05 Feb 2009 23:16
Just a few days ago my doorbell rang. It was George, the coolest kid on the block, clutching the latest Lionel catalog. I couldn't miss his bright eyes and smirking grin. He eagerly showed me his latest pre-orders, gushing that he couldn't wait for his grandkids to try them.
Meet George Arbeeny, collector's collector, toy train operator, and kid at heart. As a collector, George does not discriminage. His interests run the gamut, from Lionel Standard gauge, to die-cast tinplate pieces, to vintage postwar, with a smattering of modern-era Lionel in between.
George has also collected every Standard gauge reissue that Lionel and MTH have ever offered. These beauties include the recently released Lionel Hiawatha and MTH's gold Presidential Millennium set.
But what really matters to a kid at heart? The accessories, of course. George has packed his simple layout with dozens of accessories, and new ones are rotated in on a weekly basis. From gas stations to fast food joints to nuclear reactors, there's something for kids of all ages to marvel at in George's Train World.
George's love affair with trains started at a young age, with a simple O gauge set. He continued to collect and operate trains while gathering ideas for his dream train world.
Lucky for George, he found many layout ideas while at work, of all places. As an oil burner mechanic, he was allowed to do something all hobbyists would love to do - that is, check out just about every basement from here to eternity.
Ironically enough, George's layout resides, not in his basement, but in his attic. Of course, he isn't complaining. What started out as a toys-in-the-attic fantasy - a small 4 by 8 foot layout - soon grew into "George's Train World", a 22 by 63 foot empire with floor to ceiling shelves that display a vast number of trains.
You may be surprised to find that George kept the scenery basic. Instead of looming plaster mountains and senicked hills, he simply painted the benchwork a rich green.
The only permanent "scenery" is the track itself, which, in keeping with the simplicity of the layout, is not ballasted.
Changes on his layout
Like most kids, George enjoys keeping things new and interesting. The lack of permanent scenery makes it easy for the layout to receive a quick facelift. In the blink of an eye, landmarks can be moved, businesses can be relocated, and new neighbors can be welcomed to the neighborhood.
Of course, with all those accessories, the layout needs hefty wiring. With 1700 watts of power, supplied by a vintage? and maxed-out modern Lionel ZW, an MTH Z-4000, plus a few small transformers, the train board is a marvel in electronics.
But what you don't see is even more amazing. Under the layout you'll find approximately 2000 feet of 16-gauge wire. George needed all the wire to hande the 100 plus street lamps and yard lights, six operating tracks, and all the accessories. Did I mention there's nearly 40?
George's number one goal in building the layout was to let children be part of the action. What better way than loads of whimsical accessories, like a ferris wheel, merry-go-round, and aquarium? By placing almost 40 operating accessory buttons alongside the layout, he lets guests of any age be part of the fun.
And just to keep things lively, George interchanges accessories at will (or whim!). As new pieces arrive on what seems to be a weekly basis, they are rotated on and off the layout to keep things fresh and exciting.
Of course, George still has a passion for the oldies but goodies. Not to be outshined by their newer counterparts, a post-war Lionel no. 264 forklift platform and a no. 3656 operating stock yard can be seen on some of the layout's prime real estate.
Such a great setting is needed to run? the grand collection that George has built. It's true that the Challenger and a Delaware & Hudson Alco C-420 are constants on his layout. But he can't resist running some of his higher end favorites, such as MTH's Presidential Millenium set, on the layout. Lionel's early 1990's reissue of the Blue Comet, newer Green State set, and the beautiful MTH no. 9E green four-car set are also some of George's most prized sets.
Always an operator
For George, the hobby never gets old or boring. Some might say that because of all the new accessories orders, and others would say that because classics never get "old". I think it's because he's a kid at heart, and the coolest one on the block.
(originally printed in the July 2003 issue of classic toy trains)