I've been a Lionel fan ever since my grandfather started giving me trains as a kid. I had a small cheap Lionel set to start with, and then when I was 9 years old, Grandpa gave me the 1965 version of the 773 Hudson loco.....which was too long to run on my (O27) track, so the next year he gave me a pile of Super O track and a couple of switches. Each year after that he would give me a car or two.
After I grew up, I grew out of trains until the mid 1980s, when my friend Ray and I decided to pull the trains out of storage and put up a Christmas layout with a tree and a display of merchandise on a couple of sheets of plywood at the family business (a Carquest Auto Parts store) where I work. We operated this way, using my old trains and track, for a few years.
Later, I accidentally discovered Classic Toy Trains magazine, and that started the ball rolling...I had thought O gauge was dead! Who knew you could still buy track, let alone the vastly improved track of today, not to mention the vastly improved array of the actual trains and accessories. In 2000, I got married, and my wife suggested changing the layout from a Christmas theme of just a tree with a bunch of merchandise and a train, to an actual layout with buildings and scenery. Ray built us a table that could be taken apart easily, and also scratchbuilt some model buildings.
As a result, our store layout grew regularly until by 2009 it was about 30 x 16 feet, but it still had to be dismantled and stored every year after the holidays. In 2009 my dad passed away, and I purchased the Carquest store from my mom. In 2015 we moved the store to a different, larger building in which I was able to set aside enough space for a new, permanent version of our train layout. We began planning in 2016 but didn't get to building on it until 2018. The first "test" trains ran in the summer of 2020 and we started letting the public see it in November of 2021.
The new layout is about 35 by 20 feet and has actual model scenery built using the Woodland Scenics SubTerrain system, as opposed to the simple portable styrofoam hills we had employed previously. The layout is a hybrid: It is a layout meant for "running trains" as opposed to model railroading, so it doesn't have much in the way of yard or realistic switching or shop facilities, but it does have two independent lines and several sidings and tunnels. Rather than traditional O gauge rolling stock I have built up a nice collection of O Scale Lionel engines and cars (I love the detail on the scale equipment), and a bunch of buildings, some homemade by Ray and others from Woodland Scenics, Lionel and MTH. The layout is operational most of the time, but is still in the tweaking stages, especially in the scenery department, so it's subject to occasional shutdowns for construction projects.
In the evenings, I run the only movie theatre in our small town.