Just Trains in Concord has long been a favorite of model railroad fans, where hobbyists can find supplies or sometimes run their trains on the store's layouts. A theft at the store has galvanized the store's patrons. (Photo courtesy of Just Trains/Facebook)

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Model railroaders are a tight-knit group, and when the Just Trains store outside of Concord suffered a break-in burglary early Tuesday, owner Jim Anthony heard from a fair number of modelers, even before a Facebook post about it drew 17,000 views and more than 1,000 shares.

“I see people by appointment, and one person tells a friend, and they tell other people,” said Anthony, who has owned the shop just off Highway 4 near the Marathon refinery since June 2015. “I had several emails asking me about it even before I posted (on Facebook).”

Though Anthony, by early Wednesday afternoon, hadn’t yet done a complete inventory of what’s missing, he knows thieves made off with anywhere from 20 to 30 HO scale model locomotives and other rolling stock.

Broken glass litters the floor near a display case, damaged by thieves. (Photo courtesy of Jim Anthony/Just Trains)

Most of the pieces are made of brass, and valued at between $10,000 and $15,000. One large HO scale brass steam locomotive, he said, is worth about $2,700. About three-quarters of the stolen pieces were on consignment, Anthony said.

He said his store’s burglar alarm went off at about 4:15 a.m. Tuesday. Thieves broke through the glass front door and made their way to the display cabinet where the consignment items are shown, smashed the glass and took almost everything off the top two shelves. It appears one person was inside the store, and others remained outside, Anthony said.

A Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputy was already at the shop when Anthony arrived, he said. A sheriff’s spokesman did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday seeking comment on the case.

Steve Beall said it appeared the thieves knew what to look for, and where to find it. He said that he and others he knows will check eBay and Craigslist periodically to see if any of these items appear.

“If the thieves are part of the ‘circle’ of friends in the hobby, they’ll see we have this (burglary) plastered all over Facebook,” said Beall, a Walnut Creek resident who came to the store once or twice a week before the COVID-19 pandemic, and sometimes operated his own trains on the store’s layout.

If the thieves have notions of selling the stolen trains, Beall said, “I think they’re going to have a really hard time.”

And there are only a handful of brick-and-mortar model train stores in the region — The Train Shop in Santa Clara, plus shops in Napa, Lodi and Roseville — who would want to buy, and Beall said they would all be well aware of the theft.

It’s that rarity of such shops that helps develop loyalty. Beall said that, had he had been 10 years older, he would have bought Just Trains itself when it changed hands five years ago.

Anthony said he has been heartened by all the support he’s gotten. He said one person sent him $200 — no purchase, just cash — to help ensure the business survived. The trains are insured, Anthony said, so the burglary won’t kill his business. But he said he cherishes the sentiment.

“He said he hopes it’s enough for me to buy a new cabinet,” he said. “People have been so supportive, and that’s very much appreciated.”