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What's a $15K model train look like? Pasadena's Whistle Stop sells them

The Original Whistle Stop 1

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The Original Whistle Stop in Pasadena has been selling model trains since 1951.

The Original Whistle Stop 2

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Fred Hill has worked at the Original Whistle Stop since 1970 and has owned the store since 1976. Hill also makes his own line of highly-detailed model trains called The Coach Yard.

The Original Whistle Stop 3

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The Original Whistle Stop model train shop has been selling trains since 1951. Their iconic neon sign almost didn't make it up when they changed locations because of a ban on neon signs in Pasadena.

The Original Whistle Stop 4

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Model trains and train memorabilia line the walls of The Original Whistle Stop in Pasadena.

The Original Whistle Stop 5

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Many of the new model train engines make realistic sounds and some even spout steam as they chug down the tracks.

The Original Whistle Stop 6

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The Original Whistle Stop carries trains from railroads long out of service to modern lines, like this special edition Metrolink car.

The Original Whistle Stop 7

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Keith Turley, a regular at The Original Whistle Stop, flips through a copy of "Milwaukee Road Locomotives." Turley has been a model train hobbyist for 40 years and models most of his trains after the Milwaukee Road that ran across the Midwest.

The Original Whistle Stop 8

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The Original Whistle Stop has model trains in many different scales and levels of detail for enthusiast collectors and those looking for a simple train to circle a Christmas Tree.

The Original Whistle Stop 9

Ken Scarboro/KPCC

The Original Whistle Stop carries many different brands of trains including their own line The Coach Yard. Fred Hill, designer of The Coach Yard trains and owner of The Original Whistle Stop says people call these the "Gucci" of model trains.

The Original Whistle Stop 10

Ken Scarboro/KPCC

In addition to model trains The Original Whistle Stop carries everything to create detailed backdrops and environments for the miniature railroads.

The Original Whistle Stop 11

Ken Scarboro/KPCC

Model trains and train memorabilia line the walls of The Original Whistle Stop in Pasadena.

The Original Whistle Stop 12

Ken Scarboro/KPCC

Many of the trains available at The Original Whistle Stop model famous railroad lines like the Southern Pacific Railroad.


The Original Whistle Stop in East Pasadena is getting a lot of business lately. It's close to Christmas, so plenty of kids — and grown-ups who still think they're kids — flood the shop to buy the ultimate tree accessory: a model train. 

The Whistle Stop first opened its doors in 1951. Fred Hill started working at the Whistle Stop decades ago, and when the place went up for sale in the '70s, he knew he had to buy it. 

These days, Hill's store on Colorado Boulevard is packed with antique railroad signs and lanterns, tiny trees and figures to make any miniature railroad come to life and illuminated glass cases that display model trains like prized trophies. 

The store has so much stuff, the first timer might find it a bit overwhelming. But Hill says they sell to more than just the pro model railroader — they're there for anybody who likes model trains. 

According to Hill, the model train business has changed over the years — and it's still changing. Modern trains sets can come with radio control technology, digital sounds and realistic moving parts. 

As with any other hobby, model railroading can become a little bit of an obsession. Not all model trains are toys necessarily. Hill says modelers readily spend top dollar for detail and craftsmanship.

Hill even designs and manufacturers his own model trains. He calls it The Coach Yard line, but serious model railroaders have nicknamed trains like Hill's "Gucci trains" for their high prices and limited availability. 

Hill can sell models for top dollar because he really knows his trains. Ready to jump into the model train world with style? How about a $15,000 model train? No joke, Hill says it's a 9-foot Union Pacific Big Boy, hand painted and assembled in Korea by a respected artisan train maker.

Hill's love of trains expands beyond just miniatures, too. He's even worked with a team to restore a real-life train, a 120-ton Santa Fe Northern locomotive that they've driven from L.A. to Chicago and back. 

After decades in business, Hill says The Whistle Stop is still going strong. According to him, model trains are here to stay. "It has movement. It has sound. It has smoke. It has action. It also brings back memories of childhood to adults," Hill says. "It's just something that gives you a little smile on your face." 

What does a serious model train problem look like? It probably looks like this:

Northlandz Model Railroad, Flemington, NJ 

 


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