Model railroading nostalgia

This morning – I’m writing this in early April, 2019 – I got an email from a friend near Seattle, telling me a bit about this model railroad convention he was attending.

It made me smile and remember with fondness my own experience with model railroading. It was one of my very first experiences with being an “enthusiast” for anything.

It began when my parents bought me a model train set at an age when I was too young to remember getting it, and I “kinda” liked it, but it always felt somewhat hollow, because all it consisted of was an oval with a bypass loop, and a 4-car train. Yeah, so it would go around and around the track, and I could switch to the bypass, and I could push a slide on the transformer and sound the train whistle, but it all got boring quite rapidly.

The convention my friend was attending was for S-Gauge model layouts, and I was suprised at how large this convention was.

There seemed to be far more S-gauge niche model railroaders in that area of the country than I would have ever expected, and it also looks like they are all super-involved with their hobby.

Yep. Enthusiasts. That would describe them. If you’re interested in seeing their website, it’s here, although if you visit there much after this writing (April 2019) I can’t predict what you’ll see.

I was amazed to see that for that convention, they had FOURTEEN submitted layouts, and I found myself wondering how in the world all 14 of these operations could move their layouts to the convention venue – I mean, way back when, I only had a 4×8 layout in my bedroom, and it was a royal pain to move that when I sold it. (I had to sell it because my parents sold the house and we were moving to a different house that didn’t have room for it.)

But when digging deeper into the convention’s website, I saw that they (probably) DON’T move the layouts. The convention comes to their layout’s venue. If that’s the case, then it makes a lot more sense.

I don’t know an awful lot about “other people’s layouts,” but I am pretty confident that almost every single one of them would be darn near impossible to move to a different location, unless it was built from scratch to be movable and transportable. And the more complex (better) a layout gets, the more impossible it is to move.

I was also fascinated to see that the convention was solely about S-gauge, as I have never seen but maybe one small S-gauge layout. My very first train set, when I was single-digit age, was O-gauge, and even way back then, I was not happy with that third rail. I remember Lionel coming out with “Super O” that had a blade-like and darkened third rail, in an attempt to make it less obvious, but it didn’t really help. No “real” train has a third rail going down the middle. Right?

I remember going to my cousin’s house in Kane, PA, and being mildly jealous of the huge O-gauge layout he had in his attic, but also being puzzled because all it consisted of was a lot of track and one train, and no scenery at all, and I remember thinking, “What’s the point? So it runs, big deal. Why don’t they have scenery?” This was when I was very young, like 5 to 7? But I still remember that impression today.

One of the first major decisions of my life (well, it was major to me, back then) was to get rid of the O-gauge setup and build an HO layout. I just now learned what HO stands for: “Half-O”.  I also recently learned a lot more about the other standard model gauges: S, N, and Z.

If you’re interested, there’s an excellent description of these gauges here.

What inspired me to move from O-gauge to HO was a layout published in Boy’s Life magazine in (I hate to date myself this way) late 1958, where they showed the finished layout, and promised to publish “How To Build This” steps in future issues.

I was enthralled. I devoured those instructions, and built that layout, on a sheet of 4×8 plywood in my bedroom, mounted on 2 sawhorses, and I was delighted with how realistic I was able to make it look. No doubt it was horribly amateurish by today’s standards, but as a kid, way back then, I was truly tickled with it.

I regret having to get rid of it, but I regret even more not having gotten any pictures of it.  Of course, the state of the art consumer camera back then was the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye box camera. Remember those? They were the kind where the thing was about a 5” cube and you had to look down into the viewfinder, and mash a slide switch with your thumb to take a picture. Black and white film was the norm. Color film and prints were much more expensive.

I know this has been rather lengthy, but I do know enthusiasts are the same everywhere – they LOVE to talk about their passion. So if you are an enthusiast – about anything – you’ll understand.

All this remembering the pleasure I got out of model railroading all those years ago has caused me to search for a model railroading club near where I live. And I found one!

Now maybe I’ll go visit them and see what kind of layout they’ve got.

You never can tell. I might get back into it.

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