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Short Stories: G&B Trains, Findlay, Ohio

train store
Not from G&B Trains, but similar to what the store looked like when I worked there.

In the early 1970s, my father, Robert Gerencser, and Gary Ziessler, fellow deacons at Trinity Baptist Church, started a hobby store business on North Main Street in Findlay, Ohio. G (Gary) & B (Bob) Trains sold new and used Lionel, American Flyer, and Marx trains and accessories, along with slot car tracks and cars. G&B Trains had one employee — teenager Bruce Gerencser, whom they paid twenty-five cents an hour minus the cost of the pop he drank from the pop machine. After school, I would walk or ride my bike five city blocks to the store, working until closing time. It was here that I was first exposed to the business world. It was also here that I fell in love with Lionel O Gauge trains. Over time, I collected a number of diesel and steam engines, along with a bunch of train cars and accessories. I hung on to these trains when Dad up and moved us to Arizona. When I moved back to Ohio for the last time in 1975, Dad promised to sell my trains for me and send me the money. Forty-seven years later, I’m still waiting. Dad also promised to sell my 1967 Chevy station wagon too. Evidently, that check got lost in the mail too. When it came to money, Dad was a hustler and a con artist. He had no problem sticking it to family and strangers. I knew Dad would likely keep my money, but I thought with him knowing how much I needed the money, he would refrain from stealing the proceeds of these sales. Alas, Dad proved that a leopard can’t change his spots. Gary would later learn that when he and Dad had a falling out over . . . you guessed it . . . money.

I worked at G&B Trains for a year. One night, I had a physical altercation with a relative of Gary’s wife named John, a recent returnee from Vietnam. John was hired to do repairs on engines and other train equipment. I was taking care of the front of the store while John repaired an engine in the back. I went to the back room to get a bottle of pop. I knew very little about John, but he and I had a conversation that quickly got out of hand. Best I can remember, I said something smart to him — not uncommon for me. All of a sudden, John stood up and kicked me as hard as he could, sending me flying, and knocking the wind out of me. While I was down, John kicked me again. Fearing for my life, I ran from the store and went home, never to work there again.

A year prior to this experience, my alcoholic uncle kicked the shit out of me because I moved his beer. In both instances, I was blamed for inciting these men to violence, even though I was a child and they were grown-ass men. I can only remember one time my Dad stood up for me — an altercation with a different drunken uncle. This uncle had raped my mother a few years before. We were at his home for a party when I decided to give Dad a ride in my 1970 Nova SS. As we were leaving, I tromped the gas, laying down a track of rubber. When we returned, my uncle got in my face and attempted to physically assault me. My uncle was a large man, and even in a drunken state, he would have likely caused serious physical harm to me. Fortunately, my dad grabbed a hold of my uncle and slammed him into the garage. This is the first and only time Dad stood up for me

Not long after I quit G&B Trains, Dad and Gary had a falling out over money. Gary took over sole possession of the business. Dad and Mom would later divorce, as would Gary and his wife. Both families would leave Trinity Baptist Church. I was the only one of the bunch that remained in the church. It was not long before G&B Trains closed its doors. The building the store was in no longer exists. The City of Findlay razed it and other downtown businesses to provide a green space to handle flood waters from the nearby Blanchard River.

Two years ago, after a forty-five-year hiatus, I picked up the Lionel train bug again, starting a layout project in an unused upstairs bedroom. I was so excited to pick up a hobby from my youth, especially after having to abandon photography due to my health. Unfortunately, increasing health problems, which severely limit my mobility, have kept me from completing this project. I refuse to give up, hoping that I can finish the project before Christmas. I want my grandchildren to experience the same joy I had decades ago as I maneuvered my trains along O-scale tracks.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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8 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    Bruce, you’re amazing. I suppose you could have lingering bitterness, but instead, it seems like you’ve worked out a lot of what could bother you. You look at your trains and see good things, leaving the bad memories in the past.

  2. Avatar
    Merle

    Toy trains were once big business because real trains were big business. But trains have been largely replaced by trucks and planes, so they don’t quite have the allure they once had.

    But it was largely the trains that opened up the American west. Unfortunately, many of those tracks have been abandoned.

    Increases in population and standard of living have put a huge strain on natural resources. The easiest to reach supplies of coal, oil, iron ore, and many other necessities have been consumed. We are left with ever increasing costs to retrieve ever harder to find resources. Some day we are going to be forced to rely on the most economical means of transportation. And then we may end up going back to trains.

    If things go well, we will pull together and build an economical world with trains and boats. And then your descendants may once again love toy trains that model the big trains that move things around the country.

    • Avatar
      Troy

      @Merle Trains are still big business. Warren Buffet continues to buy stock in railroads a which means two things, the stock is undervalued, and the stock can be expected to perform (that’s how Buffet picks his stocks.) That said, my daily bike ride is on a path that once had rails and choo-choos. An eagle scout project put up RR crossing signs for the old milk run.

  3. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    One of my daughter’s classmates was seriously into trains, to the extent that one year his parents bought a train signal light and put it into their backyard.

    My deadbeat biological father had a model train set that I remember from the time I visited him after my parents’ divorce. I assume at some point he probably sold it for booze and weed, as he did with anything of value.

  4. Avatar
    AlphaJet

    I have a fairly big HO scale model railroad in the basement as well as working for a major railroad. I find today’s railroading boring as it is usually just long strings of double stacked containers speeding between end points but I do see a lot of younger fans trackside, more than when I was their age. Most engineers recognize them and will blow the horn a few times for their favorites. That said, it hasn’t translated over to the model side of the hobby.

  5. Avatar
    Ben Berwick

    I love model trains, but have never been in a position to develop a track. I’ve played train and station sims, but let’s face it, they’re not the same. I wish you luck with your train endeavour!

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Bruce Gerencser