A love of trains rolls to a new generation at the Great Train Expo

Richard Gray doesn’t look ornery, standing there in well-worn overalls and a train engineer’s cap.

But his mild manners are deceptive.

At this weekend’s Great Train Expo, the Michigan native was waiting for unsuspecting visitors to pass his vendor’s booth, Big Train Sound. Then, with a twist of his wrist, he let out a full-throttle train blast.

The blast rattled the entire Overland Park International Trade Center, dampened only a little by the 300-plus booths and visitors.

“Welcome to the Great Train Expo,” he said.

For train enthusiasts, this weekend’s show is heaven. Anything made for model trains is probably available.

Hundreds of trains, tracks and layouts. Thomas the Tank Engine stuff ranging from the rarest of cars not sold in stores to towels, placemats, plates and lunch boxes. Hobby tools to build and repair model trains, like magnifying glasses that fit over your eyes.

Then there’s Gray’s booth.

“I have people who buy my CDs because they love trains so much it helps them sleep,” he said. “It’s true! People who love trains love hearing them.”

He’s also heard from male drivers who used the CD to scare passengers unlucky enough to doze off. One victim was a mother-in-law.

“This guy told me he waited until it was real foggy out, then slipped in the CD.”

Love for all things trains is passed down in families.

“I got my first engine when I was 4, at a yard sale,” said Corey Smith, a member of the Heartland N-Trak of Greater Kansas City.

His father, Chalmers Smith, 70, of Topeka, worked 37 years for Union Pacific as a timekeeper. He joined the Topeka N-Trak because his son made it so much fun for both of them.

“I couldn’t stay out of it after my little boy fell in love with trains.”

Little boys were swarming at one of the two Thomas displays, including one 3-year-old who greeted all the Thomas trains as if they were old friends.

Dylan Freiden shrugged. “Well, I


a train expert, you know.”

When Dylan saw the rows of tiny Spencers, he grabbed one, looked deep into its face and smiled. Until he saw Diesel. And then Nelson.

“I want this one. No, this one. No, this one.”

About the same time, another loud blast soared above the crowd, close to the children’s train rides. Score another one for Big Train Sound.

Because Dylan forgot all about Thomas. He wanted to ride the kids’ train.