WIMAUMA – An admitted kid at heart, 74-year-old Ron Cahill says the holidays are his favorite time of year. It’s when he throws open his garage door and shares his extensive collection with children and neighbors.
The 11-year resident of Hometown America’s Little Manatee Springs community is a lifelong collector of toy cars and trains.
“I received my first train set at the age of 9, and I was immediately hooked,” said Cahill. “There’s just something magical about model trains.”
Cahill enthusiastically collected toy trains and Hot Wheels miniature cars throughout his childhood. When he was old enough to get his driver’s license, he switched his attention to the real deal – classic cars he restored to pristine condition and then entered in car shows.
“The first new car I ever drove was a ’56 red-and-white Chevrolet 210 my dad owned,” said Cahill. “That Chevy always had a special place in my heart.”
Then, in 1996, he and his wife, Claudia, spotted the Chevy’s twin sitting in a front yard while visiting relatives in Zephyrhills.
“It was an old drag car with no engine, no interior and the top was caved in,” he recalled. “The sign on it said ‘$1,500.’ What a deal. It was love at first sight.”
The Cahills dragged the derelict Chevy home on a trailer and spent the next three years scrounging for parts, sanding and stripping paint, locating specialty shops that could replicate the interior and reassembling the old car.
It proved well worth the effort. Cahill’s newly refurbished, bright red Chevy has garnered Best of Show at car shows in Sarasota, Daytona Beach, Kissimmee, Dade City and in Cahill’s hometown, Goshen, Ohio.
Since then, Cahill has restored more than 20 classic cars, including two currently parked at his home: a 1948 Oldsmobile he just sold to a collector in Sweden and a 1950 Chevy.
His garage is a testament to his love of transportation collectibles. The floor is tiled in a black and white checkerboard pattern reminiscent of checkered flags at the raceway, and the walls are painted the vibrant colors of classic cars he’s restored over the years. Shelves throughout the garage overflow with car show trophies, scale models of classic cars and nearly 1,000 Hot Wheels collector cars in their original packaging. Photos of classic cars Cahill has restored along with auto-related signs complete the look.
But it’s his model train sets that most fascinate visitors.
Cahill spends two months putting together his model train sets for the holiday season. With an eye for detail, he meticulously constructs track for seven trains, a monorail and an old-fashioned trolley accompanied by miniature buildings, trees, cars, fencing, bridges, a miniature airport, ski slope and, Cahill’s newest edition, a replica of the Disney World castle with a model of the Disney monorail running around it.
“It’s really neat at night because everything is lit up,” said Cahill. “I have an open house for the park residents every year and everyone loves seeing the trains.”
He also opens his collection to migrant children from the nearby Redlands Christian Migrant Association Charter School who attend the park’s annual charity Christmas party.
But he said the interest shown by visitors pales in comparison to the joy he receives from sharing his collection with others.
“I guess I’m just going through a second or third childhood,” he said. “I really get a kick out of it.”
D’Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected]