The shiny black Hudson locomotive circling endlessly in Ed Dougherty's toy-train museum is as solid as a 10-year-old's heartbeat. Sparks sputter from under the wheels, smoke trails from the stack, and when the engine clatters past the Lionel newsstand, lanterns light up, a newsy moves forward, a paperboy spins around with his extras and a Dalmatian jitterbugs with a fireplug. Dougherty watches this buzzing activity with the ingenuousness of a boy cruising 50. "My golf career won't last forever," he says wistfully. "But my love of trains will."
The 48-year-old Dougherty has been chugging bravely along the PGA Tour's tracks since 1975, toting up more than $1 million in prize money. Last year he had three top-20 finishes and was tied for the lead in the Honda Open after the second round; he stayed on the leader board until flying off the rails in the fourth round. After being sidelined with a shoulder injury early this year, he earned the lone victory of his career, in the Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic in July. Dougherty recognizes what an anomaly that performance was. "Sundays are like train wrecks for me," he says. "I come into the 18th hole spewing oil. Not leaking, spewing! If not for Sundays I'd be buying a lot more trains."
As it is, Dougherty owns nearly every choochoo made by Lionel from 1946 to '69. His collection is housed in a converted garage behind his mother's house in Linwood, Pa. (He designed the two-story structure between rounds at the '87 New Orleans Open.) Downstairs he keeps Western civilization's most complete assemblage of postwar Lionel poster art and advertising displays. Upstairs, shelves that reach nearly to the ceiling are stacked with hundreds of trains—polished mementos of decades of Christmases and survivors of thousands of high-speed derailments.
"Lionel is probably the most popular train today," says Dougherty. "It's got to be the most widely collected." He pronounces Lionel "Lie-NELL," which is how most collectors say the name of the company Joshua Lionel Cohen started at the turn of the century. "All I've got is Lie-NELL," Dougherty states. "It's the only...." He stops abruptly, having lost his train of thought.
Dougherty got into training while still in utero. His pregnant mom bought him a freight set with a log-dump car, a coal loader and a searchlight caboose. He still has it, as well as the Red Texas Special diesel passenger set Santa brought him when he was seven. A premature Gomez Addams, young Ed would run the freight engine west and the diesel east on the same track. "I staged fantastic crashes," Dougherty recalls. "I stopped when I realized Santa wasn't leaving me trains anymore."
Dougherty began collecting in earnest in the mid-1970s. He was so earnest that he painted WANTED: LIONEL TRAINS on the bottom of his golf bag and kept it like that for six years. He now routinely skips Wednesday pro-ams to poke around hobby shops and add to his collection. During the 1978 Greater Milwaukee Open he bought out an entire train store. Sometimes Dougherty collects and golfs simultaneously. At an event in '92 he made a deal with a spectator on the 3rd tee.
The haggling for Dougherty's prized 1957 rolling-stock Ferris wheel display took considerably longer. He spotted it years ago in a Northampton, Mass., train store, but the owner, Chip Childs, wouldn't sell it. "The only way you're going to get it," Childs told Dougherty, "is to come in first at a tournament."
Dougherty called Childs the day after losing a sudden-death playoff at the 1990 Greater Milwaukee Open. "Hey, Chip," he said. "When am I going to get that Ferris wheel display?"
"What do you mean?" said Childs. "I said win."
"No, you said come in first," Dougherty said triumphantly. "Which I did."