Bob Michael rode a train for the first time when he was just 2 months old.
The Evans man's 13-year-old brother placed his baby carriage in an open box car close to a ballpark near their Pennsylvania home.
"When the game was over, they looked and a train and some engines had picked up the box cars," Michael said. "They found me chugging along four miles down the track."
Michael's obsession with trains started at an early age, when his grandfather, a senior engineer on The Broadway Limited, gave him his first train set in 1934.
"It is still perfect," Michael said of the Ives train he has displayed in a train room encompassing the upper level of his Jones Creek home. "It still runs. And I've collected them ever since."
Michael, 75, converted his attic into a space to store and display his impressive collection. He has accumulated more than 400 train sets.
"There's wooden ones. There's tiny ones. There's big ones. There's Lionel. Every place you look," he said. "A lot of these are collectors items."
Michael said he sought out some sets, just came across others and acquired some from people who contacted him.
Though he has a large, 700-pound, wood-and-tempered-glass coffee table with a functioning train set and scenery inside for display, Michael wanted more. He's in the process of constructing a 16-by-12-foot train display with eight running trains and 30 animated scenes.
"It is my years growing up," Michael said of the display. "Everything in here is a memory."
A carnival with flashing lights, music and a spinning carousel represents Hershey Park, where he spent a lot of time as a child. The downtown city is Ackland or Strasburg, Pa., near where he grew up. The lake with a waterfall represents the Pennsylvania Dutch farm country and Lake Carey, where Michael spent many summers, he said.
The scene also includes logging, coal mining and oil drilling operations, a railroad through the Pocono Mountains, where Michael said he often skied, and the North Pole, where toy bears have their own railroad.
Though Michael already has worked for six months on the display, he says he has about six more months of work left to complete it.
"All these mountains will be covered with snow and trees," Michael said. "There'll be over 1,000 trees on those mountains when I'm done."
Above the train display table, Michael has a 48-foot-long wooden copy of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus train.
"It is all hand-carved, and it took my brother and I three years to do it," Michael said.
As the 80th employee at NASA, Michael said he also added rockets perched on a launchpad representing his four years at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
Michael has about 48 25-gallon containers of train sets not displayed.
But trains aren't the only items he collects.
Michael has an extensive collection of antique toys, including a 1930s George the Drummer Boy, the first Donald Duck doll Walt Disney produced, and the original Coca-Cola Santa Claus doll from the 1950s.
"There are over 250 teddy bears, but they are all unique," Michael said. "They sing. They dance. They roller skate."
Michael said he's gotten rid of his 39 antique cars, which included nine Ford Model Ts, some Model As and a 1955 Thunderbird that his wife, Mary Jo, drove.
"We'd take them down to the bare metal, then rebuild them like they were brand spanking new," Michael said.
The Michaels also have an extensive collection of miniature salesmen displays, Jim Beam vehicles and antique furniture, which Michael said is his wife's passion.
Michael said he enjoys collecting, but the trains are his lifelong passion.
"It's here and I'm going to continue to work on it," he said. "Anybody that wants to come see it, they are more than welcome. I'm just glad to be able to show it. ... I like people to enjoy it."
See video of some of Bob Michael's collection in operation.
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