I D Smith


I. D. Smith

June 17, 1985

Hobbyist’s Train of Thought Runs Through His Home

Isaac D. Smith (I.D. to his friends) fills almost every inch of his Mount Pleasant home with his hobby.  His wife, Ann, doesn’t mind, he says, in fact, she is very supportive.  If she wasn’t, she never would have put up with the volumes of books which line almost every shelf in the den.  Nor would she have allowed her husband to set up a large copy machine in their living room in order to work on a special project.  Even now she tolerates the hours he spends in “Dad’s Hideaway” located up a flight of stairs stacked high with magazines on his favorite subject.

Smith is just one of about 190,000 people in this country who participate in scale model railroading.  They join clubs – he’s a member of the NRHS as well as three other model train collecting clubs – subscribe to publications and sneak away every chance they get to run their model trains or develop some part of their miniature railway.

It all started for this West Virginia native when he got his first toy train the Christmas of 1941. “But what did you do when you were  kid and your toys were out.  You threw them away.  That’s what I did.”

In 1967, after a stint in the Navy, marriage and three children, a friend got him interested in model trains again.  And that, he says, is how he became a hobbyist.  “Growing up, they were toys, but like most older toys at some point they stopped being that and slipped over into a nebulous category of collectibles.”  Yet he has never considered collecting his specialty.  “The real thrust of my hobby is repairing model trains.  i get satisfaction taking something worn out and broken and making it work again.”

Smith, who is a geotechnical and construction material engineer for Soil Consultants,began tinkering with broken trains when he couldn’t find anyone to repair them to his satisfaction.  He also became acquainted with the late N. I. Nelson, a local representative for Lionel trains who operated an authorized repair service station on Hasell Street. These repair stations, he says, directly contributed to the survival of the older toy trains today.

Smith eventually bought Nielson’s remaining parts and tools, and later became an official service station for Randy’s Models in Mount Pleasant.  He does the majority of repairs at home. often working from 8 to 11 at night in an upstairs nook that houses a work table, track lighting and a row of small tools.  His workshop also bulges with little replacement parts, tiny rivets, screws and batteries, stored in old medicine bottles and in dozens of clear plastic containers.  Here is where he has learned to repair just about anything from operating stations to signal gates, as well as any brand of model train, though Lionel equipment is his specialty.

Always the perfectionist, Smith mastered the Lionel Service Station manual and the art of repairing its equipment, but continued to search for information that would help him with his work.  It was then he began writing to Bruce Greenberg of Greenberg Publishing Co. which publishes the Lionel service manual.  he wrote about the frustrations he had with the manual, citing factory errors and the difficulty of identifying variations in rail cars.

Smith says the voluminous, but poorly organized repair information could cause problems for the seasoned toy train repairmen, not to mention the novice.  And anyone who has ever thumbed through the hundreds of detailed pages looking for a specific item could appreciate the need for an index.  So sifter getting the approval from Greenberg, Smith spent three months at a computer editing and indexing the actual service manual and supplemental sheets issued by the Lionel Corp. to its authorized repair service stations from 1946 to 1969.  The resulting new service manual is dedicated to Smith, “The Toy Repairman” who keeps those marvelous mechanical toys running to be enjoyed by a yet unborn generation.

article by Victoria Hood of the Post and Coutrier
photo by Tom Spain