A pre-Christmas visit to Sommerfeld's Trains

Posted by Bob Keller
on Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Milwaukee landmark for O gaugers! Sommerfeld Trains in Butler (just west of the Union Pacific yard).

Jack (right) and Matt (left) are not expecting their closeup! I should have brought Santa hats for them to wear!

Sure it was a cold Wisconsin day, but it didn’t take much effort to get me out of the house last week in order to run up to Sommerfeld’s Trains in Butler, Wisc. Ages ago I’d asked Jack to track some stuff down for me and I hadn’t followed up on the search.

Hey, I could have picked up the phone and asked, but what fun would that have been?

I arrived a few minutes before he opened and there were already a couple of cars moving in to park behind me. Before I left, it was like a bus stop, 15 or 20 guys looking (and buying) trains in HO, S, O, and Large scale.

Jack and Matt were deftly working the crowd and I discovered he had three of my five items, all Atlas O troop sleepers, were in, an Army troop sleeper and two New York Central Express cars, I picked up the other two a few days later, two more converted sleepers in Railway Express colors.

Once that was out if the way, I had a chance to observe customers in action: buying locomotives for the holiday, getting rolling stock, some extra track, and a few brought in a couple of engines for a pre-holiday check. I'm pretty sure Matt wasn't going to let anyone down on those holiday tuneups, even as close as it was to Christmas.

Everyone was reasonably happy and very upbeat.

I asked Jack what his leading Christmas seller was and he replied “Still the O gauge Polar Express” he said. “Kids have really embraced it and I don’t think that it is going away anytime soon.”

“That bodes well for the future then?” I replied.

He nodded, “Not just the future, but today. The Polar Express is a first step. There are kids starting their own layouts and their parents are supporting them on it. There are also new guys, in their middle age, still discovering us. Maybe they had trains as a kid, or saw some something on TV about Trainfest, or realized you can't play golf year round. But this still has the power of pulling in people who are looking for a hobby. And there has been a shift in the hobby. A major change.”

That was the most upbeat assessment I’d heard from a retailer in some time. I followed up asking “What’s the nature of the change?”

He replied that the hobby was getting away from collecting, and getting back to its roots: Running trains.

“In 1992 if I sold 100 locomotives, I can guarantee you 80 would have stayed in the box. Today, if I sold 100 engines, 20 would stay in the box, and the other 80 would be getting a workout on a layout. People are having fun! People are building layouts and running trains.”

As a train guy, I could see the serious looks on the faces of my fellow shoppers. But it took very little prompting to get them talking, smiling, and sharing their enjoyment with others.

2019 may be a very good (and fun) year!

May your holiday be everything you want it to be.

Santa will need a larger sleigh to haul all that stuff away!

O gauge and Large scale eye candy literally extents to the ceiling.

Atlas, MTH, and Lionel rolling stock down the left. Woodland Scenics, MTH, and Lionel structures down the right.

A newbie could not ask for a better single source for getting that train board filled and running.

Jack has all the power a new or experienced O or S gauger might need.

Jack's display of locomotives can make a hard-core single-road fan make goo-goo eyes at the mixture of road names and liveries.

I love the REAX paint scheme, but think the green light be closer to pea soup than REA green ... but some research may prove me wrong. Still great cars.

And, of course, the best reason for having a local train dealer is that he can get you what you want!









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