One would be hard pressed to identify any enterprise quite like it, even in surrounding counties. Its wares, its owner, and the attention to detail it provides customers each make it singularly unique.
When it comes to local hobby shops, Draude’s Derailment is certainly no train wreck.
Initially, John Draude turned his hobby into a business for customers who share his hobby. His passion for model trains became an adventure, and took on a life of its own.
That adventure has lasted 45 years.
Draude’s Derailment, located at 744 Cumberland Street in Lebanon, is one of the downtown’s anchor businesses. Over those years, it has developed a certain reputation — a standard, if you will — through word-of-mouth, customer service and fair dealings.
With devoted wife Barbara at his side, Draude’s Derailment is very much a family-owned and operated business. It is one of the few remaining brick-and-mortar enterprises that still sells model trains in the area.
“We’re the only one, and we don’t want any more,” said Draude, with a sly grin. “There was a model train store near Elizabethtown, but it recently burned down. For a store this size, you’d have to go far to find one.”
Draude doesn’t do mail orders. He doesn’t do computers. But he tries to help people when he can.
“We give them information. I want to sell them the products, but we don’t want them to buy something they don’t want. I treat people the way I like to be treated,” he said. “P.T. Barnum once said, ‘You can satisfy some of the people all the time, you can satisfy all of the people some of the time, but you can’t satisfy all the people all the time.’”
Picture this: Thirty-eight feet of store front, nearly half a city block long, packed with new and used model trains — all the gauges, from E and Z and N, all the way up to HO, OO, O and Standard — track, scenery, villages, electric generators, and all the accessories. Not only does Draude’s Derailment sell, buy and trade model trains, it also repairs them.
But that’s not all. Draude’s also offers slot cars, rockets, models, die-cast toys, figures, and even dinosaurs.
“When we first moved into the store, we worried about filling it up,” said Draude. “Now we’re trying to squeeze stuff in. I pretty much know where everything is. Every once in awhile, I’ll come across an item I forgot I had. But for the most part I remember, because I put it there.”
Draude believes model trains are a teaching tool.
“You learn about electricity a little bit. You work with your hands. You can solve problems. There are a lot of pluses to it. To me, it’s about the machinery. They almost have a soul,” he said. “I like to go to Strasburg and see the trains coming in and out, hear the sounds, smell the smoke. Those are just big pieces of machinery.”
The long-term success of Draude’s Derailment may be linked to America’s nearly 200-year fascination with the train.
As a mode of transportation, trains helped industrialize, modernize and revolutionize the United States. Collecting model trains may require a degree of imagination, but they represent something that everyone can relate to.
“There are some people who are into model trains and not into real trains, and vice versa,” said Draude, 75. “But with the vast majority, if you like one, you like both. A lot of people who come in here are train watchers. As far as transportation goes, Amtrak is still in business. There’s still an awful lot of freight being moved by trains, but it’s long distance. Trains were high tech in the 40s and 50s.”
Draude remembers the days when every family had a model train displayed at Christmas time.
“People my age were getting back to their childhood days,” he said. “It’s dwindling now, but there’s still an interest there.”
Not surprisingly, Draude’s Derailment has evolved into somewhat of a hub or meeting place for local train aficionados over the years, both big and small. Lebanon’s local history with trains very much mirrors that of the country’s as a whole.
“There are five to ten guys who come in here sporadically at night, they hang out and talk,” said Draude. “Trains are the biggest thing they talk about. They just talk, and trains are the common factor. Some of the guys are into the big trains. Some know about the local trains and the history of trains.”
Draude said the history of trains in Lebanon County is a familiar history for most communities across the country. Trains are how Tastykakes arrived in Lebanon from Philadelphia. They were crucial for the mining industry in Cornwall and for military training in Fort Indiantown Gap.
Originally, Draude’s Derailment was born in the basement of the Draudes’ residence, in 1975. It became more commercialized in 1981, when it moved into a shop at Fifth and Locust Streets in Lebanon.
Draude’s Derailment has been at its current location on Cumberland Street since 2000, after moving there from the old Charlie Bear’s Army-Navy store on Eighth Street, downtown.
“I had about four or five train sets in our basement when we got married,” said Draude, a native of Lancaster. “There were no real model train shops in Lebanon and a friend said, ‘You really out to have a store.’ Then in the 1980s, Charlie Bear’s came up for sale. Someone told me, ‘You can buy it cheap.’ Unfortunately, we bought it.
“As long as I can pay my bills, I’m happy,” added Draude. “What you see in here is what Barb and I have worked for, for the last 45 years. I just happened to like trains. I always did. If we would’ve gone to work at McDonald’s, and put the hours in there that we have here, we’d be so far ahead.”
Before retiring in 2004, Draude worked full-time with the phone company. At that time, Draude’s Derailment was merely a side pursuit.
“Barb would watch the store and I would come in at night to do repairs,” said Draude. “It’s supposed to make money. I tell my wife, ‘We’ll make money at it eventually. Maybe next year.’”
Draude said that while he’s not sure how much longer he and his wife will be able to continue keeping up with the store, he still enjoys it.
“If I weren’t here in the store, I’d be home too much,” he said. “I enjoy being able to tell people something and they say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ I’ve learned a lot along the way. But I’ve also learned that just because I like something, doesn’t mean the general public does.”
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