Toy trains are a holiday favorite

CENTER CITY - December 6, 2012

For over a hundred years, first in Center City and more recently in the suburbs, Nicholas Smith Trains enables customers to re-create the model railroad they recall running under the Christmas tree.

Owner Chris Gans, himself a model railroad enthusiast, has all the latest trains in all available sizes.

He says technology makes it possible to get full-featured trains...with lights, smoke, whistles and more-compact sizes. That's convenient, because many enthusiasts are older men downsizing their homes. Some families just want a simple train set in a box and the company has those. But they also carry an amazing inventory of trains dating back almost as far as the hobby itself.

Gans tells customers that if they show him a photograph of Christmas morning long ago, as long as the image is clear, he can almost always re-create the train set depicted from inventory.

You can literally walk out of the store carrying a childhood memory with you. Few retailers can compete with the size and scope of the inventory, so Nicholas Smith has clients worldwide. Trains are shipped regularly to England and Germany, Japan and the South Pacific.

As long as he knows the destination, Gans can supply the power pack to make the trains run where they're going. You probably remember a plug-in box that ran your trains as a child.

The latest trains operate with a hand-held wireless remote. One can run three different trains if you like, but the system requires trains built to work with it. The shop has a staff of repair for each common size of train. There's also a full selection of accessories like those plastic buildings you remember.

The store has long had a running layout of trains, but recently added a second, intended to look like a work-in-progress. It helps visitors understand how easy it is to build something beautiful at home.

There are battery-powered trains, and trains built to withstand the weather so you can run them outdoors, year-round. And there's no need to stop at trains. There's growing interest in model trolleys, either as an addition to a layout or instead of trains.

Gans recently had a company replicate the exact look of a pre-SEPTA PTC trolley. It's a limited-edition model and once they're gone, that's it.

SEPTA and NJ Transit trolleys are also available at somewhat lower prices. The store is located at 2343 West Chester Pike in Broomall, Pennsylvania, just west of the Route 3 exit of the Blue Route. You may phone them at 610-353-8585. Now through Christmas Eve the store is open every day.

You may also shop online at Nicholas Smith Trains. . Shipping is available worldwide and the website explains all the ins and outs of that.

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