In case of link malfunction above, go here.
EYES OF A CHILD
By Bill Laughlin
How well are we transmitting the model railroad hobby to the next
generation of children, ages one through fifteen?
I specified ages on this for a reason: It used to be that you
started a child playing with electric trains at about ages five
to seven. (Cars and ladies intrude at sixteen.) It has been my
direct experience, working with my own children, their friends,
and my young grandson, that, if you wait until the fifth birthday,
these days, you probably WON'T get them "hooked" on
Recognize the difference between "hooked" and a "passing
interest", please. Let's stop deluding ourselves: the statistics
speak for themselves. The May issue of "Playthings"
magazine listed "Vehicles" as a significant toy-market
growth area at 15.4%, yet of that market, ELECTRIC TRAINS make
up .1%, yes, LESS THAN ONE PERCENT of the toy "vehicles"
Lionel, MTH, and the rest are down at the bottom of the same
category as Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Road Champs, radio-controlled
planes, boats, and even battery-powered cars that kids ride in!
In fact, this is the SMALLEST percentage of that entire market!
Maybe we should look at model trains through the eyes of a child.
I don't know of any small children that aren't thoroughly fascinated
by the sight and sounds of a Lionel steam engine puffing out white
smoke in sync with some sort of "choo-choo" sound. They'll
watch it for hours, until Mom or Dad pulls them away.
How do they get exposed to this sight? Maybe they're lucky enough
to go to a train show or hobby shop with an operating layout.
But that presupposes that a parent or grandparent either had an
interest themselves, or thought enough to take some time to go
see trains somewhere. This doesn't happen as often in 2002 as
it might have, fifty years earlier. Needless to say, there are
fewer places to see operating trains, especially O-gauge ones
with all the features you and I take for granted.
Maybe they see a Thomas the Tank Engine video, or an "I
Love Toy Trains" video, or something similar. Again, this
generally presupposes an environment at least partially created
by a parent or grandparent. Not something you can count on in
In 1951, older kids (ages 7-12) often had friends who had trains
in their basement. Maybe the child himself didn't own any, but
it really was one of the "in" toys to own in that decade,
and for several previous decades, as well. How many kids get this
type of exposure today? Relatively few.
Today's fathers are obviously lacking this background. Many of
them grew up with road race sets, Hot Wheels, Star Wars and other
"action" figures, and the like. As for me, I prefer
the "action" of a Hudson thundering down the rails,
but that's another story.
I started my grandson, Riley Winn (who's 2 ½ now) by watching
"Thomas" and McComas videos, him in my lap, at ten months!
While this may seem ludicrous, he "graduated" from a
passion for Thomas last year into being much more "sophisticated"
by wanting to see the terrific "I Love Lionel" and the
rest of the "I Love Toy Trains" series (Mr. McComas
is up to number 11, at last check.) Riley is so fixated on trains
that all of his cousins (2-1/2 years old, on down to less than
a year old) have prevailed on their parents to buy THEM "Thomas"
wooden railway systems, too.
So EXAMPLE is how it's done. And don't forget, small children
Riley has moved on, now, to "real" ELECTRIC trains
on the carpet, at least at Grandpa's House. "Accidents"
aren't ever serious if the engine can only "fall" half
an inch to a soft landing. The transition from wooden railway
systems to electrics MUST be done carefully, before too extensive
of an investment is made into non-powered brio toys, plastic Lego
sets, or even (horror of horrors) HO or G-scale cheap starter
Please consider constructing stair step platforms for small-fry
viewing of modular layouts! Why rely on Dad or Mom to indefinitely
shoulder the little tyke? Some of these tykes aren't so little.
They ALWAYS want to stay longer than the parent does. Never fails!
Contact Jim Herron or any of the great guys at the Houston HTOS
club. They've built several, and the children LINE UP and fight
over "time on the bridge." This is the kind of attention
we really should want to foster.
And speaking of modular layouts, how many of us, when running
trains at our mall runs, train suites, or shows, GET OUT from
inside or behind the layout to thrust a Command Control unit into
a youngster's hand to give them a hands-on opportunity to blow
the whistle, or change the direction? This is critically important!!!!
When we were five years old, were WE content with watching dad
or granddad operate the ZW throttle? I doubt it!
SURROUND in "5.1" irresistible environments these young
fathers! The smell of scented smoke, the heft of a nice black
steam engine, the iconic colors of an F3 Santa Fe or Daylight,
the crisp clear Railsounds announcements and diesel revs, the
sight of perfect synchronized Proto 2.0 smoke puff and engine
chuff! Aren't WE proud of how well today's engines perform? Don't
WE thrill to see how well our new trains are built? How well do
we communicate our passion? This is really the key to it all.
Mike Wolf, or someone under his direction, has written a brilliant
summation of the wonderful BENEFITS the toy train hobby can transmit
to our children, located inside the first two pages of the orange
2001 RailKing "Ready-to-Run" catalog. Please make an
effort to locate one for yourself, and read it. Sure, all fifteen
of these items are second nature to US, but what about making
an effort to show this 2-page spread to parents you come in contact
with? Who cares if they end up buying a different brand than what
YOU own? Get them started any way you can, and the sooner, the