As one of the longest standing family businesses in the Tampa Bay region, HR Trains & Toys is well-known. As a matter of fact, as you drive into Pinellas Park on U.S. Highway 19, you’re greeted with a sign: “HR Trains welcomes you to Pinellas Park.”

The company has been in business for 43 years, and up until last December, their store was located right next to the sign. But since they moved down the road a bit, their impact as a train enthusiast shop has only continued to grow.

Now called HR Trains & Toys, they promote their worldwide renown as a model railroader’s paradise on their website. On a visit to the store, I found out why.

The store was packed full of anything and everything one could possibly want in trains, whether they were a casual fan or the kind of enthusiast who keeps trains running on an elaborate setup in their home 365 days a year.

A Thomas the Tank Engine table with wooden tracks and trains was the first thing that caught my eye, because I had the exact set for my two oldest sons more than 20 years ago, when they were young. A six-year-old Franklin Lachance was playing with the trains while his father Chris was asking a sales clerk about a “big boy” set he was thinking about buying for his son.

Chris told me that Franklin had always loved trains and he had been bringing him to HR since he was a baby. Developing and fostering that love of trains from a young age is what the HR staff tries to do. They have various types of tracks set up all over the store for customers to try out, and since they have a nice outdoor space at their new location, they will begin running some of the larger trains out there on Saturday mornings for the kids to enjoy.

Plus, they even plan to start some clinics where they will teach those interested in building their own tracks all about designing a layout and laying the track. The last class will cover how to add in scenery details. For each clinic you come to, you get a raffle ticket for a drawing in which you can win the class layout that has been created.

When you see how many options that are available and how detailed some of the model trains are, you will be happy to get some more direction on how to do it correctly. Who knows, by the time I’m ready to take on a hobby like model trains, I may be able to hire Franklin to train me himself.

Debbie Flessner writes the Live Like a Tourist column for the Sun newspapers. You may contact her at dj@flessner.net.

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