Do you know what I like to do during the winter? I work on my model railroad. Sure, start in with the geek jokes. But it's us geeks that make you stare at the wonderment that's been created on a 4-foot-by-8-foot sheet of plywood. The geeks are also the reason I got into the hobby -- they make me look like the coolest guy who builds railroads in miniature.
My grandfather was a trainman on the Boston and Maine that ran through Troy, N.Y., so working on the railroad is a family tradition. It was natural for me to get a train set for Christmas as well. It had to be 1970 or '71 when I got my first train set. I still have two cars that came with that original train running on my HO scale layout, which is more or less completed. I know, boring, but I wanted to give you some background that didn't include me going to reform school.
Curious, I went to Wikipedia for a definition of model railroading, and I was told to get a life. Then they gave the best description of my beloved hobby: 'By spending many hours and large sums of money, a hobbyist can create a railroad and the scenery through which it passes, called a layout.' Many hours are spent, and the money is outrageous. So I buy my materials when I can afford them, which is not too often these days. Hey, don't get on me, because I could be a Star Wars nut.
There are different scales of trains. Most common is the HO scale. I have a working model (it's the only model my wife will let me have) in the HO scale, but I'm presently building on a smaller N scale. On my new layout, the theme is 'a circus train comes to a small town' -- or 'hide your daughters.' Both titles suggest the same thing.
Due to the fact that I am limited by size (the story of my life), I have constructed a simple oval with a siding that backs down into the center of town.
I'm presently working on the scenery. The hills and mountains, the green grass of summer are all done by hand with love and care. The grass cost about the same as a bag did in the '70s, but it doesn't make you so stoned that you listen to 'American Pie' over and over again looking for the hidden meaning.
In my house, model railroading is a family hobby. Dawn has the fine motor skills for building the plastic model homes and factories. Plus, she can be trusted with the glue. I am the landscaper and roads foreman, who not only lays down the turf but makes the trees to be placed around the layout as if I were the Almighty. If I were, I could take my own name in vain when I mess up.
With my layout, there are little plastic people of all types of characters and careers: Nurses, doctors, construction men and railroad workers fill my streets, with bums sitting in box cars and a few women of a certain reputation ... nuns. My train world accepts everyone, no matter of race, creed, steam or diesel.
Do you know what's coming up? The Amherst Railway Society's model train show at the Big E, a massive event that covers three or four buildings with everything railroad, will be held on Jan. 26 and 27. And even if you are not a train nut like everyone else there, it's a must-see. The layouts that are set up for the event are huge, and they either make me confident, knowing I'm on the 'right track' with my setup, or they make me feel as worthless as a bathroom scale.
It only takes a small area in the right scale to get you started. Your local hobby shop or the Internet is a great place to begin. Be fearless and decide where to place that tunnel. Be the boss of your little world. Heck, it's the only place I can't get fired from. Yes, sports fans, its winter and I'm working on the railroad.
Johnnie Carrier is a freelance writer and is proud of the personal growth he showed by not using the word caboose as a euphemism for someone's backside.