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Hobbyists buy and sell at Long Island model train swap meets

Mike Vargas, of North Massapequa, with his 1920-1930s

Mike Vargas, of North Massapequa, with his 1920-1930s Lionel train collection in Farmingville. Credit: Bruce Gilbert

If all the locomotives, cabooses, boxcars, tracks and everything else needed for a model train set were shaken from Santa’s toy sack, it might look something like the swap meet at the Island Bingo Hall in Farmingville on a recent Sunday morning.

About 100 vendors set up tables at the secondhand market organized seven times a year by Long Island’s Central Operating Lines Model Railroad Club. They sell (or trade) all the moving and stationary parts needed to re-create your own miniature version of the old Union Pacific, the Pennsylvania Railroad or the Dashing Dan days of the LIRR.

“People bring in all sorts of stuff. It’s almost like a flea market for trains and toys, but mostly trains,” says Roger Herzog, 73, of Islip Terrace, a club member who regularly participates in the swap meets.

“Sometimes to enhance your hobby, you want more stuff. So you buy a collection and sell off what you don’t want,” says John Miata, 80, of Lynbrook, also a vendor.

WHAT YOU’LL FIND

Many of the same vendors will hawk their wares at the Northern Spur Train and Swap Meet in Lindenhurst on April 8. And they’ll be back again on April 15 at the Island Bingo Hall.

A typical Long Island swap meet attracts hobbyists on both sides of the tables and dealers who sell replacement parts for toy trains. (Visitors also are welcome at what is essentially an indoor flea market.)

The wares range from the train brands baby boomers found under the Christmas tree (and still wish they owned) to rarer items such as a prewar Lionel Sunoco tank car.

“This is probably from 1940 or ’41,” Joe Polidora, 66, of Rocky Point says of the rare toy tank car made just before the iconic company suspended production during World War II. “They’re antiques,” Polidora says, “because they’re older than 30 years.”

For kids who never quite grew up, the meet can be a nostalgic detour to childhoods spent hunkered down as a chugging choo-choo zipped around the living room.

“I still play with toys,” Mike Vargas, 72, of North Massapequa says with a laugh as he shows off his cache of 1920s Lionels in another corner of the swap meet. Vargas is proud of a hobby he says puts him in company with famous Americans. “Frank Sinatra played with trains, and [rocker] Neil Young” is a model train collector, Vargas says.

BROWSING FOR MEMORIES

Others show up to wax nostalgic about a shared hobby some have engaged in since the 1950s.

“I come here to talk to other model train collectors,” says George McLeod Jr., 65, of Valley Stream, who stopped by to chat with model train vendor Christine Hoffman, 50, of Islip Terrace. “I’ve been collecting since I was 5 years old,” McLeod says.

Hoffman, one of the few women at the swap meet, recently left her job as a cashier at the Oconee East Diner in Islip. Since then, Hoffman has made a career of liquidating the train collection she inherited from her late father, George, who was a fan of model trains and of full-size ones as a Long Island Rail Road engineer.

Hoffman isn’t interested in adding to her father’s collection. Like some here, she wants to exit the hobby and make a few dollars in the process.

“I’m not swapping. I have enough to get rid of,” Hoffman says. She gets into the spirit of the meet by selling “all different types of trains and gauges” at negotiated prices. For instance, the starting price for a Rail King Union Pacific Northern Steamer O-gauge locomotive is $200.

But if a customer is interested in taking the engine off her hands, she says, “We haggle back and forth to see what I’m satisfied with.”

Northern Spur Train and Swap Meet

WHEN | WHERE 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. April 8, Firemen’s Pavilion, 555 Heling Blvd., Lindenhurst

INFO 631-666-6855

ADMISSION $5 (free younger than 16)

Central Operating Lines Model Railroad Club Train Swap Meet

WHEN | WHERE 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. April 15, Island Bingo Hall, 1055 Portion Rd., Farmingville

INFO 631-563-0173, coltrains.com

ADMISSION $5 (free younger than 12)

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