The toy train hobby needs new customers for the hobby to grow! It can't survive with just the current group of people purchasing products. This is the case with most businesses; they need to grow, not just sustain themselves. So how do manufacturers grow the hobby? It has long been my observation that when people see trains in operation in person, they become interested. Once that first purchase is made, they are likely to purchase at least a few companion pieces. The manufacturers need to create new customers and supply product not necessarily for layout use. Trains need to be incorporated into our lives beyond the Christmas season. One thing I enjoyed seeing recently was an episode of a Food Network cooking show, the Barefoot Contessa, episode IG1006, where a 3 rail O gauge train was used on a buffet table, running between the platters of exceptional food. (This program was for a baby shower with only adult women in attendance.) I have run a handcar while serving dessert on a dining room table, but I now feel that the idea has great potential for selling train sets, to new customers!
(The other issue that needs to be addressed is the space that people think is necessary for the operation of trains. We need creative, interesting small track plans for smaller locomotives, like the Porter or Docksider and small motorized items like trolleys and handcars. This is the way to have equipment look better on small set-ups with tight curves.)
So putting an operating train on the buffet table is a great start! Lets promote that idea and see what happens! My intention is not to support any particular manufacturer, but the Lionel name has great power with the consumer, and they can capitalize on that. The toy train hobby needs some well placed advertisement in a magazine or TV program popular with women, with trains on the buffet table among great food, hoping it sparks new interest and brings new blood into the hobby. We need more than just a fad, but it is a start!
If someone could make a garlic and olive oil based smoke fluid, I can imagine the Porter puffing around plates of Sicilian food on a table set for any special occasion, any time of the year. The hoppers can be filled with grated cheese, olives, and other condiments. For a cocktail party, hors d'oeuvres on flatcars, things on toothpicks, even dips in gondolas, would be great fun. Just don't let the engineer drink and drive!
Here are some other opportunities for incorporating trains into celebratory tables and buffets:
Father's Day, Mother's Day
Easter (colored eggs in hoppers)
Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day (red, white, and blue, with American flags)
And don't forget Christmas!!!!