Monday, February 27, 2012

All Aboard!!!

Thought for the day:  I didn't get a toy train like the other kids. I got a toy subway instead. You couldn't see anything, but every now and then you'd hear this rumbling noise go by.  [Stephen Wright]

Do you like trains? I've always had kind of a thing for them, whether it be the real thing, the authentic to-scale workable steam engines a friend of ours builds, or the fantasy world of model trains.

Not far from my grandmother's house was an old-fashioned train crossing, the kind with a little bitty building sheltering an honest-to-goodness man, who'd emerge with his little red flag to stop traffic (all one of us) whenever a train was coming. He always waved and smiled at us, and sometimes there'd be another smiling, waving man standing out back of the  little red caboose, too, with a lantern in his hand.

Romanticized memories of lying in bed listening to the haunting sound of train whistles through my grandmother's open windows at night caused me to later suffer a severe case of temporary insanity, during which I thought it would be a swell idea to rent an apartment right next to some train tracks. Suffice it to say the BANG! CRASH! BOOM! steel-laden freight trains from Bethlehem Steel passing by around the clock, causing  mini-earthquakes in our apartment wasn't particularly romantic.

Anyway, not long ago, my husband asked me if I'd like to go to a train show. Not the box cars like we both used to climb on and jump (shhhh!) when we were kids, but model trains. All kinds of model trains.

          Well, heck yeah.

In addition to various gauge models, there were also a bunch of lanterns, the kind I remember those men holding on the cabooses so long ago. And there were sets of dishes from some of the old passenger trains. Lots of neat stuff to look at, especially all the model trains winding through their miniature pretend worlds.

Here's an overview of one of the set-ups.

A horse race! Isn't this the cutest thing?

OOOH! A farm!

A shooting gallery, part of a carnival 

Bumper cars, anyone?
The guy loading the coal car was having entirely too much fun.

The show included all kinds of neat displays (like a BUNCH of carnival rides) with movable parts, flashing lights, sounds, and some buildings so detailed, they looked like someone had zapped the real thing with a sci-fi shrink ray. Check out the details in this general store:

There were tiny gas stations with cars up on a lift, car shows, factories, water towers, a produce stand, diners and even a McDonald's. Lots of intricate details and bits of whimsy. If you've never been to a model train show and have the opportunity to attend, I highly recommend it. Take the kids and/or grandkids, too. (Children get in for FREE!)

Did you have (or do you still have) model trains? When I was a kid, a number of the fire departments in and around Baltimore set up an enormous Christmas Garden in one of their bays every year. Did the firehouses in your area do that, too? The Dundalk Fire Department, where I used to be mesmerized, stopped doing their Garden in 1978, but another fire department in the area took it over. This is a shot of the new garden. Looks just as magical.

I even found some cool videos taken at the new garden. Here's one of them. Hope you enjoy it:

Time for a quick railroad story about customer service:

 In 1895, after suffering a bunch of bedbug bites while trying to sleep in a Pullman Palace Car, an irate customer wrote a letter of complaint. Soon after, he received a very nice letter of apology from George Pullman's corresponding secretary, in which she thanked him profusely for alerting them to the problem, and explained how extremely rare bedbug bites were. She assured him the car had been properly fumigated and returned to service. The customer might have been mollified, had it not been for one mistake. The secretary inadvertently included Pullman's handwritten note, which read, Sarah, send this S.O.B. the bedbug letter. 

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Always make sure the light at the end of the tunnel isn't an oncoming train.


  1. Love the S.O.B. letter! That was funny.

    My brother used to have a train- set set up in the basement when we were kids. That thing was huge and he had all the trimmings. Trees, mountains, snow, a city with people and cars, a farm with cows and horses, I think by the time he was finished building it he'd even wired it with electricity and lights for the houses. It was beautiful.

  2. I think the extensive railroad system our country *used* to have is fascinating. Remnants of train tracks criss-cross the rural, wooded areas near my home. It used to be that public transportation provided access to tiny towns throughout this area -- but cars put them out of business ... and subsequently made these places almost inaccessible.

    Was that progress?

  3. I love life on the miniature side. thanks for sharing.

  4. LOL! I love that story.

    Hubs is a big model railroad fan, too--I bet he would have loved that show.

  5. My late father in law had a private carriage on an Indian train, and had been warned about the fleas and bugs. He took a spray with him to deal with the problem, but as soon as he'd sprayed, the whole carriage became one mass of angry creatures, and he was forced to abandon. Better occasionally to simply accept the situation!

  6. Ha! good story!
    I like going to train shows and I really enjoy it when people set up their train sets at Christmas time. so cool.

  7. Trains played a large part in my life when I was young. I still dream of running to catch the 7:05.

    My favorite sound in the world is the haunting whistle of the train as it passes thru town. Even though the tracks are a few miles away, I get to hear it most evenings in the summer and it makes me nostolgic for days gone by.

  8. I love dinner trains. And my dream would be to take a trip on the Orient Express.

    Here in Chattanooga, they have special train rides during the autumn that take you through the mountains to see the colored leaves. I've never been on it though. I've heard you have to make reservation a year in advance.

  9. Son and husband are complete train fanatics. We have the layout in the basement. They go chase trains and film them. Oh, yeah, and husband is an engineer. The train talk never stops at our house.

  10. My husband is a train fanatic. He'd love this post.For his 60th birthday, he's going to drive an actual steam engine. He's like a little kid about it. It will happen in May.

  11. Anne- I think that S.O.B. letter is a hoot, too. Neat about your brother having the big set-up as a kid. One of my cousins had an enormous layout in his basement, too. We come from a large extended family, and for several years, on every holiday, everyone in the family gave him something for his trains. (Me? I didn't have trains, so everybody gave me underwear ...)

    Dianne- Now, the trend seems to be to reexamine the viability of going back to more trains ... even street cars ... to get some of the gas-guzzlers off the road. What's that saying? Something about "everything old becoming new again"? (Um, except for ME, doggone it!)

    Delores- Oh, me, too! The more detailed and whimsical, the better. Like some of the intricate dollhouses with the beautiful furnishings that are available now. (A lot more realistic than the metal house and uni-colored plastic furniture I had as a kid!)

    Linda- I'll betcha if you check, you'll find some similar shows in your neck of the woods. You and your hubby would probably both enjoy them.

    Cro- Oh, no! Only thing worse than fleas and bedbugs is ticked-off fleas and bedbugs.

    Jennifer- Oh, good. Glad to hear you go to train shows, too. (It's hard to tell who enjoys them more ... the kids, or the grown-ups who look as enthralled as kids.)

    Arleen- We have train tracks close enough to us that we get to hear their whistles from our house, too. A wonderful sound, and much MUCH better than living right NEXT to the tracks.

    Connie- Oh, you live where they have the Chattanooga Choo-Choo! How cool! OH, I hope you do get to travel on the Orient Express someday. Bet you'd find some real inspiration there for one of your books. (But don't do murder ... I believe that's already been done. HA!)

    L.G.- How wonderful! Especially since your husband and son share an interest in it. Maybe you can show off their layout on your blog sometime.

    Y'all take care. Thanks for stopping by.

  12. Karen- Oh, how neat! He must be really excited. (I'd much rather do that to celebrate a birthday than jump out of a perfectly good airplane.) One of our friends is a top-notch metal worker and fabricator, and he builds steam engines that are not only things of beauty, but authentic working replicas down to the most minute details. He has a track in his back yard, and the trains he builds are large enough for him to sit on top of the engine and ride it around the track.

  13. Funny, I went to one of those shows a couple of weeks ago myself. I get a kick out of the models, but not so much the real trains themselves.
    I watched a movie the other day about Woodie Guthrie in which there is a scene where railroad thugs kill a hitchhiker during the Great Depression. I could never figure out the outright brutality wrought on those poor people by the railroads. Visions of trains in India where the roofs are covered by hitchhikers come to mind. What's the big deal?
    Sorry, didn't mean to rain on your happy post.

  14. I've always thought trains were rather romantic as well.
    I once lived in a town on the wrong side of the train tracks. We had to wait for trains all the time because they blocked our way to the main town. I liked watching them as a kid. The noise kept me awake at night for a while after we moved there. But eventually, the sound of them passing by lulled me to sleep.

  15. Mr. C- Nah, you didn't rain on my post. There's brutality in the railroading history, but there's brutality in other fields as well. Doesn't mean I can't get nostalgic at the sound of a train passing by, or enjoy wearing a nice cotton shirt.

    Emily- I have to cross a train track to get home from the grocery store, and as best I can tell, the likelihood of having to stop and wait for a train to pass is directly proportional to the number perishables I have in the trunk of the car.

  16. love this post and love trains! There was an old man I knew who had a neat set up in his basement, nothing like that Christmas/Winter scene but it was pretty cool. Plus I have a live train that passes by less than a mile from my house every day a few times. I can even hear the whistle :)

  17. There's something about trains. I always loved them and still do. I used to have a model railway set as a kid.

    Nowadays, we're regular visitors to a local heritage site, which is also the home of a group of model engineers. They have a miniature railway winding through the woods which visitors can ride on.

  18. Wow, this was great. I think you were on the right track with this posting. Fascinating and you rekindled my memories of a time, a bit too long ago, when I was a little boy.
    If I had my way, my house would be covered in miniature train tracks and little steam engines. I would have a blue steam engine named 'Thomas' and the steam engine would have a Liverpool accent. Not sure if Ringo Starr wants to visit, however.
    Thanks for this. Must go now. My caboose is on the loose :)

  19. Wow!! The detail on the Christmas Garden is amazing. I loved watching the video. My favorite part is the little drive-in. How cool is that? Totally cool. And the moral of your railroad story, proof-read, proof-read, proof-read! Oh, and Stephen Wright is one of my favorite comedians. Enjoyable read, Susan! :)

  20. I like the sound of a train whistle in the distance when I'm falling asleep.

    Janie Junebug, who is now on twitter and wants to be followed

  21. The s.o.b. letter is a classic! When my boys were little we would go to a special park that had different model trains that you could sit in. They enjoyed playing in those trains even more than their Brio train set! Julie

  22. One of the things on my Bucket List is to take an overnight train ride. I have never boon on one, but I love the idea of sitting eating dinner and watching the scenery go by. :)

    The effort that goes into these custom sets is mind-boggling. Definitely a labor of love :)

  23. Loved this.

    My father grew up next to the railroad tracks, so close, he'd say, that you couldn't stand on the porch when the train went by...

    And anything that can be done in miniature? Big fan here. I can see having a train room.


  24. Marcy- A mile away from the train tracks is just about a perfect distance. (That's about how far we are from the tracks, too.)

    Botanist- That heritage site sounds wonderful. Maybe the next time you visit, you can take a few pictures for your blog.

    Gary- HA! Glad you thought this post was on "the right track." (But ya know what they say about that, dontcha? Even if you're on the right track, you've gotta move, or you'll get run over.) Thanks for stopping by.

    Intricate Knot- Glad you liked that video of the Christmas garden. The video is cool, but there's nothing like seeing it in person. Makes you feel like a little kid again.

    Janie- Makes for some soothing night music, as long as the tracks aren't too doggone close.

    Julie- Glad you got a kick out of that letter. The park sounds really neat. I don't think we have anything to compare to that around here.

    Angela- Go for it! That's a much more doable bucket list item than the pie-in-the-sky things I have on mine.

    Pearl- I'm a huge fan of the miniaturization, too, especially if it's got a lot of details.

    Thanks for stopping by, everybody. Y'all rock.

  25. I love that story about the train by your grandmother's house. When we were little and taking road trips with my parents, when trains would go by, we would roll down our windows and do everything we could do get them to blow the whistle. It was always the most thrilling thing when they did. We would squeeeel!

  26. Mr A would have loved to be at that train show. I like trains but I prefer the real sort that you can climb into. We've travelled on all sorts of trains, the narrow rickety one that took us on the Glacier Express in Switzerland, the posh plush one through the Channel Tunnel on Eurostar and overland to Venice on a sleeper that wasn't a sleeper because I was awake all night.

  27. Hi Susan .. great fun - my brothers had a train set for a while .. but my cousins' was huge and stretched across their attic - and they had an internal telephone system .. comes of having engineers in the family!!

    I love your bedbug story - that's worth repeating ..

    Cheers Hilary

  28. Tracy- I'm glad the story reminded you of a happy memory. I wonder if engineers still blow the whistle for kids today. (I hope so!)

    Rosalind- Wow! It sounds like you're a real train pro, compared to the rest of us. You've already experienced what most of us only hope to do someday. Good for you!

    Hilary- That train set in the attic must've been something to see! Glad you like the bedbug story. Repeat it all you'd like. Cheers back atcha.