Model railroading is a hobby that encompasses a variety of venues from realistic scenery to collecting rare pieces. For Bill Janik of Boardman, it is the collector side of the hobby that is at the forefront.
"I have loved trains all my life," he said. "Once my children were grew and out on their own, I had the money to do what I wanted to do all my life."
That meant collecting toy trains, but not just any toy train. Janik focuses on Marx, which takes him back to his childhood.
Anyone who collects trains has to have an operating layout and Bill Janik of Boardman is no exception. Janik is pictured with his small layout that features a variety of Marx tin-plate structures and trains.
"In 1940, when I was three years old, my father bought me a Marx train set," he said. "It was the only thing he could afford."
According to Janik, Marx trains have been referred as the working man's train. The Marx company found a way to manufacture tin-plate trains using lithograph details. Even the rivets were painted on, unlike other manufacturers who molded the details into the train cars and locomotives. Thus Marx could sell their trains considerably cheaper.
"That first Marx was such an enjoyment to me that today I love them above all other makes," he said.
Janik said when he began collecting, he discovered he loved purchasing trains and preserving the vintage pieces. He started buying, selling and swapping trains of all makes, turning his collecting into a business. He is not out to make a fortune, Janik said. He simply loves being involved in the train marketplace.
Janik joined the Train Collectors of America club and enjoys attending national events. Each year he attends the big York, Pa. collectors meet where he buys and sells trains.
"I mainly look for Marx and pieces I may not yet have in my collection," he said. "I will occasionally buy Lionel, American Flyer, or HO scale trains, but my focus is on Marx."
He said the most valuable trains today are the pre and post war ones up to 1969. For the most part they are metal, but their value increases based on condition and if the toy train comes with an original box.
"What's interesting is that the 1940s and 1950s train sets never sold for over $100 new," he said. "Today the same sets are worth up to $15,000."
One rare set Janik has obtained is an early Marx Army train. His train includes two ammunition cars that have painted wooden artillery shells that fit into a gondola rigged with holes. He also has a rare flat car with an airplane load.
"When kids played with the airplane and vehicles that came on flatcars, it wouldn't take long before the two items became separated," he said. "You can find the flatcars, but to have the load is a rarity."
Janik also enjoys working on the trains. He has a workshop set up and has made unique pieces that he sells at trade shows and hobby flea markets. One of his latest creations involves taking old tin plate passenger cars that are in bad shape, painting and turning them into diners. He said collectors love them and he can't keep up with the demand.
One thing Janik loves about the hobby is the people he meets. He said whether it is at a flea market or a phone call from someone who wants to sell a train, meeting people is always a joy.
He also works with friends who are collectors. They know that Janik frequents a lot of shows and flea markets and when one of them wants a specific item, Janik can usually find it.
While Janik loves the buying, selling and collecting, his real enjoyment, he said, is spending time with his grandsons on the layout he has in his basement. Ryan Sladky, 9, and Tommy Janik, 6, both love to spend time operating the trains, he said. Tommy has even helped his grandpa with the layout.
"Tommy was running the trains one day and he told me he wanted to add some more railroad cars," Janik said. "I told him the engine wouldn't pull that many and he told me the problem was the power supply was too small. He said I needed more wattage and if I hooked up a bigger transformer, the engine could pull more cars. We hooked up the bigger one and it worked. You should have seen the smile on his face."
Janik also has a lot of support from his wife Kathy. While she is not as knowledgeable as her husband, she enjoys helping him locate items at various flea markets. Janik said when the flea market opens, the good items go early and that is where Kathy goes to work.
"Bill goes one way and I go the other," Kathy Janik said. "I know what Bill is looking for and we can cover more ground early by splitting up."
Janik said he plans to continue his hobby, not only for himself, but for his entire family. He recently placed an ad in the Town Crier and was getting calls right and left from people who had toy trains they wanted to sell. Janik can be reached at 330-758-2119 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although retired, Janik works part time at the Butler Institute of American Art, where he also enjoys meeting new people.