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December 16, 2013

Bainbridge model railroad attracted many locals 35 years ago

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The Daily Star

---- — Toys that were all the rage 35 years ago centered on the theme of outer space. Oneonta area merchants were hard pressed to keep the selection of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Space 1999 and Star Trek toys on their shelves in 1978.

While many kids’ imaginations were racing through space with these toys, other kids — of any age — still liked the old reliable toys on terra firma, such as the electric train set.

Something involving a train set was likely waiting to be opened under the Christmas tree at the Edward Lucker residence in Bainbridge in 1978, as the family went all-out every year during the holidays, setting up a remarkable display of trains in their family dining room for local residents to see.

Edward Lucker told The Daily Star that the village display of trains ran on 120 linear feet of track, and represented about 25 years of collecting trains during his marriage with Jean, and setting up a special display for each Christmas season.

Edward came from a railroad city, Scranton, Pa., and carried on a tradition his parents had always kept during the holidays.

“We don’t touch them during the year,” Lucker said. “We like to keep it a special Christmas tradition.”

Lucker said he and his wife started out with one track and one train. The collection grew enormously.

“When we tell the kids now that we used to put the train up in one evening, they just laugh at us,” he said, “because now, with all the preparation of the platform and the wiring it takes us close to a week — but we don’t put the final touches on it and run the trains until Christmas Eve.”

The Luckers had to dine elsewhere for a short time, as the platform base of the display was eight feet by 15 feet, which filled their dining room.

Most of the trains were bought between 1954 and 1957, all of them in the American Flyer series of trains, made by the A.C. Gilbert Company. The collection included freight trains and passenger cars, as well as the many accessories and buildings to make up the layout.

Edward Lucker was already grooming his son Alan and daughter Nancy to carry on the tradition at the time. Edward said the first train was bought before their first child was born.

“We figured we’d give our son a train set,” Lucker said, “but our first born turned out to be a girl, so we decided to continue with the trains anyway, and she loves them.”

Lucker said the two kids had done a lot of the work to set up the trains that year.

“We might try and get them to do it all next year,” he said.

Lucker was an employee of Bendix Corporation in Sidney, known today as Amphenol. He said the family invited over as many people as possible, particularly children, to see the yearly display.

“It gives the kids a chance to see something that’s fun,” he said, adding that a few years earlier a school bus full of kids came by to see the display.

The train set was left up a different length of time each year.

“It pretty much depends on the tree,” he said, “as long as the tree looks good and keeps its needles.”

Members of the Lucker family have since passed on or moved out of the area, and an effort to find out if the Christmas train tradition was kept was unsuccessful at this time. Hopefully it can be determined at a later date.

This weekend: A 1923 Christmas celebration.

Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.