Your Town Friday: Meet Mr. Muffins

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Atlanta, Ind. - All aboard! This Your Town Friday we're heading 30 miles north of downtown Indianapolis, just east of U.S. 31.

A man bought the land in 1846 and called it Buena Vista. As was often the case back then, community survival depended on the railroad.

Fortunately for them, the IP&C Railroad laid down tracks.

But look closely at this picture from 1909 and you'll notice is says Atlanta, not Buena Vista. That's because a larger community had already staked a claim to the name.

So they had to go with Atlanta instead!

It was a boom town full of factories, businesses and people. But by the thirties, the boom was over.

In its heyday, 1800 people lived there. Today only 725 people call it home.

And could it be trains that bring life back to the quiet community? A man called Mr. Muffins might just hold the ticket!

"Everybody’s got a story about trains."

And Steve Nelson's train story started with a job at a Broad Ripple hobby shop as a kid.

"When I was a newspaper boy, I would go in there on Saturday and help move boxes around and they would feed me and it was a great thing. Then when I turned 14 they offered me a job. I always loved the hobby. I couldn’t afford trains so I collected plastic model kits."

And as an adult, on every business trip, he made sure to visit the local hobby shop.

"In 2000 I had a little bit of money and I thought, well I’m going to get into trains. I’m going to build a layout and I put one in my house and it got bigger and bigger and we did open houses for neighbors and a lot of people came to see electric trains running! It was like, wow!"

And this is where his train story really picks up steam.

He decided to find a space where people could enjoy his trains with him.

First he needed a business name.

"When my kids were little we would make up jokes and stories about the Muffin's, this husband and wife that would do stupid stuff. I started making my profile with my name and my sons were like, oh you can’t do that! You need to make up a name! One of my son’s suggested Mr. Muffin’s Trains!"

Mr. Muffins and his wife Liz, AKA Mrs. Muffins, were living in Indianapolis and found a space in Carmel to rent.

You could see Mr. Muffin's O Gauge model train collection and yes, eat some muffins.

But then the rent started climbing.

"And I thought, oh my gosh, how are we going to pay for this? I didn’t want to start charging and so what we thought we’d do is move up here, buy some land and build a building."

And it was a risky move to move to Atlanta.

What used to be a thriving hot spot in Hamilton County a century ago is very quiet today.

"My wife was the one that said, hey, we can restore Atlanta. We can bring Atlanta back. We can create a destination here."

Two years later and Mr. Muffin's Trains gets a couple hundred visitors each Saturday and it ranks in the top of the nation in online sales. Mr. and  Mrs. Muffins have five children between the two of them, and one son moved back from Texas to help with the growth of the family business.

You can see the collection of more than 6,000 trains, shop for your own, and of course eat a muffin, at 165 East Main Street. The retail shop is just a few doors down at 177 West Main Street.

"At the time we bought this building, every building in Atlanta was for sale and right now there’s not one for sale," he said. "Everything’s been bought! Things are happening in Atlanta."

An app from Mike's Train House controls every train in his layout. You could spend hours looking at all the detail. For instance, this Atlas building pictured below. Atlas is where Hoosier David Letterman worked as a kid. It turns out Dave is a train enthusiast too, so Dave's sister had an Atlas replica made for his birthday and Mr. Muffins of course got himself one, too!

"We’ve had a lot of families get into the hobby because of this. And you see how proud they are, father and son, and what they were able to build together. They’ll remember that the rest of their lives."

"We are all about creating an experience for the family. We want parents to set their electronics down and play with their kids. Our dream is late on Saturday there are a lot of families in central Indiana talking about what fun they had at Mr. Muffin's Trains today."

"They have just been wonderful. They have so embraced having us here. When the FedEx truck comes with boxes and boxes of stuff, kids will come over and help us unload it. Everybody’s so great. They watch over our buildings."

And Mr. Muffins isn't done! He's working on another business in Atlanta. He plans to open Choo Choo Cafe late summer. That's around the time the Nickel Plate Express should start running from Atlanta to Noblesville and back! The railroad is being repaired right now.

Would you like us to visit your town? Let Lindy know here!

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