This is an experiment. Both the blog and the train layout. I might not stick with either.
My son, we’ll call him The Boy, is 12. I’m his dad. I’m 44. Ever since The Boy was little, I mean really little, he was obsessed with trains. I don’t know where it came from, this obsession. I was always more into airplanes myself.
We lived near a spur line and had to cross over the tracks to get to our neighborhood. Whenever we’d drive over we’d say “clickity-clack” with him in that crazy way parents do to train kids to say cute things on cue. He also learned to say “Punch it, Chewie!” whenever I started the car. Once a week or so a slow, rumbling engine would push a single car down the spur to some warehouse in town and we’d rush to the bridge over the tracks and wave at the engineer. The plant has since closed, the tracks removed, and the right-of-way forever tied up in limbo waiting to be turned into a bike trail. It’s now an overgrown strip of land where abutters toss their old car batteries. Progress.
When you’re a parent and your kid expresses interest in anything other than spitting up food, you encourage it. We’d take him downtown to the bridge over the main line where he could watch MBTA Commuter Rail trains come and go. We’d take trips to the library for Brio Thunderdome, where toddlers would fight over the engines and push each other out of the way in order to set up their trains on the wooden Brio track. Trips into Boston were always on the subway. We had a book of original Thomas the Tank Engine Stories and a slew of Thomas DVDs narrated by none other than George Carlin.
We’d take him to a train-based theme park, Edaville Railroad, where he could ride an old narrow gauge line through the cranberry bogs. Occasionally, the actual Thomas the Tank Engine would be there, or at least a regular train covered in plywood to look like Thomas, but toddlers are pretty easily fooled. I also once taught him that pretzels grew on trees. I can outsmart most toddlers.
The first Christmas where he was old enough to understand material things he found a Fisher Price GeoTrack set under the tree. He’d spend hours and hours setting up the track in elaborate layouts, stacking up books to make tunnels and bridges. The next few Christmases were easy, with endless GeoTrack accessories to buy.
Over the years the obsession calmed down a bit but never really went away. When a train pulled up he’d stare at the undercarriage, examining how it all worked. He was really into the mechanics of the whole thing. How did the switches direct the cars to other lines? How do the couplers work? Is Sir Topham Hatt going to suffer from type-2 diabetes?
When a train show rolled into town, or at least into any town within driving distance, we’d go to look at the giant layouts. There’d be scale miles and miles of track laid out, all beautifully landscaped. Guys in overalls and engineer hats would run the cars around the tracks on a schedule, moving boxcars between the different industries, just like on a real railroad. We’d marvel at the little people walking around the miniature towns, driving miniature cars, getting into miniature bar fights.
We’d look at these amazingly detailed models and see that they were built with plywood, nails, glue, plastic, and off-the shelf train parts and we’d both think “Some day, we should build one of these.”
And here we are. Stay tuned.