Chuck McCabe never outgrew his love of trains. Like many of his generation, the 81-year-old grew up with a model train circling the Christmas tree each year. He was enamored with it.
Even working as a switchman and engine foreman for the Illinois Central Railroad could not quench his love for hobby trains. It’s a love he has shared with others as the owner of Chuck’s Depot, a hobby shop in Marion since 1994.
“We sell radio-controlled aircraft and vehicles, all kinds of hobby supplies, models like plastic cars, trucks and airplanes and model railroad equipment in N scale and HO scale,” McCabe says.
The model trains and accessories are the heart of the business, the store itself is modeled after a Type 22 Union Pacific Depot. Retail space takes up the first floor. McCabe and his wife of 62 years, Jean, live upstairs and the basement is a wall-to-wall HO scale electric train layout.
It was McCabe’s hobby of model railroading that led him to the retail side of the pastime.
“I started a layout at home and I couldn’t buy the products I wanted locally, so I decided to put in a hobby shop,” he recalls. “Plus, it would give me something to do when I retired.”
McCabe says he prefers what is known as HO scale, the most popular size of model trains. HO engines and rolling stock are 1/87 the size of the real thing. He says there are more HO trains and accessories available than any other size and the scale makes up 78 percent of all model railroading sales.
Chuck’s Depot is more than just a supply house for model railroaders, it also serves as a sort of meeting place, where enthusiasts gather to share their love of the hobby and, sometimes to work on McCabe’s own layout together.
“The basement is 64 feet long. That’s a scale mile,” he explains in talking about the basement layout that features dozens of engines and hundreds of boxcars, flatbeds and tankers as well as railyards, communities and roads. “There’s five tracks going the full length of that side — the main lines.”
McCabe doesn’t know exactly how many feet of track are part of the layout, but he says there is more than two miles of wiring beneath the table. A much smaller train layout is featured in the retail space, surrounded by accessories ranging from buildings and people to trees and of course, trains.
“The electronics have changed so much over the years,” he explains. “This is all radio-controlled now. Years ago, it used to be that there was polarity in the track. The track is powered up now. You send radio signals through the track to the engine. Each engine has its own receiver and you call it up to do whatever you want to. They can even program engines to go to work at a certain time of day.”
McCabe says he’s come a long way from his first layout which was about the size of a sheet of plywood and he’s happy to share the hobby with people from all over the country. He says he’s had customers from coast to coast come in his store.
“Once they come, they almost always come back,” he adds.
Plus, he says, there are lots of local model railroaders who are regulars at Chuck’s Depot.
“We have a lot of great modelers here,” he explains. “It’s people from every industry and occupation: doctors, college presidents, lawyers, mechanics, laborers, every type of industry. This is a release for people,” he says.
And, like a freight train, McCabe and his store just keeps chugging on down the track. In fact, he acts somewhat surprised when asked how long he intends to keep the business going.
“I plan on doing this as long as I can. After all, I’m only 81,” he says with a smile.
Chuck’s Depot is located at 1913 W. Rendelman St. in Marion. The phone number is 618-993-9179.