Sunday, August 7, 2011

Model train show to make rare Central Va. appearance

From The Daily Progress: Model train show to make rare Central Va. appearance
A love of toy trains often begins with a shriek of joy when a wide-eyed youngster spots one beneath a Christmas tree.

Tracks are quickly snapped together, and within minutes the glistening locomotive is merrily chugging around a little circle. Although these popular playthings are most often associated with youth, for some it becomes a lifelong hobby.

Newcomers and veteran enthusiasts of this pastime that started more than a century ago will be descending on Charlottesville on Saturday for the Virginia Train Collectors’ Summer Train Meet.

More than 70 vendors will be offering items of interest to seasoned collectors, as well as those just getting started. Items will range from rare antiques to modern pieces that feature the latest technology.

“There are two basic types of people who fool with toy trains — operators and collectors,” said Peter F. Primiani, past president of the VTC and organizer of the meet. “We’ll have things for both at this meet.

“Many collectors collect older trains, and we’ll have a great selection of those. There will also be a good variety of starter sets available.

“This will be a great way for young parents to introduce their children to the hobby. There will be a large operating layout on display that will enable everyone to see toy trains in action.”

The elaborate layout is courtesy of the Silver Rail Club of Midlothian. A video of this particular setup can be seen at www.

According to Primiani, the hobby is currently enjoying a second golden age. The first golden age is placed between 1950 and 1955, when model railroading took on a realism that had never been achieved before.

“The hobby is divided into three eras,” Primiani explained. “There’s the period before World War II, post-war from 1945 to 1969 and the modern era from 1970 to the present.

“The second golden age of toy trains started in the early 1990s when a young guy from Maryland started Mike’s Train House. He had been working for Lionel reproducing some of their older items from the 1920s.

“He left Lionel in the early 1990s and started his own company. He has been very successful, and has revitalized the hobby by bringing all these tin-plate trains back into production. He also started making modern-era trains that incorporate all the new technology, like computer chips.”

The VTC was founded in 1976 and hosts five train meets a year. The meets are usually held in Richmond and Norfolk, so Saturday’s event offers a rare opportunity for people in this area to see toy trains and related items that span the entire history of the hobby.

Like many people, Primiani packed up his toy trains and accessories when he moved into adulthood. He happily unpacked them about 20 years ago in order to share them with his own children.

“When I started sharing my old trains with my kids, I got bitten by the bug again,” Primiani said. “Now I’m both a collector and an operator.

“When I got back into the hobby I discovered the beauty of the tin-plate trains that date back to before I was born. My interest switched from the 1950s era, when I was growing up, to the prewar era.

“I now enjoy collecting the tin buildings that were made in the early 1900s and used in train layouts.”

Primiani has a large model railroad layout in his home on which he runs both a passenger train and a freight train. He had a pretty neat layout when he was a kid, as well.

“My father rigged up a piece of plywood in our one-car garage that could be lowered on pulleys,” said Primiani, who grew up outside San Francisco. “When I let the plywood down, it would take up almost the whole garage.

“I would spend hours making elaborate layouts and wiring things up. It was my own little world I was creating.

“I had KW transformers that could run two trains. I remember going over to a person’s house to admire his ZW transformer, which was the most powerful you could get at the time.

“That ZW transformer was a real status symbol back then.”

The Virginia Train Collectors’ Summer Train Meet will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Holiday Inn Monticello on Fifth Street Extended. Admission is $6; free for children 12 and under.

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