Tag Archives: David Mrsny

House of Trains

December 6, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

David Mrsny can show customers how model trains have changed since his grandfather opened the family’s sales and service shop 81 years ago with a three-part answer pulled from storage: First, there is a clunky metal 1930s-era model train caboose, with rudimentary windows and few other details. Second comes a train car kit from 1940 (in the original box), comprised of wood and metal bits that require complete assembly.

He contrasted these ancient pieces with a modern-day N-scale engine car—a three-inch long piece of mechanical wizardry complete with sounds and tiny details, including impossibly small blades in the roof’s air vents. No assembly required.

Like the trains themselves, the model train business and its technology has changed dramatically throughout the decades at the House of Trains, a Benson neighborhood fixture since Leonard and Verna Mrsny moved their shop from east Omaha to 81st and Maple streets in 1952.

David and his father, Dick Mrsny, bought the shop from grandpa Leonard in 1989. Today, David and his wife, Marci, keep the trains running for hundreds of model train hobbyists. Dick also runs Omaha Stamp Co. next door, another long-running family enterprise.

Operating a hobby store, David says, has been transformed by technology where parts and advice can be sought online, and in a culture where iPads and other electronic toys have replaced traditional hobby pursuits.

“Being able to help people has helped keep it going, especially in the last five years,“ says David, who also repairs unique items such as music boxes and electronic Christmas ornaments to boost his revenue. “I like being able to help people enjoy the hobby. [Because it is] altruistic…you can make a living doing that,“ David explains with a laugh.

The clientele is diverse, but a common thread is older men with extra time and disposable income who remember when model train sets were the hobby of their youth.

House of Trains customer George Sinos remembers those days well.

“I’m in my 60s, and growing up in the ’50 and ’60s, a model train was like the Xbox of today,“ says Sinos, who retired after a long career at OPPD. “Model railroads were something you did as a kid, and then you get away from it. Then with more time and money, you drift back in.“

When Sinos re-caught the model train bug in 2013, he turned to David, who gave him pointers about the hobby and helped him build his setup.

Sinos finds pleasure in newfangled digital control systems and the electronics behind how the trains work. Others, David says, like the pre-made setups that came on the scene more than a decade ago. Some like the assembly, which today is less about constructing trains and more about putting together the parts to create a train environment, including buildings and even whole cities.

Marci sums up the appeal of modern-day model railroading by stating, “We’ve had a lot of people tell us that they can shut themselves off from work and it’s like their own little world. They can do what they want and can make the hobby as hectic or as relaxing as they want it to be.“

Visit houseoftrains.net for more information.

This article published in the Fall 2017 edition of B2B.

David Mrsny

Train Collecting

November 13, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Omaha area owes much to the railroad industry. The city’s history, and indeed, the entire history of the railroad are spiked with significant links throughout.

It comes as no surprise then that the Omaha area has a thriving culture of railroad enthusiasts. They collect model trains, meet regularly to share stories, memories, and swap items.

Some even enjoy what is called “rail fanning,” which is going out on location to see actual train operations in action or going to a train museum. “Rail fanning is watching trains,” says John Moore of Omaha. Moore adds, “The Omaha-Council Bluffs area is just as good as Kansas City for rail fanning.”

Says Moore: “…the UP Main Line by the Durham [the old Union and Burlington Stations] is always a great place. There are so many great places to rail fan throughout the metro. Millard along Industrial and Bob Boozer is one of my favorites, good chance to see loaned power from Norfolk Southern, CSX, and even the Kansas City Southern. Fremont, Blair, Ashland, Missouri Valley, and Gretna each have much going on or through. Don’t forget about all the great museums and train stores! BNSF’s Havelock Shops and Dobson Yard are a short drive down to Lincoln and never disappoint.”

Nebraska-Iowa Railroaders

Moore goes rail fanning with fellow members of The Nebraska-Iowa Railroaders. They are one of the area’s most active clubs for railroad enthusiasts. It has about 110 members of all ages and backgrounds. A member-at-large, Moore says, “Our members range in age from 7 to 80. The membership is mostly older, although some are in their forties, and we have some teenage guys, too. Some members bring their grandkids to the meetings.”

The Nebraska-Iowa Railroaders have a 5,500-square-foot train room inside Mall of the Bluffs. It features 10 large, model railroad layouts of various scales. The train room is open to the public on Saturdays from 11-4 p.m. On Saturdays, members are on site to operate the model trains, help visitors with questions about trains, or just socialize. In addition to other activities, they hold monthly meetings and an annual train show in June.

Omaha’s Train Hobby Shops

Rod Lilley started Train Time Hobby in 2005. Located on South 84th Street in LaVista, Train Time Hobby caters to modelers of all ages, with its selection of trains from wooden Thomas the Train sets (young children enjoy these) to realistic scale 
electric models.

Lilley says the train collecting culture is “strong in Omaha with Union Pacific and Burlington Northern. A lot of guys are still active or retired employees.”

Lilley says, “Many collectors started when they were younger. As you get older, you have more time on your hands, and you’re looking for a new hobby. I get a lot of guys who come in here who need a hobby. They’re ready to do something they remember from 
their childhood.”

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John Moore, member of Nebraska-Iowa Railroaders

Across town at 81st and Maple streets in Omaha, David Mrsny owns and operates House of Trains. Mrsny along with his brother Richard, bought the business from his father Leonard, who founded it in 1938 as Kenwood Model Railroad Supply.

“Omaha is one of the bigger markets anywhere,” Mrsny says, and goes on to list about a half-dozen clubs devoted to the hobby, not to mention about the same number of annual train shows in the area.

In the late 1990s, Burt Reynolds walked into the House of Trains. Says Mrsny, “A Lincoln Town Car pulled up, and he got out wearing sunglasses, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat.” Mrsny cites several other model train hobbyist celebrities, including James Joseph “Jim” Parsons, who plays Sheldon Cooper on the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Frank Sinatra and Rod Stewart are also known to have collected train models.

Mrsny started collecting trains as a youngster. “When I was little you had a 4’x8’ layout. If you were really in to it, you had two.” Mrsny says nowadays, collectors are not satisfied with having a small railroad collection—they want more trains!

Collection of a Lifetime

One of these zealous collectors, Ron Bond of Bellevue, has an entire train layout room in his home’s finished lower level. A hallway leading to the 1,100-square-foot room is flanked by custom-built display cases holding some of Bond’s showpiece models.

Bond’s wife Suzanne shows patience and understanding for his hobby, as she herself is a collector (although she enjoys vintage glassware instead of model trains).

Bond’s massive layout comes to life with realistic backgrounds and scenery modeled after his hometown of Downingtown, Pa. “It took 13 years to build the layout,” says Bond. “Most of it was done three years ago. Two guys in the [Nebraska-Iowa Railroaders] club helped out, Francis McGovern and Larry Galkowski. Danny Botos did the wiring.”

As Bond operates the trains, reaching across an array of controls, he has the timing of a modern DJ. He hopes at some point to upgrade his system “before his Social Security runs out,” he says with a laugh.

A framed picture hangs on the wall of Bond’s home; a child’s drawing of a locomotive pulling several cars. “I drew that picture in second grade, 1943-1944,” he says with a proud smile. A rail fan for a lifetime.