It was a Lionel train set around his parents’ Christmas tree that sparked Bob Pettitt’s passion for trains at the young age of six or seven years old. Years later, Bob is a collector with a vast model train collection comprised of over 9,000 items and accessories – a collection worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $90,000.
The trains and accessories are displayed on three different train layouts. Bob’s 750-square foot, two-car garage is home to the first one. After running out of room in that first space, he expanded to include two more layouts in two separate buildings. The remainder of the collection is displayed on shelves that circle the perimeter of the rooms. These train layouts include a number of complete passenger train models, such as the City of Los Angeles, the City of San Francisco, the Southern Pacific Daylight, and the Santa Fe El Capitan.
“The whole collection is special to me because it represents my childhood and my memories.” This unique collection is full of accessories that hold a special nostalgia for Bob. His favorite piece is a scratch-built model of the Pomona, CA home where he grew up. He lived in that house from the age of four until age seventeen, and his father scratch-built this model many years ago.
Another piece that holds a special memory is a model of a Greyhound bus. This reminds Bob of a time in 1954, when at the age of seven he attended the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona. Greyhound Bus Lines had just introduced a new bus called the Super Scenicruiser, a double decker bus made by General Motors Corp. They would take one of the cruisers out of regular service, bring it to the fair, and a marketing manager would sit in the front seat and tell people about the bus over the PA system.
Fascinated by the bus, Bob sat inside of it and eventually memorized the marketing director’s spiel. Before long, he asked the marketing director if he could be allowed to deliver the speech over the PA system just one time. “I must’ve done a half way decent job,” says Bob, because the marketing manager asked him to deliver the speech at the fair every day, all day long, for the remainder of its run. With his parents’ permission, Bob accepted the offer and received free tickets to the fair in exchange for his work.
Besides buses and buildings, Bob’s accessories also include airplanes – another vehicle that holds a fascination for him. Bob recalls the unique opportunity he was given to fly in the cockpit of a Lockhead L 1011 on a flight from Portland to Mississippi. “That was one of the thrills of my life,” says Bob, “so I have a model of that plane flying over the layout.”
He also has a model of a United Airlines jet – commemorating a real-life crash in Portland where a plane unfortunately ran out of fuel and crashed just before arriving at the airport. His personal connection to this incident was that the City Manager of United Airlines came to a class he was teaching (as a professor and Business Division Chair at what is now Concordia University) and spoke about the crash.
Because all of the pieces are so closely connected to Bob’s own memories, his layouts and models are unique. He’s proud of the one-of-a-kind pieces that he owns. Just one more example of this? Besides collecting model trains, Bob is also part of running a small TV station, KRHP Channel 14. He is currently working on a model of the station. “I finally found something that I could use for the satellite dishes,” says Bob. “I don’t imagine there’s another person in the country with a model of those studios.”