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Only In Santa Cruz

Wed, Dec 18, 2019

All Aboard: Meet the First Toy Train Conductor

Everybody, meet Eric. Eric along with the Golden State Toy Train Operators brought the beloved annual pop-up exhibit Toy Trains to the MAH back in 2005. Opening for the 14th year this Friday we chugged through questions for you to get to know one of the volunteers who has been laying the tracks and creating the magic of Toy Trains every year.

A Santa Cruz resident for over 27 years. Eric is no stranger to delighting Santa Cruz County residents. When not producing Toy Trains at the MAH Eric and his friends, Trevor Park and Paul Nolan, produce a spectacular Halloween show at his house on Ocean View Avenue. They spook and thrill nearly 1000 people in the month of October. All in all, Eric is staying busy with delighting the people of Santa Cruz County AND taking his Australian Shephard Dusty for a walk three times a day. Jump into his interview below...

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Why Toy Trains?

I got my first set in 1952 and have loved them ever since. Paul, Trevor and I also run the Fern Creek and Western Garden Railroad and the Toy Train Operating Society (TTOS). We have a major expansion/renovation planned for next year so be sure to look for our open house in late summer/early fall. We are also members of the Bay Area Garden Railroad Society. By now you have probably guessed that I like trains, big small and in between.

How has Toy Trains grown over the years?

The Toy Train market hasn’t grown much, but the number of shows like ours here at MAH has grown. And MAH has seen increasing attendance at our shows, donations go up as do new memberships. It's a great team effort and everyone wins.

What has been your all-time favorite Toy Trains moments?

There have been so many! The smiles on kids' faces as they run their own train make all the work worthwhile. It’s fantastic.

What is your biggest inspiration for the displays?

The rides at the Boardwalk along with some of our own ideas and MAH staff help add on what a great layout should be. We also listen to our visitors and often take suggestions from them. That resulted in one year having an HO model train display. Another year we put up a switching yard with all kinds of operating accessories. We added the Brio wooden trains/layout early on to keep our littlest visitors occupied. We also visit other trains shows throughout the year and are always looking for new ideas to delight our guests.

How many people does it take to put on Toy Trains every year?

I try to get as many as I can! Less work for Craig and I. We are getting old. It usually takes 6-8 people two days to set everything up. Then we need to staff each shift with 2 or 3 people and we usually have 2 shifts per day. In the past, we have sometimes had 3 shifts when the Museum has been open later in the evening.

Why the MAH?

Craig Miller, a co-conspirator in starting the toy train exhibit at MAH, and I belong to a group of Toy Train enthusiasts, The Golden State Toy Train Operators (GSTTO). But there is only a handful of us in Santa Cruz County and we wanted a place locally to play with our trains. I think Craig came up with the idea of approaching MAH. We asked. They said yes. Craig made a nice donation. The rest is history.

How did the first exhibit go?

Pretty good. After all, we came back the next year. Our first two years were spent in the small classroom at the front of the building. We quickly outgrew that space and moved to the atrium the next year.

What was better the 2nd time?

We actually knew what we were doing and what to expect. We quickly learned the first year that having accessories like a barrel loader that requires continuous attention moving the barrels back from the gondola to the loader gets tiresome very quickly. And we didn’t like the occasional glares we received when we didn’t move fast enough for our little visitors. After the second year, I think we decided to let the kids run the trains themselves and forget about the accessories that required us to pay attention.

What was better the 13th time?

I don’t remember anything special about the 13th time, but in our 9th year we gave free rein to our friend Lee Williams who added giant trees, dinosaurs and other creatures, a drive-in theater and many other things. There wasn’t any space left on the layout, but it made a fun display with something new wherever you looked.

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What’s the best feedback you’ve ever heard?

I guess the one I like best is when an adult says ‘I had one of those as a kid’ and we start talking about our experiences.

Why do you keep coming back to do Toy Trains?

Come down and watch the kids. Watch the parents and grandparents remember their own childhood. It’s a wonderful experience. Hey, and if you have your own toy trains, bring them down. If we are not too busy we’ll let you run them.

Anything else you want the people to know?

This is a team effort and not that much work to put on. We are always looking for helpers, new ideas, new fun toys. The personal rewards are great and we seem to have become a Santa Cruz tradition. We hope people will step up to help and ensure this tradition carries on.

Fuel the Fun

Donate or become a member this holiday season to help us bring more family-friendly fun to the MAH every year.