Home » ‘Some Assembly Required’ features vintage toys, brings back memories
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‘Some Assembly Required’ features vintage toys, brings back memories

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A 1950s Lionel train advertisement shows a father, mother, little girl and boy peering into a window display featuring a model train going through a city, over a bridge and into the mountains. The father appears to be the most interested — head cocked, hand on his chin, ready to help his child build the toy train set.

An adjacent Lionel Train advertisement shows a father sitting on the ground assembling a train set, while his son sits in the background frowning.

California State Railroad Museum’s "Some Assembly Required" exhibit, which opened today, featured a somewhat similar scene. Many families were in the museum, but the historical toy exhibit seemed to strike the strongest chord with older men.

Filled with erector sets, trolleys and wind-ups, the exhibit shows vintage toys from the 1870s to the 1960s. The pièce de résistance is a layout, complete with a working Lionel Train set, that looks like the window display of Bullock’s department store in 1956 Los Angeles.

For Jeff Hall, a 54-year-old who was born in Los Angeles, the layout brought back a lot of memories.

"I had a Lionel train set and looked forward to putting it around the Christmas tree every year," he said. Hall, the father of four daughters, said he brought home a train set for his children one year, but it wasn’t a big hit.

"They were into other things," he said. Two were interested in horses and the other two were more into sports.

It was a similar story for another father, John Curtis, who also grew up putting a train set around the Christmas tree. While his 4-year-old daughter Emily likes riding real trains, Curtis said she doesn’t really play with toy trains.

"(Emily) likes to play on the Nintendo DS, she’s big on Barbies and she’s all about Play-Doh," Curtis said.

Jeff Allen, a CSRM volunteer docent in his 50s, said he played with nearly every toy in the exhibit when he was younger.

"It really gives you an idea of what toys were like. I remember playing with most of these," he said. "When I’m working around these toys, it’s like I’m 4 years old."

Allen said he played with toy trains as a kid, and still has two sets of operational model trains. He said that his love of trains led him to become a docent, adding that working at the museum "is a kick" because he can be around trains.

In addition to "Some Assembly Required," the permanent display of toy trains on the third floor is a must-see. The exhibit shows the history of the toy train, nearly every train size available from Z scale (smallest) to G scale (largest), and interactive toy sets and layouts.

In keeping with the holiday spirit, the museum’s first floor also features a working toy train chugging around a Christmas tree.

Those who seek an additional holiday-themed train experience can sign up for Santa’s Steam Train, Nov. 27-29. The steam train departs from the Central Pacific Railroad Freight Depot adjacent to the museum and riders also have admittance to the museum and the 13th Annual Toy Train Holiday Show.

The annual show, on Thanksgiving weekend, features local hobbyists displaying their toy and model train layouts in the museum. Tickets for Santa’s Steam Train are $15, $7 for ages 6-17, free ages 5 and younger. The train departs hourly from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

California State Railroad Museum, 125 I St., is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Museum admission is $9, $4 ages 6-17, free ages 5 and younger. "Some Assembly Required" runs until Feb. 20.

All photographs are of "Some Assembly Required," except for image 5, which shows the Christmas tree display on the first floor.

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