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18WT 013:  Hobbies - It's a Bird, It's a Plane,
No, It's A Choo Choo Train!

March 22, 2021 Patrick Heller / Janet McCue

The Guest Vitals!

Charles Heller
  • Worked for SUNY Albany for 36 years
  • Retired in 2000
  • Been a model railroad enthusiast for the last 20+ years
  • Currently living in the Kingsway Community in Upstate NY with his wife Margaret of 60 years

Tiny Park Railroad!

- Charlie Park in Upstate New York -

  • Picture of different sizes and scales of  train sets
    Picture of different sizes and scales of train sets
  • Picture of the Tiny Park Rail Road
    Picture of the Tiny Park Rail Road
  • Picture of the Tiny Park Rail Road
    Picture of the Tiny Park Rail Road
  • Picture of the Tiny Park Rail Road
    Picture of the Tiny Park Rail Road
  • Picture of the Tiny Park Rail Road
    Picture of the Tiny Park Rail Road
  • First outdoor set up at the house in Upstate NY
    First outdoor set up at the house in Upstate NY
  • First outdoor set up at the house in Upstate NY
    First outdoor set up at the house in Upstate NY
  • First outdoor set up at the house in Upstate NY
    First outdoor set up at the house in Upstate NY
  • First outdoor set up at the house in Upstate NY
    First outdoor set up at the house in Upstate NY
  • Inside set up at Kingsway
    Inside set up at Kingsway
  • Inside set up at Kingsway
    Inside set up at Kingsway
  • Inside set up at Kingsway
    Inside set up at Kingsway
  • Inside set up at Kingsway
    Inside set up at Kingsway
18WT 013:  In this episode, Patrick and Janet begin talking about their giveaway at 18wheeltalk.com/giveaway go there and vote for one of the
five mugs. The mug with the most votes WINS. To vote, we need your first name and email address. If you are one of the LUCKY TWENTY WINNERS, you will WIN the mug and a Podcast shirt. All mugs are ambidextrous. They joke around for a few minutes about coffee, St. Patricks’ Day, mugs, and food, oh and pugs. Soon after they are joined by Patrick’s father, Charles Heller. We hear and see the similarities between father, and son come alive in this interview as they laugh together and reminisce.

  Charles is a lifelong model train enthusiast, who’s love of model trains began when he was a teenager. When he began, you could not purchase track and snap them together. You had to build them, board by board just like the real thing. No easy feat, considering the track was 5/8” track HO gauge (trains are 3-4” tall). You bought the wooden base and nailed the rails to the base. Charles said that it took several weeks just to make a “simple” oval track back then.  He currently uses G scale outdoors (track is 1 ¾”), Lionel trains are O scale (track is 1 ¼”), next is S gauge (track is 7/8”), then HO gauge that he began with, then N gauge (track is 3/8”), which is what Patrick is familiar with. Charles had N gauge when Patrick was growing up. The last one is called Z gauge which fit in a briefcase, ¼ “ track (microscopic).   Charles believes there is another one smaller than Z gauge.

  Patrick talks about the show Silver Spoons where the Dad road around the house on the train. Charles says it is probably a 5”, Patrick wants one for the pugs. No matter what gauge you are using, it can be very expensive. They go on to discuss the model train museum in Scottsdale AZ and how much fun they had touring it with Dad & Mom.

  Charles’s parents bought a Lionel set when he was a child had a double 4x8 sheet and it was in their basement. The Lionel layouts are always good size. They then go on to discuss truck stops having train sets and various friends. Janet had one that went with her Christmas village. She did none of the work, just got a hobby shop owner to set it up for her.  The talk continues with talk of growing up next to a train track and the favorite types of trains. Charles grew up near the NY Limited that was a stainless steel, fancy passenger car. Janet grew up next to the Rock Island RR, box cars and nothing pretty there. A few jokes later about a nose that wasn't broken and Patrick sticks to his story.

  Charles says his first oval was after school build for a few weeks. Janet asks about he outdoor train behind their house when she first met them. It was a G scale, that took about six months. Outdoor tracks take longer because you must dig the terrain and make it look the way you want. Such as the bridge over the pond that Charles built that Patrick remembers so well.  Charles started that one with plastic track and even with that you can leave it out all winter long. It helps when you leave it all put together and never move it. Plastic trains run on batteries, not electric. When he changed the track to aluminum it wasn’t as fun as he thought. It took too much time to care for because they are electric.

  He has built a brush for the front of one train and a fan for the front of another. Janet suggests a flame thrower, but you might burn the thing down. This brings up the new Tim Allen Show © and what a funny show it is and ways to have  a flame thrower on a train.  Charles says his favorite scale is G scale, bigger is better. Easier to work on. The biggest repair he has is tires, since his are working trains. Tires normally cost $9 for four. He has since figured out how to replace them with ¼” by 2” rubber bands that he bought in bulk. He goes through them faster; however they are less expensive, just $10 for 1000 count.

  Of course Charles thought of this, he is a regular MacGyver © when it comes to fixing things, thinking outside the box. If someone were just collecting trains for value or show, they would not go through parts like Charles does.  He runs what is called a toy train. The engine is followed by a coal car.   The engine has the motor, the coal car has 6 C cell batteries (rechargeable) to run it with. There is a remote control, the train will steam when you put oil in the top,) whistles that sound like a train whistle as well. He loses Janet when he talks about Lithium-Ion batteries and milliamps and how long they last. Patrick compares it to coffee and Janet, coffee math works, lol.

  He runs his trains at the residence he lives in, which has all stages for people from independent living to nursing home care on one property. They used to have a nursery school on property also and Charles said he really misses the kids. The kids kept the place lively, fun and joyful. The residents in his community still come and enjoy watching the train run. Charles has a walk path next to it as well as places to sit and enjoy.  They go on to discuss how Charles built his Tiny Park Railroad and the tools he made use of that you wouldn’t normally think of using for a train set. The reason is, you either build and get creative or put a lot of money into these setups. Patrick had a wholesale business and Charles began buying birdhouses back then. He continues using birdhouses as part of the village.

  The guys continue with how expensive hobbies can be, no matter what gauge you go with. Charles says that if he had the space, he would rather have an indoor G scale set. That being said, outdoor is more fun because of working with the landscape and nature.  Charles has run six trains on his current layout and has had a wreck or two or three. He pulled twenty-two box cars with tandem engines. He said he can double up and run engine, coal car, engine, coal car. Like they do in real life, that is what it took to pull the twenty-two cars.

  Janet circles back about the thought of a 2% grade. In all the trains she has been around and at the train museum she never noticed the grade. You noticed the grade in a semi, she never thought about it for a train.  Patrick asks about bridges that Charles has made from popsicle sticks and the answer was none. He made a trestle out of bents that is kind of like cheating. Janet then asks about grading curves. She thought you would have to, based on automotive knowledge and of course movies. Charles says only a long passenger train would need that, so far so good.  She then asks about outside build and use of real or artificial greenery. Charles uses real greenery, mostly flowers. Even if they are large, they still look nice. Janet thought maybe moss roses would work nice up there in upstate NY.

  For him, this has been a lifelong journey with his enthusiasm for both indoor and outdoor tracks. He has entertained family, friends, and neighbors alike with his elaborate builds.   He recommends that if you have the time and are looking for something to do, this is a great hobby. You can start small with a kit and build from there, as far as your imagination, budget, and space will take you. He suggests beginning with battery operated. They discuss different places to buy them, prices, styles, and ways to begin.

  Charles has collector friends who never take their trains out of the box. Charles prefers to run them. He began this hobby in 2000 and his thought was how much does he want involved in it. He went with toy trains because of the price line and diversity. He has even joined plastic track with aluminum track together with glue. He said it worked really well, using metal cement glue. No Gorilla Glue © it hasn’t been around that long.  Janet continues with the grilling questions about his hobby by asking if Charles has ever made his own train cars. The answer was surprising, he has some one-of-a-kind train cars that are unique to his set. The reason for this is eBay © and bids and a lot of caboose cars that are now Gondola cars. He even built a custom made car to put a rocket ship on for his train.  Patrick immediately jokes about selling custom cars on eBay ©.

  We now find out how the park got its’ name “Tiny Park Railroad”. It was built in a tiny park at Kingsway (where he lives with Mom Heller, who tolerates his hobby). That is how he named it, sometimes the easiest choices are the best.  When we asked him for some final words It was go do it and have fun. He did say that Mom puts up with his hobby, does not help with it, has her own hobbies. She is into books and computers, not trains and dirt. It is good to have separate interests, it keeps life interesting. Janet then jokes about selling Patricks’ hobby, Bobbleheads & baseball stuff.  They wrap it up with a lot of laughter and discussion of what they learned and future visits. If you have any questions about this hobby for Charles you can email Patrick at:  patrick@18wheeltalk.com and put episode 13 in the subject line. Patrick will pass your questions along.


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