The Buck Brings Model Trains Back to Life

Anybody who knows restaurateur Ken Kozminski knows that he cannot and will not sit still for very long, unless he’s in a hunting blind. The rest of the time he is a perpetual motion machine, and he’s always thinking ahead to the next great thing in his life. As owner and operator of The Buck Burgers & Brew in downtown St. Joseph, Ken was contemplating an interesting winter project when the pace is a bit more relaxed at his popular establishment. Most in the crowd will concur that he’s struck gold with the idea he has generated.

While in search of that interesting winter project, Ken found a cohort in crime in the form of Tom McComas who owns the I Love Toy Trains store in New Buffalo. Tom and his son Jeff and Ken’s son, 12 year old Parker all are playing key roles in this next great thing — a model train. Actually, two of them.

Everyone loves a train, and Ken hearkened back to the days of the former H.I.’s Saloon in downtown St. Joe which sported a train suspended from the ceiling. The former Hobby Horse Toy Store downtown also featured a toy train.

Ken’s son Parker is an avid train aficionado, who thrives on all things train.

Aaron Gibson, owner of Aaron’s Handyman Service in St. Joseph, was brought in on the project for his expertise and talents as a handyman carpenter. Gibson and his crew were excited to join the project which will place a suspended train track from the open air balcony on the second floor of The Buck at 412 State Street in the central business district.

Aaron says, “No other venue in our area currently has anything like it, and the inside balcony at The Buck was a perfect set up.”

The Buck has now launched the process of installing a dual track of two model trains in a loop around the inside balcony of the highly popular bar and restaurant. Aaron says, “It has been a four month journey, determining the best way to build a structure to support the train system, and what an ideal layout might be, while keeping in mind that it must be done in a ‘classy way,’ and flow with the atmosphere of The Buck.

After months of meetings, it was determined that the two train system would be installed, each with its own loop and traveling in opposite directions. The two train approach allows for the trains to take breaks, reducing the wear and tear on the wheel system and to reduce heat.

Parker is a huge fan of Tom’s I Love Toy Trains video series, and visited the store with his dad to talk about installing a layout at The Buck.

Bob Phillips, a St. Joe resident who helps manage Tom’s store, is a certified Lionel train repairman. Bob tells me that when Ken contacted him about his experience with the H.I.’s Saloon train, “He wanted to dazzle his customers, and I agreed. Two trains running around would be very exciting.”

The layout at The Buck consists of two Lionel 11 x 30-foot loops of track. The inner loop is Standard Gauge and the outer loop is the smaller O Gauge. The beautiful, brass-trimmed, two-tone blue Blue Comet steam locomotive and its four passenger cars runs on the inner loop, while the classic Santa Fe F3, with the red and silver war bonnet paint scheme, runs on the outer loop.

Bob tells us that “In the early 1950s, toy trains topped every kid’s wish list, and Lionel was the largest toy company in the world.” By the 60s, slot cars had replaced toy trains as the number one toy and Lionel sales plummeted. General Mills, the cereal giant, saw the potential of Lionel and took over production in 1970, moving manufacturing to Mt. Clemens, Michigan, and a new era began. Modern day trains, like the ones being installed at The Buck are beautiful.

As a series of signals, gates and lights will be included in the installation, the layout of the track system will allow for future construction of a scenic “street scape” in the form of store front replicated from photos of popular buildings in St. Joseph. As expected, as the layout evolves, plans are in place to help capture the holidays in the layout, so stay tuned to see what Christmas might look like at The Buck later this year.

Without a doubt, it will be exciting to see the trains in action. Aaron’s Handyman Service started construction of the elaborate support system back on Tuesday, and Ken tells me that there is hope that the trains will come to life later this month.

The Buck will plan a train “Christening Party” once the locomotives start rolling, so stay tuned to social media avenues from The Buck for additional information.

With all of the features the new trains offer, the value of old, original Lionel has diminished, however there are still collectors out there who prefer the older trains, so if you have some old trains and are wondering about their value, you can reach Tom McComas by phone at 219-879-2822 for assessment help.

In the photo accompanying this story on Moody on the, you can see work underway with track installation along the balcony, and if you look in the far left of the photo, you can see a couple of the train cars and their size relative to one another.