I remember my first train set - anyone who had one probably does. It was a starter set that my grandmother bought me when I was about 10 or so. I remember setting it up in her basement; I remember how the track pieces snapped together, how I would carefully hook up the wires from the transformer to the track and then set the cars onto the track. The set had just enough track to make an oval or a small figure-eight, but I can still remember the sounds and the slight ozone smell as the train ran around the track.
Unlike many people, I never had a train in later years to put under my Christmas tree. I always wanted to get one, but other things took priority or I wasn't going to be at home during the holidays. Now of course, getting a scale train set, even a starter set, is pretty expensive: $800 to $1,000. Especially if you want a Lionel set - and really, when you think of trains, what other name comes to mind?
Well, it seems I may not get the chance now. In fact, nobody may get the chance after this year. Seems that Lionel has had to file for bankruptcy, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription). And while filing for protection allows them to continue manufacturing and selling product for now, there is no guarantee that they will come out of bankruptcy.
There are other companies that make trains beside Lionel. But for those of us who grew up in the 50s and 60s, the loss of this brand would be the loss of one more memorable icon from our childhoods. That would be sad indeed.