Nunica man wants to share love of trains

Walk into the basement of Gary and Jean Deckert's house in Nunica, and the first thing that is noticeable is a spacious layout for an electric train.
Janet Tyson
Dec 10, 2011

But Gary Deckert quipped that’s not the reason for coming downstairs.

“That’s for my grandchildren,” he said with a wry smile. “So that when they break something, it doesn’t break my heart or my wallet.”

Deckert pointed to the main attraction, a 10-foot-by-18-foot raised platform supporting a miniature town with houses, commercial buildings and car-lined streets. Scores of people and animal figures dot the landscape, ranging from a man jogging to a dog lifting its hind leg. There’s a farm with a produce stand, a circus and an oil refinery.

Dominating the landscape is a 6-foot-long trestle and four 0-gauge trains.

This layout is for Deckert and it spans several decades of interest in model railroading. It doesn’t quite reach back to his childhood when, like countless boys, he received his first Lionel train set for Christmas. But it comprises engines, cabooses, freight cars and passenger cars, along with all of the other elements that Deckert acquired as he and his family moved around the Eastern United States.

Deckert is hosting an open house for his train collection, from 2-4 p.m. today and again on Dec. 17, at 13401 Red Leaf Court in Nunica. That's in the Hathaway Lakes neighborhood off M-104.

Most of the pieces in Deckert’s collection were made during the 1950s, including silver passenger cars that line up behind a pair of sleek Santa Fe locomotives, an early 1950s replica of a black Berkshire steam locomotive —  the oldest piece that Deckert owns — and the Canadian Pacific passenger train that dates to 1957, the only year that Lionel made that particular model.

The collection also includes some personal references for Deckert. The farm and the Canadian Pacific train are a nod to his wife, Jean Deckert, who was raised on a farm in Canada. The string of Lehigh Valley freight cars lined up behind a different locomotive allude to his own history, as a native of Pennsylvania.

When Deckert starts up two of the trains, they smoothly begin to run, each on its own track, making a surprisingly loud sound and moving quickly.

“True collectors often will put their trains on shelves or in glass cases, but my goal really is to have them go around,” Deckert said as he watched them circle around the track. "What fascinates me about these things is, you figure that a couple of the engines here are 65-70 years old and they still run beautifully. They’ve been repaired, but it’s amazing to me that anyone could make a toy that lasts that long.”

Marvelous as his toys are, Deckert noted that most model train hobbyists are older men like himself.

“It’s hard to compete with (Nintendo’s) Wii,” he said. “There’s so much you can do with simulation that you can’t do with something like this.”

But Deckert’s son, Rob, loves model railroading; and Rob's sons enjoy the trains when they visit — so the core of Gary Deckert’s collection will stay in the family.

Meanwhile, Deckert goes to train shows, edits his collection and enjoys the hypnotic metallic clicking of his trains as they go around.

To see more photos, click here. And be sure to watch the video at the top of the story.

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