October 22, 2021

Still on track after 42 years

Model train collector Doug Deer of Cortland has an extensive model train collection in his basement. He is seen here Thursday.

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Model train collector Doug Deer of Cortland has an extensive model train collection in his basement. He is seen here Thursday.

Doug Deer has moved five times as a Baptist minister.

And every time he moves, he has to rebuild his train layout.

The Cortland man, 65, now retired, has spent the last year and a half creating his current set up in his basement, home to his model train collection that includes over 100 engines, a few hundred train cars, 50 different train lines and 200 buttons and switches people can push.

“We grew up with (trains) at Christmas time. They have good memories,” he said.

He’s been collecting toy trains for 42 years. His father passed on the collection that he had started in 1951, the year Deer was born, when he died in 1974.
After Christmas, Deer’s father would buy a train accessory that would be next year’s Christmas present.

Today, Deer has model trains from 50 different train lines, from Delaware & Hudson to Ringling Brothers, to Susquehanna and even Hogwarts. And he has an outdoor train set up on a raised bed, with it’s own scene. The trains are bigger and drive on wider tracks than typical toy trains. Dean made all the buildings out of Lincoln logs.

He’s got tracks that go around dwarf Alberta spruce and solar lights that light up the night. He’ll post a sign announcing to the neighborhood when the trains will run.

“I enjoy building it and I enjoy showing it to kids,” he said.

In one room in his basement, Deer has two rows of tables. Each table has another table stacked on top, for three layers of trains — one on the floor, one on the first table and another on the second table. Each table can have as many as seven train tracks, with various train lines and scenery.

There’s a circus train with elephant and giraffe heads that pop out of separate cars. When the car comes up to an overhang, the animals duck their heads.

“One of the best cars I had, a balloon will hover over the car (over a spout of air). As the train goes around the tracks, the balloon will stay there,” he said.

This particular train room also has two shelves, maybe 2 feet wide, that drop down from the ceiling, with several train lines on them, that circle the room.

His trains reflect where he, or where his kids have lived. For his time in Oklahoma, home of Rock Island train line, he collects that model. And he has a Rock Island train room.

Deer visited Alaska and bought an Alaska train set, which is on its own table, with trains running through snow, around a lake, with people clad in winter jackets. And every inch of wall space in the basement has a completed train puzzle on it, glued and mounted. Deer has over 500 train puzzles and another, smaller room devoted to the puzzles.

Deer buys his trains online, on eBay and visits an annual train meet in York, Pa., once a year, which is for Train Collectors Association members only.

The TCA was founded by 68 people in a Yardley, Pennsylvania, barn in 1954. The nonprofit now is located at Strasberg, Pa., and is a worldwide organization with tens of thousands of members, according to its traincollectors.org website.

Ron Morris, 89, of Redding, Pa., has been collecting trains since before he joined the TCA, which he’s been a member of for 46 years.

“I still have my children’s trains,” he said. As for how many he had: “I don’t really have a count.”

“I collect what I like and what I can afford.”

“I don’t have a layout per se. I set up at Christmas time,” he said. He puts out red and green colored cars on the tracks.

Jan Athey, a librarian with the Train Collection Association, said the library is devoted exclusively to toy trains with books, periodicals, and even more unique, a manufacturer’s catalog of all the toy train manufacturers.

“We’re open to the public. We have 24,000 people in the association that call and ask questions,” she said. And teachers and members of the public call as well. She has been working for the association for 24 years.

She said collectors tend to be interested in the technical part of the models. Many are civil engineers.

“The other thing that’s a huge factor is the nostalgia factor. They had them as kids back in the 40s …. They like recreating things they had when they were kids.”

While many believe interest in collecting is waning, Athey says there are still children that enjoy toy trains.

Interest comes from “Thomas the Tank Engine” and “Polar Express” books and shows, she said. Plus kids get interested by a parent or grandparent who brings them in.
Deer said his children aren’t interested in the collection, because they grew up with it. But he has a 5-year-old grandchild who helps him maintain the train village. And he has hopes for the two Seattle grandchildren.

“My goal was to get all this up by 4th of July, when the Seattle grandchildren came to visit.”

He did.