it,” said Shultz, who also owns books about the history of model trains.
“It’s been a labor of love,” he added.