This is a long time tradition in our family, now three generations deep and still going. Every year my brothers and I would watch as my dad set the Christmas tree in the tree stand. As he was stringing the lights around the tree, we would run up to the attic and dust off the Lionel Train box.
Lionel is surely a trusted name when it comes to trains. Our train is a 1952 Berkshire all mental engine with a smoker, and a whistle. After the lights were on the tree, we would set up the train and then fight over who got to run it first. Now lets fast forward a few years, my wife’s brother bought a Lionel train set for our kids, and the tradition continued. As soon as the lights were on the tree, the train came out. Now our son has a Polar Express, and the tradition continues.
Fast forward a few more years, we now have grandchildren. My wife and I just couldn’t resist, so we went out and bought our first grandson a Lionel Train., (The Polar Express). Every year when the tree goes up at our daughter’s house I just have to be there to help set the train up with our grandson.
How did this become a Holiday tradition?
Joshua Lionel Cowan and Harry C. Grant founded the Lionel Corporation in 1900. They began by producing electronic toys. In 1929 they began manufacturing trains in Hillside New Jersey, the trains were not intended for consumers, but meant to be department store displays.
This was the beginning of Cowan’s marketing, after World War I he convinced department stores to display his trains as part of their Christmas tree displays.
These displays made the toy trains a popular gift for children, and this is how the tradition of a train around your Christmas tree began.
The trains were larger than any other toy train on the market thus making them more realistic.
Cowan also painted the early trains bright colors with the intent of attracting children and their mother’s.
The Hillside New Jersey facility made trains until 1974. The company is now owned by Lionel LLC.
The company has been through many downturns over the years and has changed ownership many times.
A children’s book written by Chris Van Allsburg in 1985 “The Polar Express” turned into a movie in 2004 staring Tom Hanks. The movie prompted Lionel to develop a new and now very popular train The Polar Express.
This Holiday season start a new tradition with the Polar Express Train Set, book and movie. I think you’re going to have fun.
This is a video of my younger brother with his trains. The train in the middle is the 1952 Berkshire that started our tradition. My brother has kept the family train in excellent condition. He sets it up every year along with the many other trains he owns.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR. SAM MONACO