Meager Beginnings

Like many in my generation I grew up on the low side of the middle class. Actually we were proud people and wouldn't admit it, but at times we just didn't have any money at all. I'll never forget the Christmas back in the 50's that the one and only thing that I had asked for (a train of course) never materialized. I was heartbroken. But I got through it, and on the next Christmas I received a #21 Marx Santa Fe Freight set.

Here is a picture of my Dad and Myself playing with it. This picture mysteriously was found by myself in an envelope in my car last year. I have absolutely no idea where it came from or who planted it. I had no idea it existed. It is now forty years later, and it is hard to explain how much that picture means to me.

My Dad (Charlie) passed away in 1980. Three months later my first Son (Charlie) was born. I've been blessed with many good things in my life. Of course anytime is a wonderful time to have a child. But that was especially wonderful. Charlie sort of filled the vacuum that was left in my life from the loss of my father. Since then we have been blessed with John and then Kathy. There are no words to express how much I love my kids.

Back in the late 1970's and early 1980's I had been dealing in coins and was getting by.

My wife Ginger and I decided to buy a house that could also be used as a business. And we found exactly what we were looking for at 3133 Zuck Road here in Erie.

Unfortunately we didn't have a garage, which had become ‘Coins Unlimited', the friendly neighborhood Coin Store.

Of course in 1979 the Hunt brothers helped artificially inflate the price of silver, and gold followed. Those were truly the golden days of coins. If you couldn't make money in coins back then, you didn't belong in any business!

But of course in 1980 the price of gold and silver peaked then plummeted. What was once a very prosperous situation for me became a down right depression.

I watched in horror as the equity in my business started to fall. What once had been a pleasurable job of doing the books at the end of each month started now to become a horrible ordeal. And all this after having just obtaining a substantial mortgage.

I had no choice but to get a job. Unfortunately there weren't many jobs available to me at the time, so I ended up in sales.

I am not a salesman. I don't have that personality. I guess I would rather be here in my office working than out selling school jackets to school principles and PTA's. That's why I hated that job. But you do what you have to do. So every day I got in that car and traveled. I must have been pretty good at it though. The first year I won a trip to Cancun, Mexico. That's another story!

But every minute I was on the road, my mind was back at the store which stood closed during the day. It was horrible.

I've never admitted this before, but I remember one day sitting in my closed store while I should have been on the road. I was looking through the financial books from the good days when coins were selling. I can actually remember openly crying. The future was totally uncertain. I was scared, especially since John was about to be born.

That Christmas was a great Christmas. Ginger had given me a Tyco train set. It didn't really work, but that didn't matter to me. I had been re-introduced to a hobby that seemed so much fun. Immediately I went out and bought everything that I could to make my ‘master' pike. Actually it turned out to be more like a spaghetti pike. Unfortunately it didn't work very well. But it was great for ‘train crashes' at our New Year's Eve party. (And that is definitely another story!)

And then the idea came to me. Why not advertise to buy electric trains in my coin store? So that's what I did.

I'll never forget that woman hauling the two boxes of trains in after around a week of advertising that I buy trains on our marque. I had no idea what I was looking at. Were they Lionel? Were they Marx?

I didn't know what to offer her, so I shyly offered her 35 bucks? (Sounded like a good even number to me!)

Luckily she accepted, and I was off to the races.

One of the brightest days of my life was on a trip through Western New York. I remember I was driving over the Allegheny River and it came to me. It's like when Kennedy was shot, or the Challenger blew up. I remember exactly where I was.

I thought of the possibility of using my inventory system to print a price list of trains. I had been doing it with coins for some time. But I had never inventoried my meager train inventory.

Needless to say I never got to my sales call that day. The car abruptly turned around almost like it agreed with my idea! The future was starting to look a little brighter.

I am thankful to say that only a year later I had become fed up enough with that job, and confident enough with the train market that I once again went full time in business. The name of my store had been changed to ‘Coins and Trains'. And eventually a couple of years later it became ‘Train City'.

I am very happy to say that I have finally determined that decision to quit my sales job was a good one!

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Revised 5/26/98