San Luis Obispo obstetrician Bernd Schumacher has a one-track mind when it comes to trains.
He recently was named the new Guinness World Records holder for the largest collection of model trains with 2,956 distinct items, said Sofía Rocher, a Guinness public relations coordinator.
Over the past 25 years, he has built up his Z scale miniature train collection to a number that is now unparalleled — officially. He learned of his Guinness record on March 24.
Z scale is the world’s smallest serially produced model railroad system. An actual train is 220 times larger than Z scale, compared with the standard “HO” model trains of which the actual train is 87 times larger.
The garage he shares with his wife is a small warehouse for his prized model trains, which are tucked inside orange metal storage cabinets not far from his oval-shaped model tracks that feature German villa winter and summer landscapes.
“Model railroading affords the hobbyist a means to recreate a scaled-down and detailed version of times gone by. For example, the great steam locomotive age of the 1920s in Germany,” Schumacher said. “It is a way to escape everyday life and focus on a different, often imaginary and creative world.”
Schumacher’s metal cabinet drawers are carefully organized and marked with “steam,” “electric” and “diesel.” He also has model bullet trains, commonly used in Japan. Some drawers are labeled in German, such as his “Lokomotiven Deutsch,” which means “German locomotives.”
His novelty trains include cars with cubbies for shots of alcohol, carpenters’ levels, and coins. Another tiny car displays the logo of Beda’s Biergarten, the San Luis Obispo German restaurant where he and four Guinness-approved train experts spent the day tallying his collection on Sept. 17.
They photographed and organized paperwork for each item, later presenting the evidence to Guinness World Records for review. The process took several months to verify. The standing record was 1,000 distinct model train items.
“It was awesome,” said Beda Schmidthues, Schumacher’s friend who owns Beda’s restaurant. “People gathered all around, and we were all wondering if he would do it and then it became more clear that ‘Yes, yes, he was going to pass the record.’ It was a special moment.”
Schumacher said he enjoyed playing with model trains throughout his youth.
He remembers his first train set vividly — two interconnected track ovals with hills, a station and a small village. Houses and streets were lit and an electric switch controlled the track. He took a break from his hobby in high school.
It wasn’t until in 1992 amid the stressful work of his physician’s residency in Chicago, working toward a career in maternal and fetal care, that he resumed his pastime.
“I was faced with a lack of space,” Schumacher said. “I remembered there was a small scale of Maerklin (brand) trains that, if push came to shove, would fit under the coffee table because you have a layout that is no more than, let’s say, 3-by-2 feet in size. From there, I started collecting and building all different kinds of layouts and found it good sort of break from stressful work as a physician.”