Greensburg resident turns locomotive fascination into decades of business
Several model trains appropriately churned, chugged and whistled as they rounded the miniature Horseshoe Curve display behind John A. Brady inside his popular Southwest Greensburg store while he explained his lifelong fascination with trains of all shapes and sizes.
The 75-year-old is a daily fixture at his iconic Brady’s Train Outlet off South Main Street. He recalled a prior career delivering heavy duty industrial truck parts for Point Spring at a Jeannette food supplier when a Norfolk Southern diesel engine happened to pass. The mechanical wonder immediately froze Brady in his tracks as he walked back to his truck.
“The man I was working with at the supplier came out and asked, ‘What’s wrong John?’ ” Brady said. “And I told him I’m just admiring that train. That’s the nature of this, you either have the fascination or you don’t, and I certainly have it.”
He still does.
Brady’s Train Outlet has been in business for more than 40 years although the storefront has only been in existence for just over 15 years, Brady said.
Brady, a McKeesport native who now lives in Greensburg, has been selling model trains since the 1970s. He said it started out of the basement of his house as he worked numerous train shows.
“I traveled up and down the East Coast working a lot of model train shows. I was making connections,” Brady said.
However, in the 1990s, Brady said show inventories began taking over his house and he opened a store on the 700 block on South Main Street, also in Southwest Greensburg. He quickly outgrew that space, which led him to his current location at 1046 S. Main about seven years ago.
The current location also is stacked with train inventory, including engines, passenger cars, box cars, cabooses, specialty cars from all eras; train tracks, accessories such as water towers, railroad crossings, bridges, lighting systems, and hundreds of model houses and storefronts.
Some people go there looking for a starter set to get into the hobby or for a specific piece, while others come in to browse and take a step back in time — like 58-year-old Don Pyle of Greensburg, who looked like a kid in a candy store as he looked at Brady’s inventory.
“I already own 10 trains. About a day after Thanksgiving, the table comes out of the dining room and goes to the basement and the train display goes up,” said Pyle, who is on a first-name basis with Brady.
“John’s really great to deal with. If you have a question about anything, he’s more than happy to help you out. And if he doesn’t have a part or something, he’s usually able to tell you where you could find one,” Pyle said.
Although Pyle maintained he was there to “browse,” he was eyeing a special Canadian Pacific Holiday Train hanging on a wall display.
Brady said it is rewarding to watch the faces on grandparents and their young grandkids as they wander around the store and look at the working displays and the various trains.
“I’m really lucky to have something that is a lot of fun and brings a lot of joy to a lot of people,” he said.
Brady noted the business has changed a lot over the years. Decades ago, many were looking at trains for their collectible value, but that trend ended.
He noted that today’s children love their smartphones, game systems and iPads.
“They really aren’t interested in a train that just goes around a track and does nothing. They want the lights and some action to keep them active and have fun,” he said.
Brady said train manufacturers have designed trains with lights and gadgets to load and unload to capture the young consumers.
“Trains do more than ever,” he said.
While showing customers around the store, Brady often demonstrates instead of a stationary transformer, trains today that come with hand-controlled remotes “and you can even download an app on your cellphone to operate the train or blow the whistle,” he said.
He admitted people still come in and mention that they believe trains of yesteryear were better than today.
“That’s not true. Today’s trains can do so much more,” he said.
With the hundreds of trains throughout the store and with the multiple active train displays, Brady was asked whether he has a train set at home. He laughed.
“Yes. It’s a PLE (Pittsburgh and Lake Erie) Railroad on one track around a Christmas tree,” he said. “It’s my favorite. My dad was an engineer with the old PLE.”
Paul Peirce is a
Tribune-Review staff writer.
You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.