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Saturday essay: The find

| Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, 8:57 p.m.

The great American hobby shop is an endangered species. Here's why that's such a sad thing:

Forty-three years ago, and after decades of model railroading in HO scale, the old man began buying engines and rolling stock for his first, smaller-scale N-gauge train platform.

One of the engines was a classic F7 diesel model of the then-new but ill-fated Penn Central railroad, formed the year before, in 1968, with the merger of the iconic Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads. Painted pure black, with the railroad logo and name in white lettering on its sides, it pulled five silver Penn Central passenger cars.

The locomotive wore out years ago. But the cars, featuring a wide aqua stripe along the window line, have continued to run on my platforms, pulled by other engines.

Then, this week, by pure happenstance on a visit to A.B. Charles, the iconic Mt. Lebanon hobby shop, a pristine 43-year-old Minitrix-brand German-built Penn Central diesel engine found me from the display case.

It was the exact same brand, model and engine number as the old man's and in the original packaging. It came from the voluminous “old stock” that late owner Ed Charles (“Mr. Charles” to all) had squirreled away. Son and current owner Scott priced it to move. But it was a priceless find for the history and memories involved.

Which is the magic of the great American hobby shop that can't be replicated by Internet sites — you're never sure if you found what you found or if it found you.

— Colin McNickle

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