Creating Connections: Model Railroading and Family

black and white photo of locomotivesman taking photo outside of a train

A legacy of a love for model trains is often born out of connections with the real thing; especially when a family member has worked with them.

David grew up around railroads. His father worked for the Western Maryland Railway; the last in a long line to be employed by the regional road. Like any young kid, David wanted nothing more than to work with these incredible, giant machines himself. Although he ultimately didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps – instead choosing a career in music – his early experiences left a lasting impression. Over the course of his life, David continued to pursue his first love on a smaller scale through model railroading; amassing an impressive collection of O Scale Western Maryland pieces, and eventually building a cottage in his backyard to restore an HO Scale layout. So well known was his passion by the time of his retirement, that instead of being presented with a musically themed gift in recognition of his long career, he was presented with two mounted O Scale Western Maryland boxcars signed by the entire orchestra staff he had worked with.

a father giving his son and model train kit as a giftmodel train layout

David and the author (some 25 years ago!) and the HO scale layout they restored together. 

David is likely the reason I’m here today writing this. No, my parents didn’t work for the railroad, and I didn’t have the same early experiences to leave those lasting impressions like his, but I did have David as my uncle, and his passion for model trains which inspired my own journey into the hobby. I can still remember being asked at four years old about which scale I’d “theoretically” like to have, and the excitement that followed on Christmas, when a train-set shaped box appeared under the tree. That Lionel 6-11735 New York Central Flyer Set not only set the course of my hobby in motion, but also launched a decades long friendship.

Chances are this experience can be echoed in some form or another by model railroaders across the globe. Whether introduced by someone already passionate about trains, or through a mutual discovery of the hobby with someone close to them, ask any modeler, and you’ll find that their reason for model railroading is rarely just about trains. It’s about creating or remembering a bond with family or friends, recreating a specific time or place in their life, or honoring a legacy.

black model train on a layout young child smiling in front of a model train layout

Long-time Modeltrainstuff customer Shari spent much of this year restoring her father’s Postwar Lionel set with her son, Mason.

In the late 1940s, Shari’s father was gifted a Lionel train set – a possession which he held onto throughout his life. When Shari inherited the set, her son Mason took immediate interest. Now, after a year of restoration work, the set has been transformed into a fully fledged operational layout, complete with benchwork, scenery, and a tunnel. What started as a simple gift more than 60 years ago has now spanned three generations of use in one family, and has created a meaningful project and bonding experience between a mother and son.

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New scenes on Shari and Mason’s layout – now in its third generation with the same family!

So what is it about model trains that inspires this connection? Perhaps it’s the depth of skill that goes into it. Whether you’re interested in electronics, gadgets, history, technology, artistry, woodworking, crafting, or strategy games, there’s likely something that will appeal to you within this hobby. Much like like with Shari and Mason, the vast array of skills that are developed when building a model railroad are sure to strengthen the relationships with those who you venture into it with. On the other hand, it could be the romance of the rails; the excitement of recreating a sense of travel, adventure, and wanderlust in miniature, or, as with David, it could be the ability to recreate a tangible representation of a time and place where fond memories were made.

Much like with model railroading, the holidays are a time when relationships are developed, good times are looked back on, and lasting memories are formed. While this season might be a little different for many of us, this might just be the perfect year to dust off that old train set in the attic and start a new adventure with those in your household. Trains are, after all, an indispensable component of the holidays, and could just be the perfect way to bring those who you care about together this season. You never know, this might just be the start of a lasting legacy in your family…

From myself and all of us at, we’d like to wish you a happy holiday season however you choose to spend it. And if you decide to jump into model railroading this year, we’ll be right here to help you along the way!