Adolf Arnold’s 30-year passion for toy trains is over. The financial burden of running the museum that houses his prized 2,000-train collection has forced him to lock the doors.
“I feel like a child in my family has died. After 30 years of devoting your life to something and watching it grow, what do you do when it dies?” Arnold said about the A&D; Toy Train Village and Railway Museum.
He frequently broke into tears during a recent interview.
The 6-year-old museum let in its last official visitor in early January, with crowds lined up outside the door. Some people were turned away but were given vouchers for a special private viewing later.
Arnold also owns Engineer Advertising, an industrial advertising agency with an office behind the museum. For years, he used company profits to help keep the museum afloat.
“But that works only so long. And then the agency business went down, down, down because of the economy. So my wife and I, we re-mortgaged our house and put it in. I took my life insurance policy out, because I’m almost 65, and put it in. Then all of the sudden we were faced with more bills, and we had no more resources.”
It’s one of the largest private collections of toy trains in the country. There are needlepoint, wicker and crystal trains, and hundreds of the more standard models. Some trains ran continuously on tracks throughout the museum.
Last year from Jan. 1 to Jan. 4, normally the busiest time of year, 150 people visited the museum. This year, as word spread that it was closing, Arnold had about 2,000 visitors during the same period.
“Had it been like this just once in the past six years we would have had hope,” he said. Admission was $4.50 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children ages 4-12.
Arnold’s passion was born on Christmas Eve, 1961, when he gave his 3-year-old son, Douglas, two toy trains and some tracks. The trains soon became Arnold’s hobby.
The collection quickly outgrew the family home, so Arnold decided to open a museum in an old supermarket in Middleborough. Born on June 4, 1984, the museum was dubbed A&D;, for Adolf and Douglas. More than 173,000 visitors passed through the doors.
A train buff and frequent volunteer at the museum, George Wallace, 79, of Weymouth said Arnold was responsible for Wallace’s own fascination with toy trains.
“Like many youngsters, I didn’t have toy trains when I was a kid because we couldn’t afford it. But then I met Adolf and I couldn’t help but become interested in trains,” said Wallace, who has his own collection.
“It is so sad to see the place close because it was a part of my life. I will miss it.”
Arnold said he would like to sell the museum to someone who will keep it in Middleborough.
If that does not work out, he said, he would consider offers from buyers who want to relocate the collection. His final option would be to sell the trains individually.
He said he will keep “a very few” trains, and he plans to stop collecting.
“It was my idea to have a museum. I had one. And now anybody who wants to do it differently--go to it. It’s the end of the line for me.”