About 20 years ago, Hassan Amir found himself bored at home. He had recently retired from his job as an engineer in Pasadena and there was little for him to do around the house except tinker with his model trains.

One day, on a trip to The Train Crossing in Costa Mesa, Amir made an impulse buy that has paid off for his family ever since.

"My husband came in to buy some glue and found it was for sale and so we bought it," recalled Levia Amir, now 70 years old. "He had no previous business experience. It was interesting even trying to learn to do the cash register."

The Train Crossing had been operating for two decades already until Amir and his wife took the helm of the popular Baker Street store for nearly two decades more. When his wife was sick last summer, the patriarch needed some extra help at the shop and he knew whom to turn to: his sons, John and David.

It was the last summer they would spend with their father, who died of heart failure in September. John Amir, of Orange, had recently returned to his job as a math teacher for the Orange Unified School District but began to quickly shuffle his life around after his father's death.

Now, just like model trains get handed down from father to son, 38-year-old John, a model-railroad enthusiast himself, has taken over the family business and runs the store with his mom.

Together, the two hope to continue on out of respect for Hassan Amir and their strong customer base, which comes from all over Orange County to check out the huge selection of trains ranging from a scaled-down "Thomas the Tank" to an antique Lionel set from the '50s that's not only still in its box but is worth about $3,000.

"It's just good fun. I mean, you have grandpa, you have son and grandson all involved with the same trains that grandpa initially started with," John Amir said, of the hobby's multigenerational appeal.

Of the many customers who keep John and Levia Amir busy, a surprising 75 percent are adults. Some shop for their children, but many spend thousands of dollars building elaborate sets in their homes, usually as a stress-relieving pastime on a quest to recapture childhood nostalgia.

"My grandmother had an HO layout. As I grew up, my father introduced my brother and I to trains," said Dennis Schatzlein, a Costa Mesa resident and frequent customer. "Now, my daughter enjoys trains as much as my son."

Since the years of die-cast trains, the industry of model railroads, like anything else susceptible to new technology, has seen its fair share of change. New designs and innovations, including wireless controls, have started to flood the market.

John Amir plans on incorporating the newer items into store layouts to keep his faithful customers coming back and to inspire a whole new generation of little (and big) engineers.

"I want to see the same people that have been coming since my dad had the store," he said. "I just want to continue that and have fun with trains as my dad did."

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