All aboard for train display: Weston father and son open their collection to the public

Charles Case sets up two tracks inside the church where he is the pastor in Weston.

J.D. Pooley | Sentinel-Tribune

WESTON — Pastor Charles “Chuck” Case has been on track to have a sprawling train display since he was a boy.

Case, who is pastor at Weston United Methodist Church, is sharing his love of trains this holiday season. His original Gilbert American Flyer model train layout, which he and his son Nathan assembled, is open for parishioners and the public to enjoy.

When Case was 11, he was obsessed with ogling the latest model trains in the Sears Christmas catalog.

He and his brother got a train for Christmas, although it wasn’t the flashy one pictured in the catalog. They got their uncle’s set, which had been growing for a number of years. Case’s brother still owns that set.

“It was worth its glory,” Case said. “Over the years I came to realize how much of a treasure that train was, even though we probably we didn’t appreciate like we should have.”

This nearly identical set was mostly purchased on eBay. They have been building this set for seven years, piece by piece. The first engine Case bought for Nathan, as a birthday present, is still running at the church.

The train set was introduced at last year’s annual church Holiday Bazaar and it returned this year, with a longer track and with more cars and buildings.

Last year was Case’s first at the church and the idea struck him that the hobby he had with Nathan might also be a draw for the church.

“I’ve definitely got more of my locomotives out and I hope to add to it. Last year we just had a couple tables upstairs that had a couple ovals on it, and that was fine. So year, it’s a little bit bigger,” Case said. “I think it’s just fun, for me anyway, to play around with the wiring and make them do their thing. But more than the fun it brings me. There’s nothing that compares to seeing a young boy or girls eyes go wide, when they see this fascinating stuff.”

It’s been the talk of the church, with members of all ages checking it out.

“It’s also a piece of history. It’s a pretty common conversation that pretty much everyone had a layout, or knew someone who did,” Case said.

The trains date back to the ’40s and ’50s with lots of gadgets.

He has an original billboard with the hidden working train whistle and a hand car that has two figures that really pump the wheels. There’s also a lighted train crossing. He’s also added a more modern ice rink with skaters that move around with a magnet system that is hidden under the rink.

“I have become an amateur electrician because of all the pieces. It took me a long time to get my head around how all this stuff worked,” Case said. “Model trains were the original STEM school.”

His vintage working set has engines dating back to 1946, that still make the chugging sound and really puff rings of smoke, both of which were upgrade-type options, on the S Scale, 1:64, size trains. That’s larger than HO scale but smaller than O scale. Compared to a real train, that is equivalent to 3/16ths of an inch to one foot.

Case is happy to explain some of the history of the toy trains, from a heavy-duty high-end hobbyist product to a lower grade plastic consumer toy.

“The American Flyer is a heavy die cast metal, with metal wheels, not plastic,” Case said. “This one was one of their nicer models, made in the early 1950s, while this one was made in the late 1960s, and by then the toy market was changing. The market was going toward more toy-type products, with lower pricing.”

He has diesels, and coal burning engines, even the iconic original Silver Bullet.

Case said the American Flyer company was bought by the Lionel Train Company in 1967, and all of Case’s collection is from that original era, including his original manual from 1937. That manual is important to Case, because it has the information on how to maintain the train engines, cars, the electric track and the various working accessories.

Check out the trains

The 6-foot square train layout is available to see by appointment throughout the holiday season, into the middle of January. Call the Weston United Methodist Church at 419-669-4309 to set up a time.

It can also be seen after the services. Sunday services are at 10:30 a.m. and the Christmas Eve service is at 5 p.m. The church is located at 13185 Maple St.