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Lionel train enthusiast happy to put other fans on same track

Children know that when Bob Shultz’s sign is at the end of his driveway, this model train enthusiast is open for business. Parents can simply call “Choo Choo Bob’s” number and make an appointment for their children to view his collection that day.

While it’s not strictly business — Shultz is a hobbyist — he does take his model train collecting seriously.

Shultz runs advertisements in the UT San Diego that read, “Bob buys trains. Yours, your father’s or your grandfather’s trains, stored in a box in the garage for years.”

To date, Shultz has 70 full sets of mostly iconic Lionel model train brands. His fascination with them goes back to his childhood. When Schultz was born in 1945, most fathers bought their sons model train sets.

“Lionel was the biggest manufacturer of toy trains then,” he said. His father bought him his first train set when he was a child, which he still has with the original box.

Shultz’s passion to collect them seriously, as an adult, began four years ago when his grandson, Rollins Fisher, was admiring the set. Because of the sentimental value, though, Shultz wasn’t ready to part with it. “So I ran an ad that read, ‘Buying trains, call Bob.’ It was that simple.”

He acquired some trains, restored them, and gave some to Rollins as well as to his nieces’ and nephews’ children. It became a fun hobby.

Now his advertisements have 20 lines and get results.

“People have these train sets ... but no one plays with them anymore, so they are abandoned, usually in their garage,” Shultz explained.

“They call me up and I go and rescue them. I take a standard book of values with me. I give them a good price — I don’t steal them — and I fix them up and resell them at train clubs.”

Shultz belongs to the All Gauge Toy Train Association. The 120 members are mostly gentlemen in their 60 and 70s. They rent a church hall once a month, sell to each other and share stories about their finds.

The Shultz family came to San Diego from Chicago in 1953. “My father, born in Southern California, lasted about four years there, then declared that we were going back to California,” Shultz said.

About 15 years ago, Shultz was in the real estate business and purchased his Cardiff-by-the-Sea property, which has three homes on the lot. The front building is a Spanish-style adobe built by the Weir brothers in the 1960s. His train set-up is constructed in one of the rear home’s garages, but will soon move to a more permanent spot in this spacious adobe.

His collection is insured for $30,000. The oldest set is from 1915, a rare standard-gauge electric passenger train set that was a gift. “The gentleman saw my ad, came to a show that I was at, and said that he wanted me to have his grandfather’s train set,” said Shultz.

During the holiday season, Shultz sets up a running train display at the US Bank in the Trader Joe’s Shopping center on El Camino Real in Encinitas. “Kids who come by can put their name in a box, and on Dec. 23, I pull out a name and that family receives the whole set-up as a gift.”


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