Sam Lapin's risky offer is right on track

Thursday, May 28, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Sam Lapin wondered if the public might be offended by his idea. I told him that if the public is not offended by Jerry Springer and James Carville and WLW radio and Johnny Cochran and tongue jewelry and frozen sperm, then I'd say the world is not that picky these days.

"But is it too gruesome?"

Social Security, Sam. Now that's gruesome. My generation will use up all the money being shoveled into the fund by your generation, and you will get exactly nothing but the satisfaction of knowing you helped build a lap pool at our Florida condo. Your idea, Sam, is actually very decent. Not to mention resourceful and sensible.

Much like its author, in fact.

Sam, who's 35, would like to give his model train collection to somebody who is 65 or older. "In exchange they put me in their will to get their train collection -- including my stuff back -- when they die."

It makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Sam doesn't have the space right now to sprawl out. A communications teacher at Northern Kentucky University, he's moving to Burlington, Ky. The new house has a big basement, but his 10-year-old stepdaughter, Amy, would rather use the space for roller skating. Sam's wife, Carol, a social worker, is interested in trains to the extent that she will ride them.

Just storing the collection gobbles up a lot of room. It's packed for the move in 18-gallon Rubbermaid tubs. A dozen of them.

No orange barrels

He has flashing crossing lights and several trains and trestles and buildings and automobiles and endless track and landscaping. He shows me a video and some photos of the assembled collection. For a minute or two, I think I'm looking at an actual road and railway system.

But then, I notice that there are no orange barrels. So obviously this is somebody's fantasy.

Sam's H.O.-scale collection is half the size of the old Lionel trains and includes an assortment of locomotives and what he calls "rolling stock," boxcars and refrigerator cars and novelties, such as a crane car. He found some pieces at garage sales and bought the rest at shows.

"When attending train shows, I've noticed most people are retired with grown kids. Now I know why," he says. "I really like the people I've met. I'd like to think of somebody enjoying my stuff. And it means too much to me to sell it."

Taking a risk

But what happens if you choose somebody to give your collection to and they live to be 122 like that woman in France?

"I'm willing to take the risk. Besides, maybe they'll let me come visit my trains," he says with a guileless smile. "Taking a chance on people -- even if you lose -- is better than being numb."

The NKU teacher, one of the most popular on campus, has a reputation for collecting people as avidly as he accumulates boxcars. His newsletter, The Sam & Carol & Amy Chronicle, "proud to be unavailable on the World Wide Web," goes out to family, friends from college, former students and co-workers from Memphis and St. Louis, where Sam worked for United Way.

Keeping connected.

"To our new readers. With the move, we add several unsuspecting subscribers. For you, here is a brief history. "Chronicle is a combination of the Greek words chroneous, which means "not worth reading," and icaldion, which means "one who wastes paper.' " A funny guy. Likeable.

So, if some train fanatic out there -- age 65 or older -- is interested, call (606) 781-5197. You could get a nice old train set, lovingly assembled over 30 years. Even better, nice young Sam Lapin will probably come along for the ride.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at