As a young boy growing up in the 50’s, fall was always exciting because the Sears Christmas catalogue would arrive around October 15. It included the most popular toys available that ranged from a few dollars to nearly $100. I always wanted a Lionel electric train but they were so expensive – $68.00.
On Christmas morning, 1952, my Christmas wish came true. Santa Claus brought me a Lionel Berkshire steam engine, four cars, and a caboose attached to a plywood painted train board with two accessories.
This was the beginning nearly 63 years ago of a life-long hobby. Today the first train is joined by nearly 2000 trains, cars, and accessories that make up my Lionel collection. Lionel started up in 1900 and my earliest train was manufactured in 1901. The majority of this fully operational train layout was manufactured between 1901 and 1965.
In 2007 my wife Linda and I decided this collection needed to be permanently displayed year round. After much thought, a large two-story garage, workshop, and train room was constructed in our backyard in Harrodsburg.
Since 2007 work has continued at night and weekends in assembling a 30’x 20’ layout on which eight trains can run simultaneously. The nearly 100 operating accessories always provide activity and motion as the trains pass by the stations, towns, and industrial complexes. Sunday nights are usually designated as maintenance nights as several of my friends and I get together to trouble shoot problems. Willard Hamm, an electrical genius has been next to me during the journey since 2007.
While serving as Director of Paducah’s West Kentucky State Vocational Technical School in the 80s, my passion for trains was influenced by Jack Clark, Bobby Abell, Merritt Lake, and Stan Walter. Model trains were still quite popular and Paducah had a rich history serving the Illinois Central, ICG, NC & St.Louis, Burlington Northern, L&N and later the P&L and CN. The IC Shops were and still are a mecca to train enthusiasts.
My current collection is surrounded by over 1,000 railroad antiques and artifacts from the civil war up to the early 80’s. These include timetables, locks, lanterns, crossing lights, maps, tools, station furniture, and much more. My collection is always available for viewing for those who are interested in Lionel trains and railroad history.
Loving and appreciating trains keeps one always young at heart.
Bill Huston recently retired as President of St. Catharine College in Springfield and currently serves as Vice Chairman of the Board of the Kentucky Railroad Museum located in New Haven, Kentucky just south of Bardstown.