Still coming aboard

Toys: As in times past, Christmas shoppers continue to make tracks to M.B. Klein's model train store.

December 24, 2004|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

To look at the smile on Paul Doherty's face, it would seem that the box he heaved atop the counter at M.B. Klein's model train shop in Baltimore was for him.

But this isn't so much about Doherty. This is about the Christmas when his 5-year-old son Connor comes of age and no longer has to rely on his father's old model rail system.

"I got one when I was 10," Doherty, 38, said with the kind of grin that children give when they pull away the wrapper off a gift. "I still have that, and he plays with that. He's 5 now, so we're getting him his own."

Doherty was among the dozens of last-minute holiday shoppers crowding the model train shop on North Gay Street yesterday to fill gift wish lists or add to sets that will whistle and blow puffs of smoke while racing around Christmas trees.

From movie-related train sets such as the Polar Express - a play on the popular Tom Hanks holiday movie - to the more traditional Lionel steam trains such as the New York Central System that Doherty bought for his son, model rail systems remain a popular holiday gift for children and adults alike.

The Polar Express sets have sold out at many places. That passenger train set will not be available at Klein's until February or March.

"They've been keeping us hopping," said John Aro, assistant manager at Klein's. "They get into this stuff big time."

Doherty and his wife, Barbara, drove 50 miles from Centreville on the Eastern Shore to find the right train shop and the right deal. They searched the store for about a half-hour before Aro caught their attention with the New York Central train.

"You've got a bell. You've got a whistle. You've got steam," Aro said to the Dohertys as he prepared to demonstrate the train.

"You are clear for departure," a train conductor voice announces from the model engine as the train gears up to chug along its tracks.

"I can't believe the trains in here," Doherty said.

Salvatore Bianca, a 55-year-old Parkton resident, also flashes a wide grin as he imparts some wisdom to the Dohertys about buying the little locomotives.

"Get an O train," he says, pointing to the midsize model train engines. "They're fun and they're big."

What Bianca doesn't like is the prices.

"It's gotten so pricey," Bianca said. "It's no longer toys just to play with.

Ben Faraone isn't thinking about the children as he walks the aisle. He has two daughters, but the 36-year-old Towson resident is looking for accessories for his train set that will help add to the holiday decorations around the family's 7-foot Christmas tree.

"These are kind of for me and my family," Faraone said, holding up rail track extensions and a signal tower kit.

Train sizes include tiny thumb-size engines, called Z models, the more popular HO styles with engines the size of a stapler and O engines that run about as big as a 16-ounce soda bottle.

Norman VanRensselaer, a 41-year-old Parkton resident, tries to resist becoming consumed by the hobby. He usually sets up a couple of oval tracks around his tree at Christmas. But he said his brother, for whom he was shopping yesterday, wants to keep his train running all the time - if only his wife would let him.

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