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April 1, 2002

A Train Down Memory Lane: One trader's hobby recalls a sometimes forgotten past.

By Gregory Bresiger

Also in this article

  • A Train Down Memory Lane: One trader's hobby recalls a sometimes forgotten past.

It was an era when transportation was more leisurely, less hurried and much more secure. There were few dangers in taking a trip. There were certainly no highjackings. Most people under 45 can't imagine it, no less remember it.

Roger Sheppard, a 51-year old trader with McNamara Trading Company on the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, certainly does. He remembers the great, now long forgotten, private passenger railroads of his youth - the New York Central, the Reading Railroad and the late great Pennsylvania Railroad.

Almost all of these railroads are gone, pushed into the grave of bankruptcy in the 1950s and 1960s.

Still, the ghosts of one forgotten railroad live on: The Pennsy's Penn stations still dot the landscape of so many big cities in the northeast. That's even though most of the passengers would be hard pressed to say what is the significance of the name.

Penn Station

"I remember as a child the great trains that used to leave Penn Station in Philadelphia, where I grew up," Sheppard said. He was hooked on trains at an early age. A set of Lionel trains were put under his Christmas tree when he was five and that was it. He has never forgotten that holiday. He caught the train bug at an early age. And for every Christmas after that, for many years, he would receive more trains to add to his collection, as would his brother.

Almost a half-century after that first Christmas train, Sheppard, a 30-year veteran of the trading world, has held on to more than memories. Sheppard - unlike most people who outgrew their trains, or let the garbage man or a relative have them - has held on to his childhood Lionel trains. And, over the years, he has greatly expanded his collection.

Today, he devotes a room in his suburban New Jersey house solely to his trains. A former market maker and now an institutional trader who specializes in Canadian stocks, Sheppard's train collection has some 350 cars and 40 engines. He tries to recreate some of the scenes of his youth, when so many long forgotten railroads passed through his hometown or through Grand Central Terminal in New York City, where he would visit as a young man.

The train collection takes up the better part of Sheppard's den. And yet he still must keep many of his trains packed away because there just isn't enough space for his considerable collection.

Why? What is the allure to a middle-age man who won't give up his trains?

"I suppose it is because it brings back such fond memories. I mean all they can do is go around in circles. But somehow it just brings out the kid in you," according to Sheppard. He tries to recapture scenes from his childhood; different railroads linking up, yards and stations that were part of his youth.

In the winter months, when there are fewer outside activities, Sheppard says he spends a lot of time with his trains.