THREE GENERATIONS OF THE WERDERICH FAMILY BUILD BONDS THROUGH A PASSION FOR MODEL TRAINS
By Pamela Wiggins Siegel
When it comes to answering the “all aboard” call, one Illinois family is on the right track. For Wally Werderich, his dad and two kids, collecting is all about model trains.
“As early as I can remember, my dad had trains,” Werderich recalls. That goes back to the late 1970s when he was a boy of 5 or so. Those trains were Lionel O-Gauge models, and they still spark his interest decades later.
KIDS & COLLECTING
Together with his father, Werderich attended shows sponsored by the Train Collectors Association (TCA), a worldwide organization with local divisions and chapters. As Wally’s interest in model trains grew, the Werderichs would comb show aisles independently and then meet up at the end of a row to compare notes on the exciting things they’d seen. As he learned about what he liked – and what he didn’t – his dad taught him to distinguish the subtle differences that impacted value.
The duo also attended a number of other TCA events together, including a biyearly show held in York, Pa., and conventions held around the United States. They often incorporated those fun-filled trips into family vacations.
A favorite part of attending the conventions was visiting open houses, where members invited others into their homes to show off their train layouts in all their glory. “You would see things in those collections,” Werderich remembers, “that you’d only have seen in books otherwise.”
BRANDS AND GAUGES
Werderich explains that there are generally two types of model trains to collect: older trains and operators. That is, valuable vintage trains and sets that are basically for show and display, and those that collectors feel more comfortable operating on a track.
Many collectors focus on a specific type of train to collect. They have brand preferences like Lionel, Bachmann or Märklin, and a gauge they favor. The gauge – typically G, O, S, HO, N or Z – refers to the scale of the train and size of the track on which it runs, but there’s much more to model trains today than in decades past.
“The hobby has come a long, long way,” Werderich says. During his lifetime as a train enthusiast, he’s seen many advances in mechanics and technology. Discovering the realistic way in which newer model trains and layout accessories operate keeps the hobby fresh for folks like Werderich – and now his own kids are riding right along with him.
Daughter Anita, 12, enjoys her dad’s collection and has one of her own. Son George attended his first train show when he was just 3 weeks old and his first model-train convention shortly thereafter. At 14, he has grown into an undeniable model-train enthusiast.
“One neat thing is that it’s been a really nice, safe place where he can interact with adults,” Werderich says. Feeling that it’s important for kids to develop interpersonal skills, he has encouraged George to ask others for advice about repairs at the events they attended together and to do his own negotiating when striking a deal for a car or component.
They also built a train layout in their home just the right size for a growing boy to enjoy. “It had things he could do by himself and not necessarily break,” Werderich says.
His kids also received train sets they could play with as gifts for birthdays and holidays, which furthered their interest in the hobby. Some children these days start with wooden train sets and graduate to Lionel’s Ready-To-Play sets. Bachmann also makes Chuggington electric sets for kids in the 8-and-up age group.
SHARING A PASSION
As George has gotten older, he has found a keen interest in the technologically advanced Command Control Lionel Scale Trains. He’s working with his dad to build a new layout in their home where they can operate the trains he’s grown to love with his family. George also shares his passion for model trains on his YouTube channel, and his dad couldn’t be prouder.
Beyond these shared experiences, however, the hobby goes deeper for Werderich. One of the absolute best aspects of collecting model trains, both with his dad and his son, is having a firm foundation for family bonding. “Everyone has trials and challenges in relationships, but collecting trains has always been common ground for us,” Werderich says. He sees their hobby as a neutral zone they can always return to and enjoy together no matter what life may throw at them.
And with that firm footing to build on, the train-collecting passion in the Werderich family keeps rolling right along.
PAMELA WIGGINS SIEGEL is the author of Collecting with Kids: How to Inspire, Intrigue and Guide the Young Collector, a book based on her columns in The Intelligent Collector.
This article appears in the Winter 2019-2020 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.