by Tony Koester
Trains of Thought column from Model Railroader magazine, December 2008
Reprinted with permission from Model Railroader magazine
Like a lot of folks over 50, and some younger than that, I got my start down the path toward scale model railroading with a Lionel set that magically appeared under the Christmas tree when I was a few years old. That grew into a year-round layout on a 4 x 8-foot sheet of plywood. When I got tired of adding cardboard ties to make the track look more realistic, I bought Super-O track and developed a modicum of scenery skills.
Then one day, Jim, the guy who ran the projector at the local movie theater, told me he was a model railroader and showed me his HO scale track and equipment. When I saw that the truck springs actually worked, I decided then and there it was time to move on to something a bit more realistic than my three-rail stuff. I have never looked back, but I still have most of the Lionel equipment stored away.
Some of the O-27 stuff migrated to the Boston area when it became clear that grandson Jordan was seriously into trains. Judy and I bought him a Lionel steam set with all the bells and whistles – literally! During a visit with son John and his family, we built a table so that Jordan could enjoy running his trains year ’round.
As recently as this past Christmas, I presented him with a bay-window caboose, painted for the Nickel Plate Road – “Papa’s railroad” – of course.
He’s not a teenager yet, but he does play football and encounters the usual distractions of kids his age. More to the point, he’s no longer a little kid who can’t be trusted to take the care required to move into something more delicate and less forgiving such as N or HO scale trains.
I therefore wasn’t surprised when he recently called to ask me if I had some “HO stuff” I didn’t need. He knew that I have enough inventory to open up a hobby shop in my basement, and he figured, correctly, that there were some locomotives and cars that weren’t quite what the NKP Third Sub layout will need.
What motivated the call was of special interest to me. One of his cousins has a dad who is an HO modeler, and Jordan’s jaw dropped when he saw what Jeffrey now had in his basement. It’s a classic 4 x 8 stand-alone layout, as dad Paul has reserved the perimeter of the room for his new layout, now that he is putting the finishing touches on a thorough basement remodeling job.
No two ways about it: Jordan was going to have a scale model railroad like that in his basement. Now!
United Parcel Service bridged the gap between New Jersey and Boston in short order, and the phone rang again. Jordan’s thank you was in the form of a rapid-fire data dump. The excitement and joy in his voice reminded me of the Christmases when I opened up a blue-and-orange box and found a new Lionel accessory that would fit perfectly on my upstairs-bedroom layout. No matter how much we adults enjoy model trains, it fades in comparison to the unbounded delight with which a youngster confronts a box or two filled with train stuff.
And this was a new kind of train stuff: scale models. Put another way, it’s the kind of train stuff that he has to keep at arm’s length from equally excited but considerably younger sister Katelyn. Fortunately, his suddenly passé Lionel trains are just what his red-headed, firebrand sibling can enjoy, and enjoy them she does! Maybe I’ll get two model railroaders out of this deal.
The box contained six HO diesels; I felt steam was best reserved for the days when the new railroad has had the bugs worked out. Among them were a Model Rectifier New York Central F7, an Atlas Cotton Belt GP40, and a pair of the firm’s Rutland RS-1s. All are good-running, durable engines. I told his parents that, come good weather, they were commanded to head northwest to Bellows Falls, Vt., to ride the Green Mountain Ry.’s tourist train, which last time I looked was powered by an identical Rutland-scheme RS-1 lettered for the GM.
I also asked Jordan what his favorite railroad is, and I was delighted to hear his reply: The Boston & Maine has caught his eye, perhaps because cousin Jeffrey has some B&M equipment. Good choice; the local B&M was a colorful railroad with enough main- and branchline variety to fulfill anyone’s model railroading dreams. His mom and dad are alums of Keene State University, and a B&M line ran through Keene on its way to a connection with the Rutland at Bellows Falls. Maybe there’s the nucleus of a future layout in there somewhere.
Of course, he’s been “operating” my NKP layout since before it was even a complete layout, so that may rub off on him. Or maybe he’ll want to freelance, as I initially did. And, of course, girls and cars and college still lie ahead of him. So be it.
The main thing is that he has now made the transition, on his own, to scale model railroading. I couldn’t be more proud. MR