Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Train show lures generations of fans

PINELLAS PARK — It was about 1950 in rural Pennsylvania, and the mother of fourth-grader Alice Morris had two theories on what was causing the rampant spread of polio: overheating or fuzz on peaches.

Others, apparently, shared her belief in the former. So at Alice's school, to prevent students from playing during recess, the teachers built them a Lionel train set.

That prompted the students, including Alice, to beg their parents for train sets that Christmas. When the morning came, the girl scrambled into the living room to find a black American Flyer steam engine beneath the tree. It wasn't a Lionel, but still, it was hers. Then, she looked at the tag.

"To Gene."

Gene, her brother, was 3.

Alice sprinted into her parents' bedroom, demanding answers. A train set just wasn't fit for a girl. They'd gotten her a record player and some Gene Autry albums.

"I didn't understand," she said, "that girls couldn't have trains."

Girls, it turns out, actually can have trains.

Alice, 73, has run H&R Trains, the state's largest such store, for 38 years. From Friday through today, she and her husband, 71-year-old Don, are hosting the shop's 68th show. They're expecting more than 10,000 visitors.

On Saturday, under a broad white tent, dozens of miniature trains zipped on tracks through dioramas of mountains, towns and carnivals. Bells rang and whistles tooted. Wheels chugged and smoke puffed.

Wide-eyed kids peered over the tables' edges, hardly able to follow their parent's orders not to touch. Gray-haired men, many wearing conductor's hats, seemed no less tempted.

Experts, including Don, taught classes on how to paint trains, build scenery and, in one case, "Making Brick & Stone Walls with Styrofoam Using a Hot Wire from the Foam Factory."

The shows at the iconic store, though, may soon come to an end, at least for Alice and Don.

The business and the property at 6901 U.S. 19 are for sale. The couple, now ready to retire, is willing to sell them separately, but they're still waiting for the right buyer.

Alice wants the hobby to thrive beyond her retirement. Her business suffered during the recession, but it's coming back. She hopes the youngest generation will keep the hobby alive.

As she spoke in a back room of the store, a boy wearing a paper conductor's hat waddled in.

Alice looked up. She paused.

The boy stared at a small wooden train covered in bright green splotches sitting on the table. He picked it up. His name, Mason, was written on the bottom. He and his twin sister, Jenna, both 4, had each painted one earlier in the day. They were placed on the table to dry.

As Jenna inspected hers — yellow, red pink, purple and blue — Mason spotted something behind Alice.

The boy toddled over and stared up at a wall of children's books. He reached for one showing Thomas the Tank Engine.

Alice, still watching, smiled.

"Mimi, I don't have this book," the boy said to his grandmother. "I don't have this book, Mimi."

She bought him a T-shirt instead.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at

Train show lures generations of fans 03/16/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 16, 2013 6:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Video: Rays Souza on that oh-so-bad dive, and reaction from Twins fans


    What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking when he made that oh-so-bad dive for a ball in the seventh inning Friday? Well, we'll let him tell you ...

  2. What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking on that comically bad dive?


    What could Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. been thinking in the seventh inning Friday when he dove for a ball and came up yards short?

    Actually, he insisted after all the laughing, teasing and standing ovation from the Twins fans was done, it was a matter of self-preservation.

  3. Judge tosses life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo


    McLEAN, Va. — A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia's most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.

    A federal judge has tossed out two life sentences for D.C. sniper shooter Lee Boyd Malvo. [Associated Press, 2004]
  4. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, dies


    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish strategic theorist who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the tumultuous years of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, died on Friday at a hospital in Virginia. He was 89.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
  5. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win


    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.