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Choo Choo!/The Train Room
by Nathan Oravec
“There’s always been something synonymous about trains and Christmas,” says Charles Mozingo, owner of The Train Room in Hagerstown. “Every boy wanted a train set.” The memory of his first, a Commodore Vanderbuilt, is still vivid in his mind. Born in 1943 during the war, his father Paul, who worked for Fairchild, never failed to surprise Charles and his older brother Elywen every Christmas morning with the Lionel chugging the track around the family Christmas tree. “It would go up Christmas Eve and stay up through New Years.”
After his father passed away in ’54, and his brother, ten years his senior, moved on to more scholarly endeavors, Charles inherited the Commodore. Little did he know the rails that so defined his childhood Christmas memories would shape his life some three decades later.
As a young adult, Charles began working for the Sunoco gasoline company, and in the early 70s was offered his own station in Williamsport. An additional station on I-70 would follow, which he and wife, Connie, managed for many years. One fateful day in 1987, while at an auction, Connie purchased a Sunoco tank car by Lionel for her husband as a novelty gift; it would become the first of many. “I began to look for a few more tank engines. [I had no idea] how many different varieties of cars Lionel had made in their seventy to eighty years of production.” A train reaction had begun. “I got hooked.”
Having recently remodeled the gas station, and with a train collection growing exponentially, Charles decided to dedicate floor space at Sunoco to his newly invigorated hobby with a showroom and retail shop. He applied for his Lionel license, and in 1991, the Mozingo’s very own toy-train business got on track.
As a real estate agent, Connie had a lead to a spacious property in close proximity to Hagerstown’s Roundhouse. Cramped within the confines of the gas station, and realizing the built-in potential for train loving passerbys to the South Burhans locale, the couple agreed that the facility would be the perfect home for their store. In 1996, The Train Room opened anew.
In the seven years since relocating, The Train Room has staked its claim on collectors’ imaginations throughout the Tri-State. Catering to all different scales, ranging from miniature Z-gauge trains to full scale G-gauge trains, the store is an official Lionel® Classic-Heritage Dealer, while also offering a wide array of models and accessories from trusted brands such as Marx, Weaver, MTH and American Flyer. A train museum comprised of Charles’ personal and majestic collection features one of the East Coast’s largest O-Gauge model-railroad displays with over 10,000 pieces, much of which predates World War II. Featured prominently in magazines such as Classic Toy Trains and O Gauge Railroading, which Charles says put the Train Room on the map, the display is a colorful carnival of a dreamland, portraying picture-perfect life in miniature by way of snowcapped hilltops on Christmas greeting cards.
“Full-blown train shops are sort of a dying breed,” says Charles. “We’re trying to make it a year-round business.” The 60s, he explains, marked a dark age for the model train. “As the nation fell in love with the space race, the Etch-a-Sketch and the hula hoop, trains sort of died out.” However, when children’s character, Thomas the Tank Engine, rose to fame in the early 90s, an entire generation was reintroduced to the toy train, leading to a recent influx in interest. Charles also believes that following September 11, society began taking a closer look at home and family, resulting perhaps in a resurgence of tradition and the comforts of nostalgia. Whatever the case, trains have made a comeback. Last year, in November, Charles and Company added a new wing to the store, which he says they’ve already begun to grow out of; and this Christmas, he notes, is shaping up to be one of the best in terms of sales.
While the hobby of collecting model trains can be an expensive one, Charles says that the purse strings are different for each individual collector, and the Train Room can accommodate that. “It can be as expensive as you want to let it be,” he says. “Lionel never was an inexpensive train set and it never will be... [but] we have some nice starter sets for sale between [one and two hundred dollars]. You can really take it as far as you want to go.”
“From husbands and wives who like to put up the train together - to granddad, getting the old Lionel out of the attic and starting to play again,” model trains, Charles says, are not just for kids anymore, but also, it seems, for the kid at heart.
“It’s interesting - some people could care less about the accessories, they just like to see the train run, while others really get into the scenery.”
Charles, himself, is an accessory-man. “A lot of people might save their cars, but give their accessories a pitch if they’ve rusted or maybe aren’t working right. When I got involved with collecting, it was the accessories that drew my interest. When I was a kid, we were lucky to have a train - we didn’t have all of the [bells and whistles.] I’ve always been fascinated with seeing how ingenious they are, but also how simple. I love to get down there and push a button - see the crane unload coal.”
“I just set my Lionel up under the tree last night,” he continues. “It’s funny, I’m [working here] with train sets that cost [thousands of dollars] and we put up a $199 Christmas train. We have just as much fun with that as the more expensive models.”
“You know, we’re all kids,” he adds. “A train can bring out the kid in anybody.”
The Train Room, 360 South Burhans Boulevard in Hagerstown, is open every day except Wednesday. Hours are Sat. 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sun. 12-6 p.m. Mon./Fri. 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. and Tues./Thurs. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Admission to the museum is $2.50 for adults, children 12 and under free with adult. For more information, call 301-745-6681 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.the-train-room.com.
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