Of Trains and toys and toy trains


by Norm Winick


For many residents and businesspeople of Galesburg, Railroad Days is an attractive nuisance; it’s an inconvenience that gobbles up restaurant tables and parking spaces.

For the true railfan, there is the Railroad Museum, the yard tours, and the stuff that only a true fan can appreciate.

But this year, there are several events designed for folks with slightly different interests. The National Railroad Hall of Fame will be welcoming descendents of three of their inductees, George Pullman, Stephen A. Douglas and the citizens of Nashville who came to the aid of the victims of the worst rail disaster in American history. Their stories are not just for railfans; they are American legends with an impact on many aspects of American history. Everyone is welcome to meet them on Saturday at 10am at Knox College’s Seymour Library.

The Hall of Fame will also be sponsoring their first lecture in what could become a series; H. Roger Grant, professor of history at Clemson University, will be talking about “Visionary Railroader Jervis Langdon, Jr and the Transportation Revolution” Saturday at 1:30pm in Alumni Room in Old Main at Knox College. Both of these events are free.

It’s not new but one of the best attended and best-organized events every year is the train and toy show at Carl Sandburg College. It’s a labor of love for two good friends.

Harry Grossman, a retired business professor at Carl Sandburg College, lives in Sedona, Ariz. now but comes back for about six weeks every year to put the train show together.

Barry Wainer started out showing and selling from his huge stock of Hot Wheels and now has expanded the toy show which piggybacks on the train show to include a wide variety of collectibles and playthings.

Both men are proud of the dealers they have attracted and the operating displays that will bring toys and trains and toy trains to life.

It’s an amazing amount of work and every year, Grossman threatens to quit. “If this is the last year, I’m going down in a blaze of glory,” he said this week. In the 14 years of the show, it has generated over $150,000 for the college’s foundation.”

“If someone was paid or you had to rent a facility, it wouldn’t make any money” — that despite the 3,000 or so visitors every year.

Grossman would love for someone to come forward and assure the show’s continuity but he’s had no luck so far.

The business professor in him comes through, too. He keeps a legal pad with the names of businesses in Galesburg which closed after at least five years in business. Every year, he adds more. “It’s so depressing. It’s frustrating that there is such a lack of enthusiasm in Galesburg for anything.”

Changing that is Harry Grossman’s mission. Every year, he tries to bring in new displays and models for his show. He travels to shows out west and in the midwest recruiting dealers and displays. This year, there will be a scale model of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the ship that sank and was made famous in the  Gordon Lightfoot song. There’s a new “O” scale layout from a club in Bloomington-Normal. There are two new “Z” scale layouts, which are really small. There’s a new “HO” display from the “Tree Stump Railroad” in Terre Haute, Ind and a T-Trak display for the first time.

He’s rented out 265 vendor tables and they will feature a wide variety of items. One vendor he saw at a show in Phoenix, he’d love to replicate. “There were these two guys, they looked like college kids, and they had paint pens and for a fee, they’d paint graffiti on your model train cars just like the real trains. They were swamped with business from model railroaders.  Some were having their names put in the graffiti; others were replicating actual graffiti. I looked around here for an artist willing to do it but I didn’t have much success; I’m still hoping.”