All aboard at the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Toy train enthusiasts from across the country are in downtown until Saturday for the Lionel Collectors Club of America (LCCA) convention. But for some collectors, this week is about more than just the show, it's about passing on an old hobby to a new generation.

Eight-year-old Jacob Messner spent Monday morning playing conductor at the Choo Choo. He owns trains of his own but this is the first time he's controlled anything this big: an eight by 40 foot Lionel toy train track.

"I have one train set and lots and lots of cars. Like one train set but lots of cars!" he said.

Jacob's grandfather, Todd Messner, is a lifelong collector.

"I'd like to see more his age getting into it," said Messner. "I got my first set in 1956. Boy that was a long time ago. My grandson now plays with that set cause I took real good care of it."

The Messner's flew from Pennsylvania just for this week's events and to cherish moments like Jacob's first time controlling the train.

"There's still hope that these children will acclimate themselves to these trains because part of this hobby is learning all different aspects of electricity, carpentry, scenery and also incorporates a lot of history too," said Lionel's Event Manager Tom Nuzzo.

Nuzzo hopes younger generations catch onto his hobby. And judging by Jacob's passion, Nuzzo thinks they're on the right track.

"I got one train track from Lionel from Santa Clause and then I started getting lots of them," said Jacob.

"Hopefully someday, he'll have all my trains and have his kids play with them. That's the whole idea," said Messner.

Part of this week's events will be open to the public:

  • The toy train layout will be open to the public in the main lobby of the Choo Choo from Tuesday-Friday from 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • On Wednesday, the LCCA is teaming up with Make-A-Wish in the lobby to appoint a child as the "Honorary Conductor" of the day.
  • On Saturday, the LCCA will host a Free Toy Train Show & Swap Meet at Track 29 from 9-3.