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It Runs in the Family

  • While his father Tom speaks to Lionel train collector Denis Reisch,  right, Brian Turkington, 11, of Lyme, takes a peek at Reischs train collection yesterday at the Plainfield Historical Society. "I have some trains now, but theyre plastic and not as cool as these," Turkington said.<br/>(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    While his father Tom speaks to Lionel train collector Denis Reisch, right, Brian Turkington, 11, of Lyme, takes a peek at Reischs train collection yesterday at the Plainfield Historical Society. "I have some trains now, but theyre plastic and not as cool as these," Turkington said.
    (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Denis Reisch shows a pre-war tin-plate Lionel model 657 caboose.<br/>(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Denis Reisch shows a pre-war tin-plate Lionel model 657 caboose.
    (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Denis Reisch speaks about the history of Lionel model trains while showing a conductor figurine at the Plainfield Historical Society yesterday. Reischs collection includes everything from engines to cabooses to depots and model houses that formed the classic tabletop train displays of yesteryear.<br/>(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Denis Reisch speaks about the history of Lionel model trains while showing a conductor figurine at the Plainfield Historical Society yesterday. Reischs collection includes everything from engines to cabooses to depots and model houses that formed the classic tabletop train displays of yesteryear.
    (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • While his father Tom speaks to Lionel train collector Denis Reisch,  right, Brian Turkington, 11, of Lyme, takes a peek at Reischs train collection yesterday at the Plainfield Historical Society. "I have some trains now, but theyre plastic and not as cool as these," Turkington said.<br/>(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Denis Reisch shows a pre-war tin-plate Lionel model 657 caboose.<br/>(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Denis Reisch speaks about the history of Lionel model trains while showing a conductor figurine at the Plainfield Historical Society yesterday. Reischs collection includes everything from engines to cabooses to depots and model houses that formed the classic tabletop train displays of yesteryear.<br/>(Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

At the Plainfield Historical Society yesterday, model train ethusiast Denis Reisch told a small crowd gathered there about how, at the age of seven, he ascended a department store escalator only to catch his first glimpse of a toy locomotive paradise.

“There was a train layout that was every bit as large as this room,” said Reisch. “Hauling cars, lights flashing, milk cars being unloaded, cattle cars being unloaded. It was mesmerizing.”

A retired Plainfield Elementary School teacher, Reisch spoke for nearly an hour about the history of the Lionel Trains company, and his own experience with model trains, during an old-fashioned toy showcase held by the Plainfield Historical Society.

Although the trains may appear to many as nearly forgotten vestiges of simpler times, young onlookers at the presentation — who reside in a world of iPad apps and video games — still found the toys to be fascinating.

While teaching in Plainfield, Reisch was working with a local auctioneer, William A. Smith, when a box of trains came up for auction.

Reisch said he used his then 2-year-old son as an “excuse” to buy the box, which was a week later supplemented by another box of trains — and soon, another.

In the course of six months, Reisch said, he developed an obsession, amassing a model train layout on four separate pieces of plywood, each 4-feet by 6-feet.

“We really had trains running in lots of different directions,” he said.

Trains weren’t the only toys showcased at the event, which also featured dolls more than half a century old, as well as similarly-aged board games, such as a colorful map of taxi-routes titled Cabbie from 1938, and Milton Bradley’s futuristic and spacecraft-oriented Fireball XL5 from 1963.

Wilder’s Football Game, produced in 1930, advertised that the board game was “not complicated” and “easy to play,” but featured a spinning wheel with more than 100 categories inside.

Reisch said that kids today usually want the newest video game for Christmas, but when he was young, trains and bicycles were the most highly sought-after prizes.

“I looked at the catalogues and dreamed about these trains,” he said.

According to Reisch, trains today aren’t in the frame of reference for young people and if children are interested, it’s usually not from the standpoint of a collector.

“How fast can this thing go, and can we make it go so fast it sails off the table and onto the floor? Crash!” said Reisch, joking about the questions he typically hears from younger kids.

“Train collectors don’t look at trains that way at all,” he added. “It’s almost like they are pieces of art.”

But Reisch’s theory was put to the test when Virginia Drye, a 13 year-old, approached the table where Reisch had set up his trains and reflected on his offerings.

“It’s a very nice collection,” said Drye, who said she was more of a trolley enthusiast than a model train collector.

Drye has been trying to learn how to operate a real trolley at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, Maine, where her father, Rob Drye, works.

“It runs in the family,” she said.

Drye agreed that most kids she knows don’t seem very interested in model trains.

She said the generational divide reminded her of the movie Toy Story, a 1995 Pixar Studios film that alludes to the observation that kids no longer play “cowboys and Indians,” but are more interested in futuristic themes such as spacecraft and alien lifeforms.

“It’s really just the age that changes,” said Drye.

Sam Ellingson, an 8 year-old, said that most people think toys are better now, but he thought that old toys were equally cool.

Ellingson said he plays video games, too, but his parents limit him to 30 minutes of playing time per day.

Brian Turkington, an 11-year-old from Lyme, stopped by the old-fashioned toys showcase after running an errand in West Lebanon with his father, Tom Turkington.

Brian Turkington said the main difference between new toys and old-fashioned toys is that the new ones are “cheaper.”

“I think they’re really cool,” Turkington said of the model trains. “I have trains now, but they’re plastic, and not as cool as these.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

CORRECTION

This story has been amended to correct an earlier error. The following correction ran in the Tuesday, Nov. 20 edition of the Valley News:

Denis Reisch’s name was misspelled in an article about a toy train exhibit in yesterday’s Valley News.