I’ll never forget my first electric train. I was six. My dad nailed it to a piece
of 4X6 plywood. After I was asleep on Christmas eve, he somehow got it
up into our tiny apartment above the bar, and set it up on the floor next to
the tree. I remember being thrilled on Christmas morning. I didn’t occur
to me ’til much later in life, what a neat trick it must have been for Dad to
get that train upstairs and set up without waking me. Wow. What us parents
will do, right?
My next train, at 13, was an American Flyer passenger train, S gauge.
I went to the post office twice a day for two weeks before Christmas,
hoping the big box with my new train set would come in. It finally came
in on Christmas Eve, with the last mail truck of the week. Years later I
asked Ben Williams, the postmaster, if he hadn’t received it earlier and
simply kept it until the last minute. He always insisted it came in on the
very last mail truck.
The train I wanted was the Santa Fe version, with the sleek silver and red
engines. On Christmas morning I opened the big box to find a green
passenger train instead… a Northern Pacific version. The included letter
explained they had run out of Santa Fe’s, so they sent me a Northern
Pacific version, mentioning that it was the train that ran through Montana.
Well, I was crushed. I had anticipated that beautiful silver and red locomotive
of the Santa Fe for so long, I felt, well… rooked. And I said so to my mom.
I set it up anyway, built a little log fort around it, and ran it all morning, every
so often repeating, “I’ve been rooked!” Finally Mom came out of the bathroom
and glared at me. “If I hear you say ‘I’ve been rooked’ one more time, I’m going
to put it back in the box and send it back!” And that was pretty much that.
Later, I learned to love my NP passenger train, and enjoyed it for several years.
I bought my third and final train in ’76, the result of a broken relationship that
upset me to the point where I took my brand new Visa card to a hobby shop
and maxed it out, $750 worth. 8 engines, 40-50 freight cars, a mile of track,
24 electric switches, two transformers and 3 different how-to books. I built a
large L-shaped layout in the spare bedroom, and enjoyed it for about a year
before having to move.
So this train sat in two large boxes for 40 years before we unpacked it last
Thanksgiving and started building our new layout. To our total surprise,
everything still worked, switches, engines, everything. I couldn’t believe it.
We decided to build an 8X6 layout for it in B’s garage… and we did. Took us
7 months, and what a fun project it was!
Turns out B is a fine builder, and built all our buildings and painted them. The
real challenge was the coal mine, which was a kit that looked like a box full
of about 500 toothpicks. It took her over a week to build, but was it ever worth
it… she even painted it to look old! Then she learned to make rocks, boulders
and outcroppings out of plaster and molds, painting them to look aged and
stained. It was remarkable, how she took to this project. Our dining room
table was taken over by models and paints for well over a month.
A little history here – we love the Northern Exposure TV series, and after visiting
Roslyn, WA, decided to model our train layout after it. Reading up on Roslyn’s
history, we discovered it was a coal mining hub in the early years, and that
the Milwaukee Road and the Northern Pacific used to run through its
neighboring town, Cle Elum, for many years. Perfect, as I already had
Northern Pacific and Milwaukee Road locos and cars. So off we went, and
here are the results of our fun winter’s project, including a 10-minute video
of the layout. Hope you enjoy… Merry Christmas! https://vimeo.com/244922243