In celebration of Toy Train Month, the California State Railroad Museum has displayed a new collection of Buddy “L” toys in its “Small Wonders: The Magic of Toy Trains” exhibit. The historic toys were first manufactured in the 1920s and 1930s in Illinois during what some collectors call the “Golden Age of Toymaking.”
Museum director Paul Hammond spoke with The Bee recently about the toys and the intergenerational appeal of toy trains.
Q: What’s the story behind the Buddy “L” trains?
A: You almost have to be a collector to even get it. Before I started working with this collection I didn’t get it. Buddy “L” toys have got some lore. They started with a gentleman who was in farm equipment manufacturing in Illinois. He started creating some steel toys for his young son, Buddy. Over time it became admired in the neighborhood and it turned into a business line. They’re really sturdy toys, they’re meant to be pushed around on the floor and outside in the dirt.
Q: What else is the museum doing to celebrate Toy Train Month?
A: We have a fantastic operating toy train layout as part of the “Small Wonders” exhibit, this year for Toy Train Month, which we will continue to operate throughout the year. We’ve added a reproduction of Lionel model trolley car sets. They’re made contemporary, as replicas, authentically reproduced from cars made in 1906.
Q: What kind of response have you seen so far to the new exhibits?
A: For people that aren’t collectors, the toy trains exhibit is a favorite. On the layout, watching the toy trains running around, these are colorful and different from what has been on there. Most of what has been running is big, long freight and passenger trains. (The new trolley exhibit) captures kids’ attentions. Parents and particularly grandparents probably even recognize what it is. So much of what we find at the Railroad Museum is that the experience is an intergenerational sharing experience. It’s an opportunity to point out to the kids, “Hey, here’s the early-day version of today’s light rail.”
Q: Why do you think enthusiasm for toy trains, and trains overall, has endured over the years?
A: Think about the forms of transportation that are out there. We still have this desire, standing trackside, to want to wave at the engineer (of a train). Nobody waves at the freeway very much. We don’t wave too much at airplanes. The train is still a human form of transportation that’s got a personal feel to it that’s unlike any of the others. Certainly the railroad is an enormous part of America’s ethos, whether we understand it or not. We know the railroads played a big role in the country. The toys come out of that same concept.
Small Wonders: The Magic of Toy Trains
What: New exhibits for “Toy Train Month,” including displays of Buddy “L” toys and a reproduction of a modern-day Lionel trolley car set
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, except on Thursdays through Sept. 3 when closing is 8 p.m.
Where: California State Railroad Museum, 125 I St., Sacramento
Cost: $5-$10, children 5 and younger free
Information: 916-323-9280; www.csrmf.org