Monday, December 17, 2012

Toy train time

Yesterday I hauled the big box of toy trains up from the basement and set it up on the carpeted floor of my office for the holidays.

For a child of my generation, there was no greater marvel than a model train rattling endlessly round and round a loop of track. In time with the clickety-clack of wheels over rail joints, our minds would project flickering dreams onto a screen of wonder that included Santas and candy canes and evergreen trees and fathers coming home from Manhattan behind a massive black Ten-Wheeler, chuffing coal smoke, on the Erie Railroad.

These became the elusive memories of Christmases past, the ones we try to rekindle in our old age and sometimes manage to recapture.

It has been a long time since the pastime of model trains captivated entire generations. Mighty locomotives gave way to mightier airliners and rockets, then Playstations and Wiis. Youthful obsessions change as technology advances. This is a kind of human progress, although nobody believes in the perfectibility of mankind anymore.

Yet I doubt that the latest clever electronic game can match toy trains for the thrilling sense of history they once instilled into children. They showed us how in the nineteenth century the young United States broad-shouldered its way on steel rails from Atlantic to Pacific, the grandest flowering of the Industrial Revolution. "Westward the course of empire takes its way," wrote the Irish poet George Berkeley in that simpler and more hopeful time.

Pardon me while I get down on the rug and govern my little empire.


  1. I am interested in the engine pictured. It appears like the ones used circa 1860s in the US, particularly on the Western & Atlantic railroad (TN and GA). A couple of the engines were made famous by the Andrews Raid during the Civil War - The General and Texas. Several subsequent movies added to the event. Your engine looks like those (though I haven't looked back in my records for the data). I have been semi-focused on the War in the West and the impact of railroads therein.

  2. Mike, that's a Bachmann G scale "Big Hauler" Ten-Wheeler in Virginia & Truckee colors. Bachmann issues the same generic locomotive (some of them with straight rather than teakettle smokestacks) for a number of railroads, and I think the W&A is one of them. The design, however, seems a little late for the Civil War era (4-4-0s rather than 4-6-0s were the standard locomotive before 1870).

  3. What happened when my model of the USS Wisconsin fired on the train? Colin

  4. It's quite fortunate for kids of previous generations to enjoy a scenery of a model train. Somehow, parents still want to implement the same experience like before. However, with the rise of technology, all those tablets, smartphones and computers, it is hard to get them interested with trains. But there are still a large number of kids who love trains.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and goodluck! Enjoy!