On The Right Track
By Lisa Stephens Rahn • Photography by Lisa Strickland
Little did Ozark, Alabama, resident Ann Rudd know 16 years ago that when she gave her husband, Jim, a train set she purchased by redeeming coupons from Betty Crocker it would be the start of a hobby that would grow to fill a three-car garage. With 42 trains now in his collection, 31 of those currently running, Jim’s fascination shows no signs of easing. “I always wanted one as a kid to put around the tree,” Jim says. “She didn’t know what she was getting into.” Ann agrees, “I thought he’d use it one Christmas and put it in the attic and that would be it, bring it out once a year.”
Jim formerly began work each August to have the set up in time for Christmas. Now, the display remains in place year-round. Housed on two large groupings of tables three levels high, the 31 trains can run simultaneously, creating an elaborately enchanting display of lights, sounds and smells. Puffs of coal-scented smoke roll from the engines, lights dance inside the train cars and along electrical lines and horns and crossing signals alert the villages on the route that a train is arriving. Scheduling announcements can be heard as a train screeches to a halt at a station.
A range of trains are represented—G scale, HO scale, old scale, SX, Polar Express, Harley Davidson, military, circus—just to name a few. He’s even got a train from Germany, which provided the extra challenge of an accompanying German manual. The trains vary in size from cars stretching nearly 3 feet in length to much smaller versions. Among Jim’s favorites are a 100-year-old train bought at an auction and a 25th anniversary edition train made in 1950. An interest in railroad history is part of the draw for this collector. “(I hope to) influence other people to become aware of our heritage,” he explains. “This is rudimentary America. It’s the most efficient means of transportation.” .... [subscribe to read full article and see more photos]