By Stephanie Butzer
Don Starling and Robert Stockard collected model trains for the same reason: They were amazed by them. But the collectors’ trains and layout accessories will be sold at an auction in late March with different motives.
When Starling, a Burlington city councilman, passed away Oct. 27, 2008, his wife, Priscilla Starling, had his trains and train accessories in her hands — over 1,000 pieces. Some trains were brand new and had not been removed from their boxes and others were used.
Starling decided to sell the collection because they were not being used in her house. She did not turn the switches on to run the trains around the tracks, she said. The stillness was uninteresting to visitors.
She gave a few of the two dozen sets to friends and family, including Stockard.
The Stockards and Starlings were good friends and would take trips together as couples, Starling said. She worked as a principal under Stockard, a previous Alamance County school superintendent.
She said her husband and Stockard were almost like brothers; many people thought they were.
Both men received their first model train on Christmas — Stockard got his as a child and Starling received his about 25 years ago.
Priscilla Starling said she thought it was humorous that her husband asked for a model train that year, but she bought one for him.
“He just wanted that one toy train,” she said. “He didn’t like anything else. I guess it just got his fancy.”
The first model train Starling received kick-started his interest into collecting them. He went to train conventions and joined the Train Collector’s Association and Lionel Collectors Club of America. He also traveled to York, Pa. to attend the Train Collectors Association’s biggest meeting.
auctStockard also has gone to the convention in York.
“It’s the Mecca,” he said.
When he moved with his wife to a new house in Elon, they had an empty space above the garage. Stockard had created a small layout with his model trains at his previous house, but with this additional space he was able to expand his collection to be 8-by-21 feet.
“I had it in the back of my mind that I would like to build a layout,” Stockard said. “I had the space outside and I was retired so I started on it.”
When Stockard heard Starling was going to sell her late husband’s model train collection in an auction, he asked her if he could sell his at the auction as well.
“I reached my limit,” Stockard said. “If I do anything further, I’m going to have to take (the layout) apart, reorganize it and rebuild it differently. I really didn’t want to do that.”
Stockard said he will use the extra space to display his new hobby — model ships he has built from scratch.
Stockard and Starling are working with auctioneer Joel Isley from Gibsonville. The auction will take place March 29 and 30 at 7 p.m. at the Ramada Convention Center in Burlington.
The men loved trains but Stockard said it was time to move on and Starling said she felt that her husband’s collection could be put to better use.
“He loved trains and anybody who knew him knew that,” she said.
Stockard said his years with the model trains have brought him happiness but he is ready to explore other interests, such as his ship models.
“I did what I set out to do — build a layout and run it — and now I’m ready to move on,” Stockard said.
Joel Isley can be reached at 336-263-6141