Mike Iorio was 7 years old when his uncle introduced him to model trains. His first was a Lionel Boy Scout train set.
“I absolutely love trains. I collect and run the train sets in my home,” said the Lake Ronkonkoma man, whose train collection is worth more than $300,000. “I have a driving theater and a trolley line set up in my basement. I love trains so much that if I see a train passing by, I will pull my car over to count the train cars.”
Iorio's enthusiasm led him to become coordinator for the Model Railroad Swap Meet presented by the Central Operating Lines Model Railroad Club.
“I like the big trains where I can see them nice and clear on the train tracks,” he said. “Collecting and operating these trains is the best feeling in the world because you can create your own world with these trains.”
Sharing that passion is Phil Gravenhorst, president of Central Operating Lines Model Railroad Club. Their love for locomotives even began at the same age -- 7.
“I loved my model trains so much when I was a little boy that I used to put the Lionel trains on layaway at a store called Waldell Hobbies in Newkirk Plaza in Brooklyn,” said Gravenhorst.
Since adulthood, Gravenhorst has spent $25,000 to $50,000 on his model trains.
Many of the train collectors at the swap meet were eager to admit that their enthusiasm for trains will never go away.
“I enjoy my trains so much. I have loved them since I was a little boy and I always will,” said Iorio.
Describing his home basement as shelves filled with model trains, Anthony Barbera has over 350 trains.
"I started my collection at the age of 14 years old. My father had Lionel trains and Lionel trains are still my favorite trains to this day. I like the way they run,” said Barbera.
In its third year, the swap meet is held six times a year. The event showcases over 70 dealers selling model pre- and post-war locomotives that include Lionel, Weaver, Atlas, America Fire, Bachmann, Williams and K Line. They generally cost from $100 to $1,250.
With train whistles blowing in the background, a train hobbyist can spend hours perusing the tables filled with trains, parts and memorabilia.
“We have everything here from model trains to train parts to toy cars,” said Iorio.
The next train swap meet is 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. April 3 at Island Bingo Hall, 1055 Portion Road, Farmingville. For more information, call 516-314-6499 or visit www.centraloperatinglines.com.
Pictured above: A Lionel model electric train car of a type first introduced in 1924.