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Collector accidentally finds passion for trains

Catching a glimpse of an American Flyer toy train in a shop window opened the door to the wide world of collecting and befriending other 'train-crazy people,' says Warren Heid.

By Jill Matousek Turner

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Warren Heid, has lived there most of his life, although his military service in World War II took him to many exotic, far-flung places. As a Class 4 Sergeant in the Army Air Corps working in communications, he traveled around the world, spending time in India, China and North Africa.

When he returned from the war, thanks to the GI Bill, Heid studied architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. In addition to finding his career there, he also found his bride, marrying Shelia when he was a university sophomore; they have now been happily married for 70 years.

Warren Heid and toy train

Warren Heid’s passion for toy trains didn’t develop until the 1950s, but he's amassed an impressive collection since. (All photos courtesy of Turner Auction + Appraisals).

Window Display Piques Interest in Trains

During his long, award-winning career as an architect, Heid designed private homes, commercial and government buildings, schools, churches and hotels, including one in Tahiti. Living and working in Saratoga for decades, he retired in 2008. In late 2016, the Architect Emeritus was honored by the Saratoga City Council for his architectural contributions.

Heid did not collect trains as a child – that passion came later, and by accident. In 1958, working on a project in San Jose, Warren parked in front of a Goodwill store and happened to see a train in the window. Encountering that American Flyer train by chance and buying it, he launched an enthusiasm that has endured to this day. With interest piqued in his new toy, literally, Mr. Heid continued to visit Goodwill in search of trains.

Getting to know the staff over time, he was invited to the Goodwill train depot, where trains were fixed before going to sale. Soon Mr. Heid was repairing trains as well, buying some along the way and building a collection.

Fellow Collectors Turned Friends

Besides antique stores and friends, the Train Collectors Association played

Bing 1 Gauge boxcar

Bing 1 Gauge refrigerator/boxcar, lithographed “Seefisch Transport Wagen” 8-wheel car, C-7, estimate $500-$700.

a significant part in Mr. Heid’s collecting. He was an early member – number 433 of a group that now includes over 50,000! – and is still a member to this day. Through the years, the group’s Nor-Cal division met once a month in the East Bay, where members would buy, sell and trade trains.

Over this shared interest, numerous long-term friendships were made. Mr. Heid’s family – Shelia and their children Susan and Jeff – participated as well, enjoying Christmas parties, regional meets and national conventions. During his time as a TCA member, Mr. Heid served on the Board of Directors and was elected as President of the Nor-Cal chapter.

Pursuing toy trains for over 50 years, Mr. Heid’s collection grew to over 2,500 individual train cars and train sets (comprised of a locomotive, tender and three cars). These were displayed in the basement of his home, a room dedicated to showcasing and enjoying the collection. There Mr. Heid and Jeff operated the trains on a large, standard-gauge layout. Among the favorites in his collection are Ives trains, the Blue Comet by Lionel, delicate tin-plate trains, a live steam engine that works with alcohol, and Tootsietoys.

Hoping to Give 200+ Trains New Homes

Long before eBay provided easy, fingertip access to countless goods and collectibles, Mr. Heid was inspired by the joy of the hunt for toy train treasures. At an antique store, for example, buying a box of old train-related stuff, one might find a coveted catalog at the bottom. Now in his ninth decade, Mr. Heid is ready to share the fruits of his half-century of passionate collecting with others, who hopefully will enjoy them as well.

“Part of the fun is the chase,” he says. “My many years of collecting have brought great pleasure to me, and my family as well. I’ve had a wonderful life. Train collecting has been part of it – giving me an enjoyable hobby, a valuable investment, and great friends with other train-crazy people.”

Editor’s Note: Part 2 of the Warren Heid toy and train auction is coming forth Turner Auctions + Appraisals in South San Francisco, takes place Dec. 2. For more information, visit

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