A Trip Down Memory Lane 11

Highlands Ranch “picker” opens personal museum

When Darren Martin flips the switch in his model train room, he giggles. Five train sets buzz on their tracks, a Ferris wheel spins, a movie theater marque blinks, teeny people fish at a pond, work in a coal mine, stand in line at a food truck.

You can’t tell who’s more excited, the first-time guest to Martin’s 11,000 square-foot personal museum, or Martin himself, who, with a grin on his face, recalls how he bought this train town from a retiree in Colorado Springs. Martin spent two days on his back, cutting wires, meticulously packing the table collection into a 24-foot U-Haul. The train made the journey to Highlands Ranch to join the rest of Martin’s antiques and collectibles.

This fall, Martin opened Memory Lane Event Center, an extension of his Highlands Ranch offices of Charter Financial Resources, the financial services firm he has owned since 1999. The center is open only to his clients for seminars and for private family and charity events.

“While other guys are on the golf course,” says 57-year-old Martin, “I’m looking for antiques.”

It all started 15 years ago when he purchased some die-cast toy cars, and pretty soon his “picking” had him traveling across the country to collectors’ conventions and trolling online sites such as Craigslist.

The door in his office that leads to the warehouse feels like a time portal. You literally step into a 1950s-era soda fountain shop. This is where Martin’s clients sit at formica tables and spoon into malts, listen to oldies on the jukebox. They can stroll around the corner to Memory Lane, a replica main street where more than a dozen vintage cars sit parked between a Woolworth’s storefront and a two-story mural of a California beachscape, homage to Martin’s hometown of Santa Cruz.

It was there as a boy he worked at his parents’ miniature golf course and skating rink. At 16, he bought an ice cream truck and sold Hawaiian-style shave ice. He eventually married, moved to San Antonio, and opened 13 shave ice stores with his wife, LuRisa. They returned to California after selling their business, and Martin became a traveling corporate coach, having trained with “Chicken Soup for the Soul” author and motivational speaker Jack Canfield. Martin and his family moved to Colorado in 1997.

Martin’s eyes light up each time he enters another room, where he shows off his rare arcade pinball machines, or treasured Harley Motorcycle memorabilia, or replica Route 66 gas station. But for Martin, it’s not about all these things. His Elvis and Beatles tributes, his Edsel, are all ways for him to connect with people.

“I know other pickers who take it home and hide it away,” Martin says, shaking his head.

He loves, when giving tours, a client requests his special love song to his late wife on the jukebox, or a widow lingers at the train table, talking about how her husband would have loved to see this.

Martin says he’s enjoyed spending every penny because he knows how much joy it’s brought to so many people. It’s something he advises his retired and soon-to-be retired clients.

“I always ask my clients to answer one question: My true purpose for the money is blank. They have to come up with that one word, and make it happen,” Martin said.

Joy has always been Martin’s answer. What’s the point in working hard your whole life if you never enjoy it, he muses.

“There’s so much garbage in the world, and I want to teach people to live,” he said. “If I died tomorrow, I would have no regrets.”