Growing up, Jason Shron loved trains—riding them with his family or playing with model trains.
But the idea of owning a model railroad company didn’t occur to the 47-year-old Thornhill, Ont., resident until much later in life.
In 2004, Shron was living in England and pursuing a PhD in art history when he realized he didn’t want to be an art historian after all. What he really wanted to do was “make model trains all day.”
Instead of completing his studies, he returned home to Canada to start Rapido Trains.
“I had no degree, no job and no money,” he said of starting the company with his wife, Sidura Ludwig, an award-winning author. “I had nothing to lose.”
From that two-person start-up 18 years ago, today Rapido Trains—with 30 employees in three countries—is Canada’s largest model railroad manufacturer specializing in highly detailed models for hobbyists and collectors.
While glad to be following his passion, in the early days it posed some challenges for Shron’s Jewish observance.
“The business is important, but what’s more important is keeping Shabbat and kosher,” said Shron, who has been observant since 1999. “Those are the main things to me.”
Since almost all train shows are held on weekends, that posed a challenge.
“That was hard when I was starting out and I was the only employee,” he said of navigating the demands of his new business and his obligations to his faith.
“It caused me a lot of anxiety. It’s a problem faced by other Orthodox Jews who are in business,” he said.
Shron mostly managed to keep Shabbat back then, although there were a couple of uncomfortable exceptions. Today it’s not a problem since his non-Jewish employees can attend the shows on the company’s behalf.
“Now I’m never tempted to break Shabbat for business,” he said.
Since Shron wears a kippah and tzitzit, he is aware of how everything he does reflects on the Jewish community.
“I am always careful to be honest, respectful, sensitive, not rude or crass,” he said. “I am aware my actions will reflect on Jewish people.”
He’s also aware that standing out as a Jew might also make him a target for antisemitism. But so far he hasn’t experienced it in the model railroad community. In fact, it’s usually the opposite.
“When people see me wearing my kippah at model train events, many are interested in talking about my religion,” he said. “I have the most interesting conversations about faith.”
As for other aspects of his faith, Shron tries to take that into the business world, too.
“The most important thing for me is Middot,” he said, referencing the Jewish concept of good character.
This means being honest in everything the company does, including if it makes a mistake.
“If we screw up, we will say so. I think people respect that,” he said, adding he always wants to treat others with kindness. “Everyone is fighting a battle of some kind,” he observed.
In addition to manufacturing model trains, Shron, a father of three, is building a model railroad layout of the route between Toronto and Brockville in his basement. He finds it to be a meditative experience, especially if he puts on podcasts or recordings about Torah.
“I find all my anxieties and stresses from the day dissipate,” he said of those hours spent with Torah and model trains. “It has really enhanced my sense of well-being.”
But it finally boils down to Shabbat for Shron.
“Thank God for that time,” he said. “I couldn’t keep going without it. I couldn’t imagine my life today without it. It keeps me grounded and sane. I’d give up my business in a heartbeat if it came down to choosing Shabbat or Rapido. There’s no competition.”
In addition to model trains, Shron is known as the man who built a train in his basement—a replica of a VIA Rail passenger coach. See for yourself: