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In the Lakes and Pines Division, the vast majority of the 120 members are baby boomers or older, with a small number in their 40s.
At one time the club was more than double that size, according to Steve Sekely, the group’s president. It has long been male-dominated, probably because it was more common for boys to get toy trains.
Despite the dwindling numbers of toy train hobbyists, Sekely, a Chanhassen resident, said it’s encouraging to see young people come into his store in Hopkins, called Steve’s Train City.
He constantly has to clean a small window in his store because it will be full of greasy noseprints — proof that “when I’m not there, people are always trying to see through that window” to catch a glimpse of the train layouts.
Looking at beautiful toy trains is a small pleasure. For him and many other collectors, “We love them for what they are,” he said. “Everything has a value in life, but we think of it as a joyous type of thing.”
Brooklyn Park resident Jackie Palmgren, 65, whose dad, Cornell Wing, was a founder of the group, agreed.
Palmgren, who was always exposed to trains thanks to her dad, was one of the group’s first female members in 1974. Today she’s still in the minority, but at her shop, Osseo Sports Train World, she frequently meets other women who are fond of toy trains.
She has a number of running trains set up at the store, which is especially fun at Christmas, when more families come in. “Kids get mesmerized by it,” she said, adding, “It reminds me of the old days.”
When children buy trains, she tells them to hold onto their collections for forever. “If I had a dollar for every time someone said they wished they still had their trains, I could’ve retired a long time ago,” she said.
As for Speltz, his dad’s tank car has a special place on a shelf in his basement, alongside other pieces from the period between 1945 and 1969.
And Speltz is keeping an eye out for other parts of the “SAR Lines.”
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.