If you were in lockdown or not, the past has had an enormous impact on our daily lives and it is far from over. During these times, almost everyone has tried to explore ways to prevent thinking about COVID-19. Families are playing games they had not taken out of the cupboard for years, hobbies have been reactivated, gardens and home projects are being revamped. Stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s and hobby shops are doing record business.
My good friend, James Steed, a retired Deputy Commissioner for the State of Georgia, already spent days on end on his Lionel train collection. Therefore, COVID-19 brought less changes to his daily routine than for many of us. Unexpectedly, however, disaster struck as his beloved spouse died a month ago at the age of 67.
Through his main outlet, model trains, he is trying to pull through with daily work on the set. It is as far as I could establish, the largest private model railroad collection in the Southeastern United States occupying a designated room of some 2000 square feet. 45 locomotives and 300 rail cars can practically all run together simultaneously. Many of the 400 buildings Jim made himself from discarded boxes, bottles, and broken toys. 2500 light bulbs light up the impressive construction of cities, mountains and over 2500 figures of people he has painstakingly restored.
Like so many men, I had dreams of owning an electric train from a young age, but it remained a dream except for a small track with one train under the Christmas tree. It was supposed to be for the children, but we all knew it was really for me. Jim Steed took model trains to a whole different level. He received his first train at the age of 4 and has not stopped since. His most priced locomotive was purchased for him by his father in 1950. This beautiful Hudson New York Central #773 was designed by Lionel Trains as part of their 50th anniversary collection and Jim’s father bought it for him. The price was $50, which was about half of Dad’s weekly pay at the time, and today this collector’s item would be priced at about $1500 if anyone would even consider selling it.
Because of the pretty stain glass windows, a small broken and dirty music box in the form of a church got his attention at a flea market. Bargaining and finally settling on a one-dollar price, he got to work making a cross, using a plastic cap from a fingernail polish bottle for a steeple, and installed a 4-watt Christmas tree light. He found a perfect figurine on one of his business trips in Germany. Using paints, he made this into a priest, finally cleaning and painting the church as well.
Over the years, he has purchased many second hand “plasticville” buildings dating back to WWII, but a lot of the structures were created like his church with tissue paper boxes, matchboxes, empty mascara wands and a Barbasol can of shaving cream that was turned into an Airport Traffic Tower. Much of Jim’s vivid imagination and ingenuity have enabled him to create this incredible set. I don’t doubt he acquired this from his Georgia Tech Engineering degree. The Steed collection is private, but every Christmas, Jim builds and displays a small train layout in the Courthouse of Blairsville, Georgia, where he spent so many happy years with his deceased wife. Just before Christmas, the set is donated to a local family.
Ewout Rijk de Vries & his wife Jill have owned and operated America Travel Arrangements on Marco Island for almost 40 years. Normally, when submitting photos for articles, Ewout uses Nikon equipment, but for this story he used the amazing camera of the Apple iPhone 12 Mini. Ewout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.