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Model train store works to restore sanity

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Lee English, owner of English Model Trains in Montoursville has been able to keep busy through the COVID-19 pandemic. Lee's father started the business in 1961.

Looking for diversions, many people have looked to hobby stores to fill their times during the pandemic, said a local business owner — sometimes to keep themselves sane in a world where everything seems to be going very wrong.

In times like these, Lee English, of English Model Railroad Supply, said his business has done well.

“I say we’re more of a mental health company, because we gave people something to do,” he said.

Two weeks into the red phase in Lycoming County, English said he reopened for online orders and estimated the orders to have increased by about 20 percent.

“I talked to a few other hobby places and they’ve all been saying the same thing,” he said.

He and an employee came in on alternating days to fill orders and ship them out,

“If they are online and can do what I did where I came in a couple days and I had another guy come in on alternate days and we just did what we could to fill orders,” said English.

When the model railroad store reopened soon after June 5, They were as busy as they are during major holidays.

“That week it was almost like Christmas with people wanting to come and get trains for their hobbies, for what they were doing at home,” said English. “People just wanted something to do.”

An intricate hobby such as model train building takes time and space, and the quarantine made room for many to reinvest into the hobby.

“It was amazing how many people told me that they wanted to get back into model railroading for so long — and they were,” said English.

After more than 60 years into the model train businesses his father left him, English said many come back to the hobby for the nostalgia.

“Usually it’s from growing up, and it’s something that would happen at Christmas time and it’s something you would do with your dad or grandfather, a large percentage of people start out that way,” he said.

For English, however, trains are his legacy with his great-grandfather having worked with trains in Sunbury.

Ever chasing the ideal model, new innovations are circulating in the hobby to perfectly match the age-old mode of transportation, these methods are what English said has kept him interested.

“First I did computers, we totally computerized- in the mid-70s, then I decided I wanted to get into machining, then I went into computerized machinery and Brass castings,” he said.

Today, English Model Railroad supply designs three-dimensional designs and prints them using some of the newest computerized injection molding machines to create decorations and other materials.

“I like the process,” he said. “A lot of people mean to do a lot of this, they want to do this some day as a hobby, but never had time or never made the tie, they had kids… then all of a sudden those have grown up and left and you have time, money and space.”

Many people found the time during the pandemic, and in withdrawing found themselves yearning for a more simple time.

“I think people were running out of things to do, you can only watch the news 24 hours a day before you become so nauseated that you could never watch anybody talk about it ever again.”

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