I’m one of eight children blessed to have parents, both in their mid-80s, who recently sought to organize a legacy wish list among their munchkins.
My parents knew what I’d ask for: my Grandpop’s O gauge tinplate trains and my great Uncle’s handmade layout buildings, both so long in exile in the unforgiving climes of their attic. By and large, this equipment hadn’t seen the light of day since the mid-60s and was in need of some TLC, love that I was happy to provide.
Grandpop spent his entire working career with one company, E. K. Tryon of Philadelphia, where he was a manager in the sporting goods department. No doubt at his disposal were Lionel train sets like the ‘Set 240E Work Train’ that he lugged home with him aboard a Philly PTC trolley. Today these Lionels are my pride and joy, having accrued a value that has nothing to do with dollars so much as what they represent; a doorway into memory fields so clearly and vividly marked.
All over again, I hear my Grandpop’s hearty laugh as I, his “little Eddie,” finger the very trains he brought home in 1934 and 1935. I smile considering my mom, his daughter, as a seven-year-old playing with her favorite loco -- she preferred Grandpop’s gun metal gray 249E over the Sets’ 260E -- and that very 249E now runs the same tubular rails on the inner loop of my basement’s 10x6 platform.
I close my eyes and see my great uncle in his workshop circa 1945, lovingly making a house, barn, out-house, corn crib, chicken coop, corral fence and other farm buildings to help frame Grandpop’s trains now serving their second tour of duty some eighty years later.
And oh the smells! For me, smell takes no back seat to the other senses and it’s that unique odor that running these old O gauge trains emits that rockets me back to my daddy’s side in the late 50s/early 60s. Breathing-in, I recall he and I being in our always-damp Runnemede, NJ basement and that very certain ‘train odor’ that brings to mind the simple figure 8 assembled each Christmas of my youth.
There are other ways Grandpop’s trains are shaping my journey into the “world’s greatest hobby,” including:
Satisfaction of doing something with my own hands. There is much pleasure to be had with glue guns, jig saws, soldering irons and such. I’ve spent most of my career in radio and television, many times parked behind a computer screen; by contrast, classic toy train-ing is a most fulfilling ‘hands on’ hobby.
Challenge of layout construction. I’ve always enjoyed building things but electrical has always been a challenge. That said, acquiring basic wiring skills to retro-fit my platform as Grandpop might have done during Lionel’s pre-war era was important to me. Knowing how to bus wire, insulate rails, block control and activate accessories with switches and contactors proved significant. I may eventually graduate to digital command systems but for the time being, I’m happy being stuck in the 1930s.
Strategizing hobby cost-controls. I’m learning this isn’t the cheapest of hobbies but there are ways to economize. For example, I’m developing a layout with an oil refinery yard and I’m crafting oil barrels out of yogurt cups around a tank farm created from coffee and raisin containers. I’ve got refinery stacks compliments of tissue tubes and a salt water taffy box making for a nifty loading dock. I made my own 26 inch tunnel out of junk plywood, chicken wire and left-over pool table felt and I’m especially pleased with a full border fence I made assuring Grandpop’s 249E, 260E and their consist stay on the platform, not derailed 40 inches below to an unforgiving concrete death.
Relishing role of a Johnny-come-lately. Here am I on the brink of retirement, at the ‘tender’ age of 63, being dubbed the new kid on the block…wow! Recently I was introduced as “new blood” by one veteran train guy to another; talk about making my day!
Rubbing elbows with the best. To date, without exception, every individual I’ve met in this hobby has been impressive. Yes, I’ll readily admit that for the most part, they are ‘seasoned citizens’ but they are earnest, robust, quality folks one and all. Think veterans of war, captains of industry, community leaders and business people who over the years have happily volunteered as scout leaders and soccer coaches; this hobby seems to be a magnet for salt-of-the-earth types and I’m enjoying their company.
To wit: reaching out to just one ‘train guy’ demonstrated this hobby’s remarkable network of helpful others’ only too pleased to offer guidance on repair, track designs, where to shop-and-swap and so much else. Accordingly, imagine my fortune having men like Clem Clement (64-987) as my guiding light and who has introduced me to so many knowledgeable people, among them Frank Hale (95-41207) as my wiring and scenic guru, Allen Crotts (95-41208) as the service repairman who breathed life back into my pre-war locos and Paul Johnson (75-8013) whose wonderful Catoctin Mountain train shop is my new candy store.
These are only a few of the great people I’ve met but the upshot is clear: not a bad apple in the bunch and all inspirations to three-rail heaven!
I’ll conclude by saying that today, in my early 60s, I’m getting a real charge out of becoming a ‘beginning’ hobbyist and whether I ever achieve ‘advanced’ status is of little consequence. The past is prologue and now I’m the grandfather and I think more about sparking my four-year-old grandson’s imagination (he does love his Thomas The Tank!), hopefully providing memories for him much like mine.
Speaking for my Grandpop, that’s a legacy I’d like just fine.