Childhood train gets Ralph Romine back on track
In 1947, six-year-old Ralph Romine was given his first Lionel toy train engine. Now, more than 50 years later, Romine has built a collection of Lionel trains that consists of 20 engines and countless passenger, freight and caboose cars.
ﾓI really didnﾒt start collecting them until a few years ago,ﾔ Romine said. ﾓDonna Pennington had a lot of these. Her husband collected them. I got a lot of them from her.ﾔ
Romineﾒs wife, Phyllis, said she was at a yard sale Pennington held and found the collection.
ﾓI called him at work and told him to stop,ﾔ she said. ﾓI think that was my mistake, because he kept going back for more and more.ﾔ
Romineﾒs collection began when his first engine was returned to him.
ﾓI gave it to somebody else, and they decided to give it back to me,ﾔ he said. ﾓIt was in pieces, so I had to fix it, and now it runs.ﾔ
For such a large collection, Ralph needed a place to display them. A section of the Romineﾒs dining room has been transformed into a miniature town with train tracks running in every direction. A display case also contains about 15 of the trains.
ﾓThis is all the room she would give me for them,ﾔ Ralph joked. ﾓI wanted to make a tunnel from here to the bedroom, but she wonﾒt let me. I thought it would be nice.ﾔ
With a collection of trains from 1939 to the 1950s, Ralph spends a lot of time fixing and ﾓfiddlinﾒﾔ with the trains.
ﾓI like making them run and fixing them up,ﾔ he said. ﾓA lot of them didnﾒt run when I got them. I like to find parts for them.ﾔ
To find parts for the trains, and to meet other collectors, the Romines travel to train trade shows in Virginia, Tennessee and Maryland.
ﾓUsually the first place I hit are the people who have parts for sale,ﾔ Ralph said. ﾓI have a list of what parts I need, because you canﾒt find them in a Lionel store. You have to get them from collectors.ﾔ
Ralphﾒs love of trains has rubbed off on Phyllis to the point where she has found herself collecting train memorabilia, as well.
ﾓI buy them as much as he does,ﾔ she said. ﾓWhen I go to yard sales, I keep my eyes open because you never know what youﾒre going to find at a yard sale. We went to one train show, they had a lawn mower turned into a train. It had flat cars behind it, pulling kids on it. Iﾒve been trying to get him to take an old lawn mower and do that. I thought it was neat.ﾔ
The Romines arenﾒt the only ones adding to the collection. Friends of the couple have bought several train-related items for them. A prize piece in the collection is a train whistle that friend Artie Barkley gave Ralph.
ﾓThe whistle is on the garage,ﾔ Phyllis said. ﾓThe dogs in the neighborhood carry on when he blows it.ﾔ
Ralph loves to talk trains and share his collection with others. One youngster who attends church with the Romines is a big train enthusiast, too.
ﾓWe have a little boy at church, Noah Barkley [Artieﾒs great-nephew], heﾒs in to trains big time, too,ﾔ Phyllis said. ﾓHe has been over to see it [the collection].
ﾓI mentioned to him once that we were going to a train show, and his eyes got big. I told him, ﾑdo you think you can go with us?ﾒ and he looked up at his dad and said, ﾑDad, clean my bank account out, Iﾒm going with Ralph and Phyllis,ﾒﾔ she added, laughing.
Phyllis said he couldnﾒt go with them, but she has invited him to go the next time.
With just four years of collecting under his belt, Ralph has decided his collection is big enough, but that isnﾒt going to stop him from continuing to enjoy and fix the trains he has.
ﾓIﾒve got enough,ﾔ he said. ﾓI have plenty to work on.ﾔ
Suzanne Stewart can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org