Toy train show in Columbia Heights is a big deal for collectors

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 6, 2013 - 7:25 AM

An upcoming toy train show and swap meet will be a chance to socialize with other collectors.

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Mike Speltz of Coon Rapids is always on the lookout for his family’s toy trains.

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A few years ago Mike Speltz came across a rare ­Lionel toy train car offered for sale by a fellow collector.

Speltz, who lives in Coon Rapids, immediately recognized it as something that once belonged to his dad.

It was easy to pick out because it read “SAR Lines,” the combined initials of his grandfather Stan, dad Art and uncle Robert. Many of his dad’s pieces had been sold after Art Speltz died in 1978, so it seemed like serendipity.

“I remember being overjoyed and I had a hard time containing my excitement,” Mike Speltz said.

The connection was made, and the Lakes and Pines Division of the Train Collectors Association, a national organization that goes back to 1969, made it possible, he said.

This Sunday the Lakes and Pines group, of which Speltz is a member like his dad before him, is hosting a toy train show and swap meet at Murzyn Hall in Columbia Heights, its home base.

At the event, 50 collectors will display all kinds of toy trains, from entry-level models to rare collectibles. Also, a miniature railroad with running trains will be set up on the stage, at just the right height for the show’s youngest visitors.

St. Paul resident Al Oste­rud, a longtime member of the club, said the event is a chance for toy train enthusiasts of all ages to mingle and talk shop.

Some collectors from the club will be on hand to answer questions about toy trains, such as how to maintain them or what it takes to get a parent’s or a grandparent’s old train set back into working order.

Different approaches

Osterud, who is 70, received his first toy train at the age of 6. He remembers clearing off part of the bookshelf in his room as a 10-year-old to make way for his train collection.

Like Speltz, he’s nostalgic about the trains he had back then, particularly those made by Louis Marx and Co.

When people get older, “They tend to collect what they had as a child, or what they wanted as a child but didn’t have,” he said.

Some people, called “operators,” get a charge from running toy trains, while others go for a specific make and model, or they acquire replicas of real trains just to look at them, he said.

In recent years, souped-up trains that resemble early toy trains — but are way more advanced — have come to the market.

These have “computerized sounds and exotic stuff we never dreamed of having as a kid,” he said, adding that they can get pricey.

Whatever the niche interest, the club welcomes anyone who loves trains, he said.

‘A joyous type of thing’

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