My father is from upstate New York and around the Erie, Pennsylvania area, places where, in his day, the railroad was a big thing. Several of the men in the family worked in the rail-yard in the 1920’s-50’s. Dad and his older brother even did a stint as youngsters cleaning and painting train cars when they lived in Salamanca, New York. Consequently, my dad loves trains.
When he was a kid, they didn’t have a lot of money. His father had died young, so life was hard, and luxuries were few. However, Santa managed to fit a train set down the chimney one year. Growing up didn’t didn’t stop Dad from playing with trains. In the 1950’s, when Lionel came out with an HO scale set, Dad got one. When my brothers and sisters started coming along, he had trains for the kids. The only one of those five to really share Dad’s enthusiasm was the youngest of the lot, Steve. Until I put the last entry into the family tree, that is.
I remember the train layout Steve had in the basement. Even though my 4-year old mind probably saw more than was really there, I recall an impressive 8 x 16 foot layout of HO scale trains, roads, houses, street signs, trees, cars, people, and everything that makes up a miniature neighbourhood; impressive especially to have been built by a kid of 11 years old. Steve still has some of his old trains, and still collects. When I worked at a Hallmark store a few years ago, I started buying the locomotive from the collectible ornament series for him and his family every year.
As for me, oh, yes! I had trains, and when my daughter was old enough, she had them, too; a cute little N scale set. OK, so maybe not really old enough to play with them, but old enough to watch them! (I found this blog about model railroading that illustrates very nicely the different “scales”.) Matter of fact, Dad gave me a nice HO set 2 years ago that he won as part of a prize package when he and his buddy won first place for their G scale layout at the local train show and competition.
Actually, they won 1st place in 2 different shows that year. The first was for a non-working diorama in the spring show, and the second for a working layout in the autumn show. I took pictures and made a video for both of them.
I’ve mentioned in a previous article how my folks are crafty people, and how I got my own creativity from them. We have a few imaginative minds in the family. All five of my siblings draw and paint, sing, dance, act, or write. My daughter, too. We can all handle a hammer and drill, at least passably enough. Probably stemming from Dad’s interest in trains and building, my favourite hobby is doll-housing. I’ve built a few doll-houses from kits, but my big accomplishment will be creating one from scratch.
Meanwhile, my 83-year old father continues his train enthusiasm with a G scale railroad garden in the backyard. He’s re-built it a couple of times, but he says this is the final layout. He made mountains out of concrete over mesh which I painted to look like the terrain you’d see in the mid-west. There are real rocks and plants and real water cascades down the waterfall to fill the river that runs through the “countryside”. All of his buildings are “scratch built”, meaning that they are not kits, but his own designs. Some of his materials are up-cycled. Clear plastic from bakery containers becomes window glass. Tubes and bottle caps, among other things, become industrial equipment and building decoration. He learned to use plastic sheeting a couple of years ago, so the newer buildings are more weather-proof than his first wooden ones. He lost his original lumber mill to the Florida rains. Having to build a new one allowed him to make it even bigger, though. I’ve had fun helping him by researching architectural styles and layouts of early 20th century small town America, lettering signs for his shops and roads, and even consulting on colours for the buildings and plants to make his town come to life.
Oh, yeh… his town is called Muffinville. I know. Funny name. There’s a story to that, though: When “Shoosie” was in kindergarten at the local elementary school, Dad volunteered to do campus patrol and help the teachers move the kids from classroom to playground or cafeteria. Some of the younger kids seemed to think his name was Mr. Muffin- it sounded close to his real name to them, I guess- so that’s what he was called. Thus, when he created his train town, Muffinville it was. This delighted the children to no end because it was they who were responsible for naming Mr. Muffin’s very own town!
The sound of a train whistle still gets my attention, and I am always glad to stop at a railroad crossing to watch the train go by, as opposed to being impatient to get where I’m going. If I am late because the train passed through, that’s a perfectly acceptable excuse to me.
As for Dad, he pores over his train magazines and books that my brother and I buy him now and again, and now that he learned the marvels of the Internet, he has access to even more nifty train stuff (as long as someone is there to bring it up for him, as he doesn’t know much about computers). He goes to the shows when they come to the H&R shop, to chat with all the other “train-ers” and see what’s new. Every morning, he wanders out to the garden to blow the leaves out of his track and check for nails that have popped up from the wood base due to humidity and rain. And when the train whistle echoes across the neighbourhood as it passes through the industrial area a couple of miles away, he stops to listen.