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Your first hobby shop

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Your first hobby shop
Posted by Tin Can II on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 11:56 AM

Inspired by several posters in the diner, tell us about the first hobby shop you can remember visiting and/or utilizing.

I'll go first.  My grandparents lived in San Antonio, TX when I was young, and as I had been given a Lionel train set when I was 6; I was always begging to go to a train store whenever we were in San Antonio.  On several occasions, I was taken to Ces & Ronny's hobby shop.  C&R's was located in an old house.  There was an elevated half loop of 4 1/2 inch track around the back side of the house; I assume at some time, the loop extended all around the house.  I never saw a train run on that track.  Inside, there were individual rooms dedicated to different scales.  I was only focused on the Lionel room; there was lots and lots of stuff, including used equipment.  I would save my birthday money to buy used cars.  My greatest purchase was a used ZW275 transformer.  Don't ask me why I wanted it, I never had more than two engines, but I had the capability of running 4 trains at once, if I wanted to.  I still have all of my Lionel equipment, although it has been in storage for years. 

Skip a few years to January 1977, my second semester at college, in Seguin, TX, when I had my first car.  My first trip to San Antonio was to visit my grandparents after a stop at Ces & Ronny's.  I now modeled in HO, and I was hoping to score some new HO stuff for the layout I was building at home.  Imagine my horror when I pulled into the small parking lot to see that they had closed the previous year, and had sold all their inventory to a new hobby shop.  I made the trip across town to find a very generic hobby shop with a very sparce selection of trains of any kind.  

Ces and Ronny's also advertised that individuals could come watch HO trains run  on their 700' mainline in the attic of their original shop on Saturdays.  I could never get anyone to take me to that when I was younger, and I had hoped to see that layout now that I was in college.  I never found out what happened to that layout.

If this thread takes off, I'll post musings about more of the hobby shops in my life, and I would love to see what others post.


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Posted by SeeYou190 on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 12:06 PM

The very first hobby shop I remember being excited to go to and shop/browse for trains was in Gainesville, Florida on NW 13th Street.

Unfortunately, the name of this store has been lost to my poor memory.


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Posted by selector on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 12:06 PM

About seven months after I retired from the Canadian Armed Forces (Industrial/Organizational Psychology), I took my father to Nanaimo to fly to Arizona for his annual snowbird migration.  After I dropped him off, I remembered seeing a hobby store advertized in MR, our host's magazine.  I decided to drop in to Leisure Time. 

I left with some tracks, a DC controller, and a BLI Paragon Hudson (Toronto, Hamilton, & Buffalo livery).

What'ryagonna do when you get hit?  Hard!

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 12:14 PM

My Lionels were from my time as a single-digit kid, so I wasn't driving yet and I had negligible money of my own.  My Dad would get me train presents from some place in NYC.  Eventually, we moved near a place called Mulrany's Train Land in Lynbrook, New York.

When I sold my Lionels and switched to HO, I could ride my bike to a local place called Hobbyrama in Rockville Centre, NY.  That's where I bought my teen years equipment,  most of which I still have and is still running,  other than the engines.

Mulrany's is still there, only now it's part of Trainworld in NYC.  Hobbyrama is gone, though.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by John-NYBW on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 12:19 PM

The first hobby shop I remember being a regular customer of was Hobbyland in the Graceland Shopping Center in north Columbus, OH. This was in the late 1970s. It has since moved a few doors down but is still there. Soon after I discovered The Train Station by accident. They briefly had a shop in downtown Columbus that I passed by on the way to my parking lot. I then discovered their main shop was on Indianola Ave., a short distance from Hobbyland and where I lived. It became my go-to LHS. Hobbyland has cut way back on their model railroad offerings so I don't go there much any more. They seem to have found a niche in war gaming which I have never been into. 

One other place that used to have a large selection of model railroading products was Woolco. That was Woolworth's entry into the discount department store field. One of their stores was also in the Graceland Shopping Center. Lots of AHM rolling stock and locos. Woolco stores are long gone as are most of the discount department stores that sprung up in the 1960s and 1970s.  

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Posted by Mike in NC on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 12:22 PM

Sometime in the 60's in the little town of Greenwood, Indiana I walked by the window of an actual train store.  I was about 10 and I stopped and gawked at all those O and HO brass locomotives on display.  My mother said "No way" and continued dragging me down the sidewalk to the shoe store.    Eventually on another day I was released to do some shopping/looking, I never touched anything but I can imagine the look on my face,..   Looking around and near drooling I was creating a Christmas list, then I noticed the magazine rack so I invested in my first ever train item, the magazine.   Once home I setup my brothers Marx Monon set and started dreaming. 

Mike in NC, 

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Posted by crossthedog on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 1:33 PM

Uncle Harold's in Bellevue Square (Bellevue, Washington) was later known as Uncle Harold's Bike Shop, but it was more than a bike shop. Sure, we ran our hands along the shiny, weird "banana seats" of the Sting-Ray bikes that along with Schwinns and Tweeds filled the floor of the giant open space in the center, but we were really there for the airplane, car and ship models. In my memory's eye I see only the bikes and the shelves full of models, but somewhere in there were full train sets, and probably some individual locomotives in a glass case, rolling stock maybe behind the counter. I can't actually recall, but that's where my first train set came from, and my first Plasticville passenger depot, interlocking tower, and freight depot. This is what the place looked like when I was four years old.



Returning to model railroading after 40 years and taking unconscionable liberties with the SP&S, Northern Pacific and Great Northern roads in the '40s and '50s.

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Posted by chutton01 on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 1:44 PM

I have metioned before on this forum Trainland in Lynbrook, NY. Trainland is part of Trainworld now, based in Brooklyn (yes Lynbrook's name was derived from Brooklyn) not sure if in the early 1970s Trainland was independant or a suburban outlet of Trainworld). Anyway in the early 1970s my parents took me there a number of times while they gathered up the components for a decent first layout. I recall the large "spaghetti-style" layout Trainland had in the front store window, centered around a large mountain and lots of structures and details spread around - this layout went away when they rebuilt in, maybethe 1990s (IIRC), adding additional second story storage space. I still occasionally stop by (maybe once or twice a year).
Of course in that era even department stores carried model railroading supplies (labeled 'trains' of course)  - brought my first diesel from Mays (AHM GP20 I think), and brought a number of small hoppers (Tyco maybe?) from Woolworths...not sure where those went, mabye sold them at a garage sale.  Christmas wasn't complete till the big, beautiful Montgomery Wards catalog arrived in mid-fall most years of the 1970s, with several pages of Railroad items.

I know the YouTube channel "Recollection Road" did hobby shops already (they covered a lot of stores, brands, and items) - now they are sort of wandering a bit, so maybe we can get some ideas among ourselves and get them to produce a video on Model Trains of the 1970s/1980s era...

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Posted by NittanyLion on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 2:05 PM

The lightbulb broke in one of my Tyco buildings, so dad and I drove over to Natrona Heights (about 20 miles up the Allegheny from Downtown Pittsburgh).  There was a shop in a strip mall there.  It was a dark, brown place with an enormous slot car track.  That's the first one I remember.  I recall my hometown (Butler) had a small shop that my dad went into once for...something.  That was the first time I'd ever really seen serious hobby stuff, like detail parts and window castings and that would have been around 1988 or 1989.  Occasionally, we'd go down into the city and go to AB Charles, which was (or seemed) enormous and had everything you could conceive of.  

In January 1991, I had minor surgery, which is a pretty big deal for a nine year old.  When we stopped to pick up a prescription for my painkillers on the way home, my dad got a copy of Railroad Model Craftsman for me.  I still have it somewhere.  There was an ad for the upcoming show season and about a month later, we went down the Expomart for what was probably a Greenberg show.  That was an eyeopener.   

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Posted by BroadwayLion on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 2:17 PM

YES, we lived in Merrick NY, and Dad had given me an American Flyer train set.

We got our trains at Nassau Hobby in Freeport.Place was filled with Lionel and American Flyer. I loved the American Flyer stuff especially the switches with their different colored lights on the switch housing.

Nassau Hobby is still there, alas the American Flyer trains are not. Besides, I live in North Dakota.

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Posted by BigDaddy on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 4:11 PM

I don't remember much about the slot car hobby store in the 60's.  I was an adult when I went into MB Klein, formerly a hardware store and later

Unfortunately they got rid of the the retail shop completely.


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Posted by crossthedog on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 4:20 PM

Henry, that photo is gorgeous!! What city is that? Because there are no cars or people, I had to look closely to be certain it wasn't a model with a hazy background photo.

Returning to model railroading after 40 years and taking unconscionable liberties with the SP&S, Northern Pacific and Great Northern roads in the '40s and '50s.

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Posted by dknelson on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 5:29 PM

When I was a boy the local "Variety Center" had a tiny selection of HO stuff but I did not regard it as a hobby shop and it did not claim to be one.  

Here in Milwaukee there were a number of train stores in the 1960s that had been going strong for 20 or even 30 years but on the south side of town the destination for me starting with my Lionel and then when I moved on to HO, was Casanovas.  Even then it was not a great neighborhood; there was a vague atmosphere of menace from the surrounding bars and the folks walking (staggering) the sidewalks.  The store itself was in two parts and to get to the trains you had to walk through the gun/knife/hunting/sporting goods section.  I was intimidated by the firearms but intrigued by the magazine rack because they had a variety of "men's magazines" - nothing adults only, but Argosy, Man's Escape, True Men, Wildcat and others of that ilk ("pulp fiction" indeed!) had lurid covers that were shall we say very interesting to a 12 or 13 year old boy.  And as I recall the ownership of Casanovas was often in this or that kind of legal trouble, so it was lurid in other ways as well.  I think some highly publicized murders were committed with guns purchased at or stolen from Casanovas.  Of course now murders are so commonplace there almost is no such thing as a highly publicized murder.

But the trains were the big draw.  One entire wall of Lionel, and glass cabinets of brass, with shelves of HO kits and RTR.  One thing about Casanovas is that they'd keep inventory on the shelves until it sold.  This was great for collectors but hazardous for incautious buyers -- an example, a friend wanted to try a Walthers passenger car kit and bought one at Walthers only to learn that the kit was so old, probably pre WWII, that the stamped metal car sides were from before Walthers included rivet detail, so his was plain.  But they charged the current catalog price so in that sense he was ripped off.  Casanovas did repairs, both Lionel and HO.  There was a distinctive odor of lubricant to the place that just seemed so right.  Going there was always a special treat.  By the time I had a driver's license and could go there on my own, it seemed the entire place had shrunk, the inventory seemed puny and inadequate, the brass tarnished and uninteresting.  Actually nothing had changed ... I had changed.   The times had changed.  Casanovas had become a model train wax museum.  Even the women on the men's magazine covers seemed less undressed than I recalled from my youth.

Dave Nelson

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Posted by Jetrock on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 6:58 PM

I'm pretty sure that the first model railroad hobby shop I visited was The Whistle Stop, not the "Original" Whistle Stop in Pasadena (which I visited much later), but one in Arden-Arcade, across from Sacramento's first shopping mall, Town & Country Village. My dad was also a model railroader so it was typically a father-son outing, although we'd immediately split up upon entering the store to look at different things. This was the 1970s, so the stock was mostly a mixture of older white-metal kits on the shelves and brass under glass, with a lot of Athearn blue boxes making up the bulk of the rolling stock section. My first love in the hobby was building structures, and my limited skills & pocketbook kept me towards the basic Atlas plastic kits, but my creative side also liked scratchbuilding (plus it was also cheaper to buy some stripwood and use a plan from MR than buying an expensive craftsman kit that was basically just pre-packed stripwood and a few castings.) By the time I hit junior high school and my modeling interests gravitated more towards military models, the Whistle Stop had taken over the strip-mall space next door to expand its offering of military kits. The staff I mostly remember as kind of a blurry memory of friendly gray-haired old guys. Visiting the Whistle Stop was also kind of a triple whammy, because there was also an excellent art supply store (Graphic Hobby House) on the corner with its own well-stocked model section, and the Sprouse Reitz five-and-dime store (although by the 70s most things cost more than a dime) with its marvelous toy section and hilarious selection of blue gags like rubber vomit and joy-buzzer rings.


When I got back into the hobby in my 30s, the original Whistle Stop had closed, but its spiritual successor, Bruce's Trains, had opened in a former bank building in the same shopping center, but it shared a lot of Whistle Stop lineage and I think a lot of the staff had originally worked there; I was also volunteering at the local railroad museum and sometimes ran into other docents who were also model railroaders there, either as customers or behind the counter. The owner of Bruce's (named Bruce, naturally) finally retired in the mid 2010s, with a series of successive blowout sales that I hit several times--the last time, when everything was 75% off, they jokingly suggested that I was getting enough stuff to start my own hobby shop. While I do occasionally sell stuff at train shows, I still don't plan to have enough stuff to start my own hobby shop (although some who have seen my train room might think otherwise.)

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Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 8:01 PM

We lived out on Long Island when I was a kid in the '50s.  There was a hobby shop in Garden City South that had my 2 favorite hobbies; trains and chemistry sets.  I bought some trains, and some interesting lab glassware.  The Lionel trains got sold when I went into HO/HOn3, and eventually back into both, but I still have the glassware.

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Posted by Southgate 2 on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 9:00 PM

I got into trains in about 1975. There was a pretty good train  hobby shop in Coos Bay Oregon at the time. They had a club layout upstairs. But it was gone by mid 77, when I graduated  high school. I didn't get involved with the club. 

Their closing meant my nearest LHS was Eugene Toy and Hobby, 120 miles away. I'm still on a first name basis with the owners.

The first shop is where I learned of Athearn, I bought a GP-35 to replace my ever failing Tyco's. Dan

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Posted by 05c50 on Wednesday, January 11, 2023 9:15 PM

My first remembrance of a hobby shop was Loreski's in the Miracle Mile Shopping Center. It was the only shop that sold trains and was run by a grumpy old guy who seemed to be about a hundred years old and his two sons. Now that I've reached my senior years, he probably was more like fifty. They had a limited amount of trains and I didn't get to go there very often. Eventually East Hills Hobby Center opened and half of the store was dedicated to trains! They were pretty close to the public bus route and if I walked about two miles, I could catch the bus and take the 40 minute ride to the store for 35 cents. Starting when I was about ten, (times were different then) I would turn in the pop bottles that I collected to Tony's store for the deposit and take the bus to the hobby shop. I can remember spending hours at that shop just looking at (and dreaming) all the train stuff. The owner (Clair) was very understanding and tolerant of me. Through the years I was able to buy quite a few trains from him. I bought my first Model Railroader there and I believe I still have it. 


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Posted by Water Level Route on Thursday, January 12, 2023 5:55 AM

As seen in the diner, my first hobby shop was in an old train station, and was appropriately named "The Train Station".  Prior to my mother taking me there, I assumed the only way to get model train stuff was at Toys R Us, or through the Sears Christmas catalog.  Imagine my excitement.  The station was in pristine condition inside.  The owner's office & checkout counter was where the ticket agent would have been.  She (yes a female model railroader ran the place) had a G gauge Kalamazoo train running on an elevated track around the sales floor (the old waiting area).  There was a restored caboose sitting out front that was unlocked during business hours, and I was lucky enough to be there several times as a freight train rumbled by.  I also remember being struck by all these weird name brands I had never heard of before.  Atlas?  Athearn?  Walthers?  Roundhouse?  What the heck?  Where was the Life-Like, Bachmann, & Tyco?  My first ever "real" model railroad purchase from there was a Seaboard System 50 boxcar.  My first quality locomotive also came from there - an Athearn SDP40 in New York Central paint.  That was only because I didn't have enough money to buy the Soo Line engine on the shelf.  That engine set me on my path of modeling the NYC as I do today, only now during an earlier era.  I still have both of those purchases.


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Posted by Doughless on Thursday, January 12, 2023 7:15 PM

It wasn't a real hobby shop, but a store that had a train department.

Miller's Appliances, 3rd Street in downtown Grand Island, Nebraska.  It was about 1971/1972, and always stopped in to look at the Athearn Blue Box locomotives and car kits when my mom took me to lunch during the summers.  I don't remember if they had other supplies because at that age I was just interested in looking at the trains.

Then down the street was a larger train department in Woolworth's.  It had the AHM locomotives, cars, and all of those AHM structure kits in those yellow boxes.  My first kits were Ma's Place, Grusome Casket, Rico Station, and the coaling tower.

If York1 (John) is reading this, we used to live near downtown off of 1st street and my mom would take me to Woolworth's for lunch.  We'd sit at the diner counter when Ww's used to have those.  The train aisle was right next to the counter.  It was lunch either there or at Jake's Bake Shop on the corner.  Miller's was in between the two and my mom didn't want to take me there much because I think she got bored waiting for me as I looked over every train piece they had, LOL.

My first real hobby shop came years later after I graduated college and moved to Indiana.  Hawkins Rail Services in LaFayette, IN about 1987, downtown location.  I think Jack Hawkins had just bought the place from the previous owner.  Then later he relocated to a bigger building towards outer Lafayette.

- Douglas

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Posted by HO-Velo on Thursday, January 12, 2023 8:34 PM

Don's Hobbies in the Geri-towne mall, Fairfield, Ca.  A trip to Don's fired the imagination in so many ways; trains, models, RC airplanes and cars, rockets, doll house, Pinewood Derby, etc.  With Travis Airbase nearby a good stock of military aircraft models on hand.  Don and his wife behind the counter, always friendly and eager to offer help and advice, while providing a homey place for hobbyists to meet, chat and share.  Every spring Don's sponsored a model contest and hobby show in the courtyard of the little mall.  Don's closing in the 90s left a hole in the community, and sadly, a hole that many don't even know exists.  

Regards, Peter

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Thursday, January 12, 2023 8:52 PM

Well I remember going to several with my father as a young child, and when I was even younger, my uncle owned one.

But as far as me buying trains, at age 12 I was hanging out at the Depot Hobby Shop in Severna Park Maryland starting around 1969.

By late in 1970 or early 1971 I was working there. 

When that shop moved to Harpers Ferry, WV in 1973, I went with them for the whole summer to setup the new store and help build a diarama of John Brown's raid.

When I came home there was a new hobby shop up the road a bit, Glen Burnie Hobby World. I walked in and asked for job - worked there until 1979, managed the train department almost from the start. The former owner is still one of my dearest friends.

During most of this I was a member of the Severna Park Model Railroad Club.

And my father has been a somewhat serious Christmas time modeler in my early childhood.

So I grew up with model trains and in the model train business.

And I got to know all the Baltimore area shop owners of that time, including Ted Klein (now known as ModelTrainStuff), and met lots of people in the industry - it was great childhood....



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Posted by doctorwayne on Friday, January 13, 2023 10:34 PM

My first hobby shop was Riley's, on King St. East, in Hamilton, Ontario. That was likely in 1956, but my father had been going there for some time, as he had been involved with model airplanes from when he was a child.

Here's a couple photos of his hobby interests...

He was also interested in cars, too, and built this model of a 1950 Studebaker, shown below at the Studebaker Plant in Hamilton...

It was a pedal-powered car, with four-wheel independent suspension.  The wooden body (painted in a rich maroon colour) had a framework somewhat similar to those frames for the model airplanes. The front and rear bumpers and headlight and tail-light bezels were made from aluminum, as was the grill and the frame for the windshield. 
I was a little edgy, as that real Studebaker was still moving when the photographer was taking the photo.



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Posted by dstarr on Saturday, January 14, 2023 1:33 PM

First hobby shop for me was the old Eric Fuchs in downtown Boston Washington street.  In those days we lived in an outer suburb (Framingham) so we did not get into downtown Boston all that often.  But when we did we usually managed to talk parents into stopping at Eric Fuchs.  They alway had some trains running in the store window and lots of stuff to look at inside the store.

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Posted by Billwiz on Saturday, January 14, 2023 3:32 PM

I grew up in Phoenixville, PA where we had "Bills Hobby and Peanut Shop".  He had trains and a peanut roaster.  My dad first took me, then I'd walk downtown and get buildings (and peanuts).


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Posted by maxman on Saturday, January 14, 2023 5:47 PM

I grew up in Phoenixville, PA where we had "Bills Hobby and Peanut Shop".  He had trains and a peanut roaster. 

That must have been more than 40 years ago.

I belonged to a club in Phoenixville starting about 1983 and I don't ever remember anyone ever mentioning that place.

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Posted by tloc52 on Saturday, January 14, 2023 8:47 PM

Trost Hobbies in Chicago on 63rd street somewhere between Western and Kenzie Avenues. 

I later ended up caddying for one of the most miserable ladies I ever met. Betty Trost who owned the store in the 70's. Lots of other great train stores in Chicago but that's the first one and probably at age 8 in 1960.

When I got my driver's license in 1968, I think I hit every train store in the Chicago and Joilet areas that were in the back of Model Railroader


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Posted by Billwiz on Saturday, January 14, 2023 10:02 PM

Maxman, I graduated high school in 82 and the shop was long gone by then. Were you a member of Scuykill Valley RR?


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Posted by maxman on Saturday, January 14, 2023 11:08 PM

Were you a member of Scuykill Valley RR?

schuy kill


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Posted by Billwiz on Sunday, January 15, 2023 8:03 AM

schuy L kill Yes


I knew that.  Been in this area of PA for most of my life.  Didn't help my fingers when typing though!

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Sunday, January 15, 2023 8:45 AM

My first real hobby shop came years later after I graduated college and moved to Indiana.  Hawkins Rail Services in LaFayette, IN about 1987, downtown location. 

I have told this story before, if not for Hawkins rail service, there might not be a Stratton And Gillette today.

When I switched to HO in the early 1990s, I could not find any undecorated Athearn train cars. For some reason, no one had any.

I believe it was 1993, and we were visiting family in Indiana, when I went into the downtown location of Hawkins Rail Services. He had an entire shelf of nothing but Athearn undecorated freight car kits! I bought dozens that day.

When we came back to Florida I placed my first order for HO scale SGRR decals from Rail Graphics. I was set, and the SGRR lived on into HO scale.

I visited Hawkins several time after he moved to the new location. My company was headquartered in Columbus, Indiana, so I used to fly out of Indianapolis quite a bit. If I could schedule my return flight for Saturday, I could stop at Hawkins in the morning.

Jack treated me like a regular, even though I lived 1,000 miles away.


Living the dream.

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