ENCINITAS — Today, it’s mostly the Coaster and Sprinter trains that roar up and down North County rail road tracks.
Sometimes a large locomotive with a seemingly endless trail of cars behind it rumbles through with captivating force.
That captivating force hit Bob Shultz in a little, but big way.
Schultz was a real estate broker in North County for about 30 years before retiring and settling in Cardiff.
His home has since been turned into a repair shop/train yard with running sets and about 1,000 model trains he’s collected.
“I keep what I like,” he said. The rest he restores, or trades them to the guys in his club or gives them away to kids.
In 1952, his father bought him a Lionel train set when he was 7 years old.
They would set up the train in their basement during Christmas time, he said.
He got away from the train sets as grew older, married and worked, but after retiring he wanted to do something for his grandson. He ran an ad — a two line classified in a local newspaper: “Buying trains/ Call Bob.”
The calls came in.
A lot of the trains he gets calls to go and get are in junk boxes, or in rough condition. But he said, “You kiss enough frogs – I buy them all and then I trade them with guys at train clubs.”
Schultz is a member of the AGTTA (All Gauge Toy Train Association).
They meet once a month a church hall in La Jolla. There it’s trains, trains, trains and trains. Essentially, it’s a swap meet for guys who like trains and train stuff.
The members are all either in their 60s and 70s, some even in their 80s, Schultz said. “It’s kind of nostalgic; we’re kind of like kids again,” he added. “It’s kind of a hoot that way.”
Restoring the trains can also be a little therapeutic for him. He didn’t have any special training or background to speak of when it came to repairing the broken down train cars, except that he would receive advice or help from fellow members at the AGTTA, especially Jim Weatherford.
Schultz said Weatherford, the club’s secretary, would hold small “how-to” sessions.
Weatherford, was introduced to trains much like Schultz, when he 7 or 8 years old, he said. He had gotten away from them during his teens, what with school, girls and cars.
But later, around his early to mid 30s he came back to them — something, he said, to think about besides work.
“It all starts, with the stuff you had as a kid,” Weatherford said. “And as an adult, you can afford to buy stuff you can never get when you were a kid so you start getting things you always wanted and then after awhile you realize that you’re acquiring.”
Weatherford has become somewhat of an expert in Lionel trains, having been repairing them for more than 30 years now and writing for various publications about repairing them.
He’s also a collector, too, though he said he didn’t really know he was until he realized he was buying things that he didn’t need.
“I say, ‘well, that must be what a collector is,’” he said.
“There are those who are obsessive about it, there’s no doubt. They have to have one of everything-kind-of-a-thing. And with model trains that were made back in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, there’s lots of them around… “It can take years to get all of the things you want.”
Still, the 68-year-old Schultz lamented that there are no young kids coming up in the train business. “They’re all in computers, and they’re not even riding bicycles. So as time goes on, the guys my age have the trains, but as we die off, then the family gets the trains…and they don’t want them.”
When he started, there were about 35,000 listings of Lionel trains for sale, now, he said, there are 47,000. In three years there are 10,000 more things.
“And there’s no one buying them,” he said. “Prices are going down because there’s supply, but demand is dwindling.”
Still the excitement of buying, selling and repairing the trains is there for Schultz.
“I feel a great value to those big metal trains. That’s a piece of art, and a toy train as well. But it’s beautiful, beautiful, beautiful stuff,” he said.