Every day when I drive to Big Timber Creek to walk my dog, Trixie Belden, I pass a small store-front shop with trains and models in boxes and bins out front. I always mean to stop by because since childhood I have been a big fan of model trains, though from a distance..
When I was growing up in South Philadelphia in the 1950's, my father bought trains for my brother, two years younger than I am. Now, don't get me wrong, my brother loved the trains, but I adored them from afar not just because they were for him, but because they made an entire small world. We had the really big platform that you can imagine a gifted carpenter and an iron-worker such as my father was, would make. It took the major part of the living room with a tree to the ceiling. We had tunnels and mountains, lakes and a village, a skating pond and a great number of lead figures walking, skating, waiting in the train station.
The hosues were that glittering pasteboard type made in "occupied Japan" with waxed paper windows and a hole in the botttom so you cluld put Christmas lights in them and they would glow.
The magic of it all just entranced me. The sets grew as the years went by and my other brother, Neal, got his set. The trains would cross one another with heart-stopping speed. Truth be told, I never ASKED for a set, I simply privately loved them because I knew they weren't for girls. That doesn't mean that I, in any way scorned my dolls. I loved them too, it was just the power of those trains was magnetic. They raced around the track in all their weighty metal complexity. Once in awhile, I was allowed to drive the trains from the control box and that was an awesome responsibility. .
Adding to the magic was the tradition of the time and place, of putting everything up in one night after the children were put to bed. Armed with hammers, nails, industrial staplers, and my Godfather, Neal Schmidt, my mother's cooking and a case of beer, they would stay up all night to perform the magic every year on Christmas Eve and when we awoke on Christmas morning, there would be this entire tiny world and the whistle blowing train. Under the platform were the gifts, robots and trucks for my brother Joe, dolls and books and tea sets for me.
Eventually my father gave the train sets to my brothers who, less sentimental than I am, and into which category most people would belong, my brothers sold their train sets.
Well, you can't hold on to everything, as I have grown to understand myself.
Back to today, Saturday, October 17, on the way home from the Big Timber Creek dog park, I decided to pull over and drop in at the little train shop. Mac, the proprietor, gave me a tour and it was impressive. He had stacked platforms to allow him to display several kinds of train sets, Lionel and others, which I am too train ignormant to be able to name. The top set in a 3 tiered shelving area were enormous. But the star of the show to me was the middle set, just like the ones I knew growing up except this one not only blew a whistle and had smoke coming out the stack, but there were voices coming out of it giving orders to the train engineer. As much as I loved it, it is far too large for my house.
The little 'N' gauge, however looked just right and I'm going to buy it for myself for Christmas this year (or maybe even for my birthday which is in November. Mac kindly offered to help me with securing the tracks to a sheet of wood when I'm ready to buy my set. I'm so excited! In return, I told him I'd blog about his shop.
Buy Sell Trade
304 N. Black Horse Pike
Runnemede, NJ 08078
I can't wait to get started. I think I'll leave mine up the whole first year and simply change the landscape to match the season. I could have spring, then little boats on the pond in the summer, and snow in the winter.
On another but relatd topic, as I mentioned before, I collect postcards and have been sending 30 of them to my daughter for her birthday. Recently, almost as if a prediction, I came across three train postcards, which I rarely to never see. Two of them are the Mount Royal train station, one a train passing through at Mount Royal and the other is a color postal of a train in the mountains in Pennsylvania.
I hope a new obsession isn't rooting itself in my heart. There is just too much to learn and know to get too deep into the model train hobby at this point in my life, though one 'N' gauge set seems modest enough.
Happy Trails! Can't You hear the whistle blowing?
Hope to see you at Mac's Trains one of these days! It is just in time for Christmas.
As it happens, I didn't have my camera with me but I'll go back and take some photos to post SOON!
And I'll post a pic of my new train set when I get it set up.