Roy Aydelotte’s Loco Motives
Meet one of the Traverse City's Festival of Trains' dedicated engineers
By Kristi Kates | Dec. 16, 2017
When deciding on a city to live in, most people have a checklist in mind of the things they’d like to have in their new hometown.
For Traverse City’s Roy Aydelotte, who grew up in the metro Detroit area, he wanted his retirement city to be big enough to have all the basic services, some enjoyable pastimes … and it absolutely had to be a place that the Pennsylvania Railroad had gone to.
“Both of my grandfathers had worked for the ‘Pennsy’ — it’s my favorite railroad,” Aydelotte explained.
As you might have guessed, Aydelotte is a train aficionado.
He spent 11 years at the National Toy Train Museum in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, where he volunteered and was then appointed chairman the last year he was there.
He’s currently the secretary of the Northern Michigan RailRoad Club (NMRRC), and he also runs his own model trains business, RoyzTrains, that specializes in model railroading repairs, upgrades, lighting, and more. His wife, June, even joins in from time to time, assisting at various train meets that the couple travel to.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Aydelotte’s love for trains started when he was only five years old.
“I remember it was Christmas time, and my father decided it was time to get the trains out,” he said. “He and a couple of his brothers had started collecting trains when he was a teenager. We were only allowed to play with the trains when dad was home; and if we ran them off the tracks, we kids were done for the day!”
His father’s collection was comprised entirely of Lionel-brand model trains dating back to 1938.
“Around 1976, my father passed away, and my younger brother, Bill, and I got together and said, ‘Well, what do we do about the trains,’” Aydelotte said. “We divided them up at first, but eventually I got all of them, as his interest in the trains wasn’t as great as mine.”
By 1978, Aydelotte had set up a basic track, and in going through the trains, found that some of them needed work.
“I was living in Florida at the time, so I contacted a local repair guy. Under his tutelage and guidance, I learned a lot about fixing model trains. I think he was about 80 years old at the time. His hands would shake, so he’d have me do a lot of the work, and that’s how I learned.”
From there, his work in systems acquisitions for the U.S. Air Force kept him traveling back and forth across America.
“Whenever I was traveling, I’d seek out trains, at shops and local train meets,” he said.
Today, he focuses mostly on high-end model trains.
“An engine for what I’m currently collecting might run $700 to $2,000,” Aydelotte said. “I’ve probably got eight different brands in my collection and over 2,000 items in all — 90 percent of them are engines and train cars. The current track I’ve got set up in my house occupies about 600 square feet.”
He takes a small portion of his collection to the Festival of Trains each year, where he joins his fellow NMRRC train enthusiasts in putting together a train display that measures 42 feet long and 20 feet wide.
“All of the members will put together a module, a section of track that’s four feet long and includes buildings and scenery, sometimes cars and people,” explained Aydelotte.
“The club owns the main track, and the modules attach to it to make one big, long display train set. We all decorate differently, so it’s really neat. This year, one half of the display is Christmas; the other half mixes city and country scenes. Most have buttons you can press when viewing the display to make lights go on, windmills turn, and such.”
Over 6,000 visitors view the Festival of Trains each year. In addition to the main display, the event also includes a variety of different gauge (size) train sets. For many, the festival is an annual seasonal tradition, a throwback to older times when classic toys like model trains were the pinnacle of what kids would find under their holiday tree.
For Aydelotte, the festival is yet another way to stay connected to his favorite hobby.
“There are two aspects I really like about model trains,” he said. “One: getting my hands dirty fixing the trains and then playing with them. Two: Like at the festival, I just love meeting other people who are interested in model trains.”
Aydelotte’s train repairing and customizing business is royztrains.com. The Northern Michigan RailRoad Club is at nmrrc.org.
BLOW OFF STEAM
The 2017 Festival of Trains runs December 14–31 at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Traverse City at 322 Sixth St. Admission is $5 per person. More information on the festival can also be found at nmrrc.org, or you can search the festival page on Facebook.