If you were a boy like me, growing up (initially) in the South in the early 1950s, then you probably like trains as much as I do. There is both a mystique and an irresistible call in the air when you talk about railroads with little boys. And not just little boys. Big ones, too!
My father was a steward for a while with Southern Railroad out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. That fact lent itself beautifully to my fascination with trains. My next door neighbor, Mickey, had a father who worked in the rail yard, and once gave us a ride on his engine. So exciting!
So, when Dad one day went out to the garage, reached up to the planks that held storage above the spot where you’d park your car, and came down with a cardboard box that contained an old electric train set (possibly Lionel, but I don’t recall) that had once belonged to his nephew, Edward, my brother and I were beside ourselves.
There was a transformer that went with the set, a heavy, square black box that was probably about 10 inches wide. When you ran the engine you could smell the electricity surging through it, and it smelled like it was mixed with oil. It was probably a fire hazard, but we didn’t know that, so . . . .
We would take our time setting up the track, sending it under chairs and winding here and there. Then we’d turn off the lights so we could see the bright headlight on the engine as it made its way through our makeshift hill and dale. The sights and smells were nothing short of captivating.
Then in 1963 when we moved to Tucson, Arizona that box never surfaced again; I guess it didn’t make the proverbial “cut.” I wish I had it now.
What DID stay with me, however, was a fascination with trains. Every time since as early as I can remember I have been captivated by railroad tracks. Even in college in Arkansas one time I walked the railroad tracks all the way from Searcy to Kinsett. I didn’t know it was against the law. I took a girl named Melinda on a date one night, and after the show we saw (The Don Cossack Choir) I asked her if she’d like to walk on the railroad tracks with me. She gave me a weird look; I had no clue what was wrong. To me, it seemed a perfectly natural thing to do.
Now as I approach 68 years old I find I am still enthralled with railroad tracks and trains, and I’d like very much to have another electric train in the house. I actually built a table for an HO gauge train years ago, then sold it to a neighbor. Now I fantasize about having one encircle the room where we keep computers, guitars, etc.; I’d put it above the door, up high, so it wouldn’t take up any needed space. Pipe dream? Perhaps. But it would be fun to share with the grandkids.
What intrigues me is my fascination with small lifelike things: trains and tracks, buildings with small lights, miniature people doing realistic tasks. As I blogged several years ago about this I commented about this desire to have a small world at my fingertips, one where I was large and in charge, and all that occurred was in my purview and in my control. Maybe you’re not so different from me.
There would be no viruses in my little world, no serious illness or death, no impoliteness or unresolved anger. It would be idyllic, with a bucolic countryside and a small town full of pleasant, industrious, happy folks, friendly pets, and well behaved children. There would be harmony.
The ancient Hebrew writer, Isaiah, spoke of a time to come when wolves would lie down with lambs, and carnivores would eat straw. That sounds like a pretty safe place to live.
This world, of course, is not like the little town I describe. Maybe that’s why we are drawn sometimes to the “Mayberry” kind of existence, where peacefulness is rarely interrupted by anything more serious than jaywalking or a flat tire. I’ve written about our desire to create Utopia before, and I suppose this is just another way of achieving that same thing. It’s a bit of a conundrum as to why that desire is in us, when there is no way it will ever come about. But that’s a subject for another time, in another blog.
As good as our life is down here, it is far from idyllic. Perhaps the desire to have a diminutive world in the form of a train set is not a bad thing. In fact, it might be “just the ticket” helping us retreat from time to time to an existence over which we have more control. Of course, we must return to “the real world” and learn how to navigate reality. But who couldn’t use a little break from the drama now and then?