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A small shop next to Ed and Diane Lautenschlager’s house at 1348 O’Connor Rd in Darien Center is where the magic happens. Walk into D & L Toy Trains and there you will find a goldmine of treasures hidden in the countryside on the border of Genesee and Wyoming counties.
It is what the Lautenschlager’s call the “candy store effect.”
“People come into the shop and you literally see their eyes get real big,” Ed says.
The shop itself is small, but it does not lack in inventory. The shelves of the first room are filled with rows of small trays upon small trays of parts and accessories.
The next room contains shelves full of model trains and more, bigger accessories. The center of the room is filled up by several oval layouts of train tracks upon a waist-high platform.
“It gets a little crowded in here, but customers like this atmosphere because it makes them feel more at home,” Ed says.
D & L has been in business for 26 years, with the last 20 being at the O’Connor Road location just yards from the town of Bennington in Wyoming County.
Diane is the owner, while Ed calls himself the “chief mechanic.” Two of their three sons also help with the business through computer help and track layout.
While the shop may go unnoticed to many casual observers, it is a well-known destination to passionate hobbyists from all over Western New York and beyond.
Word is that you have a very loyal following of local customers. Why do you think that is?
They don’t like the big storefronts because they are too commercial and impersonal. If a customer has a question, we take care of them. We are not here to sell them something they do not need. We are here to sell them something they do need or give them the information that they need to discuss at home. We will get phone calls from time to time and people ask ‘Are you a commercial front?’ And I say ‘No we are a small shop next to our house’ and people will say, ‘OK, we will be right out.’ And when they come in, I will ask them what was that about and they say ‘Well, we found we get no help, no answers from anybody running a big store.’ They are looking for someone to talk to, that has knowledge and can give them suggestions or at least point them in the right direction.
I assumed most of your customers know what they are looking for, but that is not always the case?
No, a lot of them come and say ‘I don’t know anything about it.’ They want to set up something around the Christmas tree for the grandchildren. Then you have to educate them before you sell to them. You want to take care of them, make them comfortable and give them the information so they have something they can take home and discuss. This is what we are all about. We want them to enjoy it. They are getting something completely new to them and it can be quite complicated at times. We don’t want them going home, setting it up and getting frustrated. That takes all the enjoyment out of it for them. We have ovals set up to give customers an idea of what they can put on a layout. We don’t have any switches on here because I usually use it for demonstrations or if I do a repair, we run it on this before they take it home to make sure everything is functioning.
What are the different kinds of track?
Well, you have scale Atlas track, which is solid nickel silver rail. It looks like the real thing. It has been out about 9 or 10 years now. It is a permanent track. It is not made for putting up and taking down like you do at Christmas time. That is what they have the tubular track or the new Lionel Fastrack for. That is the new system that Lionel Trains is using today. It is more for the carpets, where you do not have to put a board down. A lot of people like it. Every tack has its pros and cons. There is no track out there that is perfect.
Model railroading has certainly changed over the years, hasn’t it?
It is a toy hobby that can get very expensive, if you get into walk around systems that are totally computerized. You can actually set up a program with these new systems and just hit a key and sit back and watch it go through a multiple set of things. That is totally automated, very complex. Basically, you have to know a lot about computers, because you are basically writing a program. Or you can go to conventional hands- on mode, which a lot of people like because that is what they want to do. They don’t want to just sit in an easy chair and flip a remote.
Some systems utilize a wireless remote?
Yes, you can run off a wireless remote. The nice thing about that is you can watch what you are doing from somewhere else along the layout. You don’t just have to stand at the controls. You can walk around the whole layout so you don’t have to have someone else down the track doing something of fixing something while you are back at the controls.
What is the smell associated with running model trains?
They call that the ozone because you smell the motor working. It warms up and you are getting the oils giving off the scent. A lot of people like that because that is what they remember from being a kid.
It seems like a lot of nostalgia is involved in this hobby?
A lot of what we get is people that had them as kids and then put them away and raised a family or whatever. Now they have a little more time on their hands and they get it back out for the grandkids. It is associated with Christmas time, which is of course a magical time. A lot of people remember the old Lionel around the tree.
Is there a certain amount of stress relief involved in model railroading?
You’d be surprised at the number of people who use this when they come home to turn around and go back to their childhood. This brings them back to where they just clear their mind and feel better. It is therapy. You have to have someplace where you can meditate.
Is Lionel still the accepted industry leader?
Lionel is still pretty much the leader. Then you have MTH, Atlas O, Weaver, Williams and Bachmann. There are different manufacturers out there and what are keeping the industry up are all these other ones coming up with new innovations. So the older factory like Lionel can’t just lay back and be the old toy factory. They have to come up to the standards of scale, as well as keep their toy line, but still have the scale line because if they don’t they are going to lose business. That’s how they did lose some business in the past, coming out with their toy lines when others were being prototypical. Atlas is all prototypical. What you see in their models is what you see on the actual railroad, detail for detail. It is an expensive piece, but it is detailed.
Your customers come from all over?
Yes, we have people in here all the time from Geneseo, Rochester, NY Buffalo, NY Orleans County and Springville, NY, Canada, Hamburg, Eden and Gowanda. Especially when Darien Lake is going, people who are camping there or staying in the hotel, they look in the phone book and show up here. These are mostly people from out of state. We also do mail order through our website, www.dnltoytrains.com. We do international orders. Just the other day, we had an inquiry from the Czech Republic. And we just shipped an order to Brazil. With the Internet, you get people from all over the world looking for all kinds of things.
Fully Authorized Lionel Dealer. Fully Authorized Atlas Dealer. Complete Sales and Service facility for all makes of model trains and accessories. Largest parts inventory in New York State. Specializing in Modern, Pre-War and Post-War Lionel Trains. Lionel - Since 1900, the leader in toy trains. More than just a toy - A tradition. Here at D and L Toy Trains, we cater to the novice, looking for their first electric train, the hobbies, able to supply anything to enhance or improve their operating layout, to the serious collector looking for that "Holy Grail" piece to complete his or her collection. We maintain the largest inventory of hard to find parts dating back to the very beginning of Lionel trains, and we have the expertise to repair or restore just about anything ever made. Our "Chief Mechanic", Ed has a lifetime of experience in the field. He is truly "One of a kind".....We here at D and L Toy Trains cover the entire range of Sales, Service and general maintenance. We also purchase individual pieces as well as entire collections. For all your toy train needs, there is only one real choice-----D and L Toy Trains.
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