RIT professor runs train "hot line" this Christmas
Along with fighting busy malls and traffic jams, it's one of the holiday season's most maddening endeavors for parents: struggling against time to get toy trains set up and running by Christmas morning.
Behold, help has arrived. Tom Barker, associate professor of graduate statistics in the John D. Hromi Center for Quality and Applied Statistics and a lifelong collector of Gilbert American Flyer trains, is better than a magic elf to those at their wits' end struggling to hook up collectible toy-train sets.
"A philosophy of mine is that collecting and operating toy trains is a hobby to be shared freely with others who have the same interest," Barker says about why he gives free technical advice to anyone who asks.
Barker's Web site, www.rit.edu/~tbbeqa/ GAF.html, lets visitors ask questions about operation and repair of Gilbert American Flyer trains. He gives answers, at no charge, through e-mail.
"I help those who need advice or just a word of encouragement," he says. In addition to e-mail, Barker's book, Greenberg's American Flyer S Gauge Operating & Repair Manual, 1945-1965 (Kalmbach Publishing Co., 1983) helps those frustrated with trains that won't run.
Not surprisingly, Barker receives most requests for help during the holiday season, answering a few pleas every week on his Web site. He's even unselfishly aided people who've tracked him down in person on Christmas Eve.
"My reward is the thanks people send for helping them get back on the right track," he says.
Says one grateful toy-train enthusiast, Lawrence Claus (as far as we know, no relation to that other famous Claus) of Indiana, Pa., "Many thanks! You've helped get the holiday season off to a good start for at least one youngster."
Barker's love of toy trains began in 1951 when he got his first, a Gilbert American Flyer with a red caboose. At its peak, his collection numbered almost 500 engines and cars. Today, his collection is more modest in size, at about two dozen, now that he collects for fun rather than investment.
As a statistician, Barker has also written three books on experimental design and its applications. He holds numerous patents and, in 1983, received an RIT Outstanding Teacher Award.
But it's helping put smiles on the faces of young and old alike that Barker finds most rewarding, especially at holiday time.