My Favorite Addiction
My first "Train Room" (around 1961 or 62) was a 4 by 8 sheet of plywood, held up by wrought iron legs, on the patio in my grandparent's back yard. It was covered by a tarp when it rained.
I was in first or second grade -- and pretty fascinated. There were locomotives and switchers that had belonged to my mother -- tin buildings from an older cousin, and wooden houses, crossing signals and various odds and ends from my grandfather's traffic safety displays... And kudos to my Uncle Bill, who would come to visit, teach me about electricity, show me how to wire accessories... I was probably the only third-grader in town who knew AC from DC and a hot from a common..
In 1968, we moved to new digs, and my trains got to move indoors, to a large gable on the third floor of an 1888 Queen Anne. As a grown-up seventh-grader by then, the new layout had two interlocking loops and two bumper tracks -- as well as a bunch of new equipment from my ever-indulgent family.
Not far from my grandparent's house in Topeka lived "The Train Man." No, that wasn't his name -- or even his business name -- it was my clarion call: "You want to go see THE TRAIN MAN?" My eyes would light up like a 154 Crossing Signal, and my grandmother (who denied me little) would whisk me up to THE TRAIN MAN'S second floor. He had a layout that seemed to go on forever -- and what I was sure (at the time) were at least a hundred sidings that wound through a doorway and into a second room -- and on each siding a full eye-popping construct to warm the cockles of a prepubescent boy's heart. And of course, we never left THE TRAIN MAN'S lair without some new treasure clutched in my arms -- and my grandmother grinning back as she tucked her BankAmericard or MasterCharge back into her purse.
Some time ago, I was digging through a beat-up old cardboard box of odds and ends of old train detritus -- and what should appear? A worn, smudged, slightly bent business card from The Train Man. I sat and just stared at it for quite a while. Memories -- not just of the loot -- but of a long-past time when everything seemed simple and safe and... well... fun. And my trains still have a way of bringing me back to that time.
I grew up, got involved in other things, and my trains sat, mostly untouched, for the better part of 35 years.
I lost my partner of 20 years in 2006. My parents, always wonderfully supportive and concerned, convinced me to come back home for a bit where they could look out for me as I tried to regroup.
As it happened, my step-father had recently cleaned out his parent's home when they moved to assisted living. He had come home with boxes and boxes of old, prewar Lionel that had been his as a kid. Mine was still sitting in that dusty third-floor gable... Hmmmm I REALLY needed something to keep me occupied as I tried to dodge the blue gremlins of the depression thing. So I thought, what the hell. I'd always enjoyed tinkering. I could take my old Lionel stuff and fix it up, add in my step-dad's old stuff, and maybe put together a little layout in the basement. (The space on the 3rd floor could only be accessed on one's knees. THAT wasn't going to fly at 49.)
I bought some layout-design software and went to work... Two main loops, another up on a mountain... Oh, a subway loop would be cool too. And the two bumper car tracks. Add a couple of sidings for my extra engines... I should be able to whip that out in a couple of weeks.
Well, four years and WAY too much money later, that first layout was suddenly seven loops, four bumper tracks, real running waterfalls and rapids, over 2500' of wire underneath, a couple dozen relays... ten sidings... Well, you get the drift. -- it quickly got WAY out of hand. <g>. And I don't regret a moment or a dollar of it all.
The old trains, bizarre though it may seem to most folks, have a way of taking one outside of one's self. You can create a space of your own -- a miniature world that's totally under your control. It's a world where nothing truly bad ever happens; where you can take the old, the worn, the crushed, broken or derelict and with a bit of care, time, a soldering gun and some spare parts, make them live again. Would that the real world were like that.
I would be remiss if I didn't give a shout-out to Bob. He's my closest friend in the world, and has been for over forty years. And without the smallest interest in toy trains -- and quite sure I was losing it -- nonetheless, has spent countless hours crawling around under the board, soldering, lying in fiberglass resin, tagging along with me to train events, cursing as he tried to work tiny springs into tinier doors... In short, he's been a bit of a saint. And the layout would have never progressed half as far as it has without his help, his forbearance, and his unending good-nature.
OK, I set out just to put up a few pix of my layout and collection... (Yeah, yeah -- I had sworn I would never really collect, and now the shelves fill more wall space each month). And instead, as usual, got all verbose. I'll stop rambling. Enjoy the pix and the vids. They -- like the layout, the collection -- and this web site -- are works in progress.
TCA # 08-62417
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