My parents bought my first Lionel set for Hanukkah 1955. My dad wasn't a hobbyist, but he was handy and he and I built the platform. The rest was up to me. I did all of it, scenery, wiring, purchasing, modifying...all of it. I'd get stuff each holiday, but mostly it was me going to the big department stores in Philly's center city after Christmas and buying all the battered and broken stuff that was used in their displays. These were really great deals! I'd make the repairs and they were good as new. They did buy me a new 2343 Santa Fe which was my most sought after object that I can remember in my whole live. I worshiped that engine.
The two girls that lived next door had an uncle who gave them the Santa Fe streamliner set and a Berkshire steam set which their father ran around the tree every Christmas. It was were I spent many hours drooling over theirs. I got my Santa Fe in 1957. It was produced in 1954, and was still new in the shipping carton at a hardware store about a mile from our home. I located it up on a top shelf and biked home with the news that I found it! It cost $20.00. Best 20 bucks my parents ever spent on me. I was missing a B unit. I found a 1958 version at those department store close outs. It was on sale for $5.00. The fixed coupler had been knocked off. I found it, and put it back on. I drilled out the portholes, painted the ugly black trucks silver and it matched my double A units. The early Santa Fes were painted silver and the later ones were silver-gray plastic, but I didn't care. I now had my own A-B-A Santa Fe.
My parents never gave me any trouble about the trains. They loved that they knew where I was and what I was doing. I had an uncle who was a mechanical engineer at Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, PA. One weekend (I was very young... probably 7) he took me to the plant where I watched steam and diesel engines being built. They were no longer selling steam in the USA, but were making them for export. I then had a ride in a diesel switcher in the yard next to the factory. I was totally, and in every other way, hooked on trains. There's the Santa Fe sitting on the never-finished high line. The mountain was chicken wire and paper maché. These were the only existing picture of my trains as a kid. Now I have several thousand pics from the new railroads I've built all thanks to digital photography.
Loved your story, I could sooooo relate to wanting the 2343 Santa Fe. Took me another 65 years to finally get one. Trying hard to make up for lost time now.....