Saturday, May 14, 2005

A Model Train Vacation

We used to travel from Colorado to Texas every summer to visit my cousins. My cousins were two boys, about the same age as me, and their house was always a blast because they had a pool, they lived near the ocean, and they had an amazing model train village set up in one of their rooms.

The two boys each had very small bedrooms right next to one another, one with a red bedspread and one with blue; identical in every way, other than the bedspreads. But one year we showed up in our old Bronco after driving for 17 hours to find that they had moved in together. Both the blue and the red bed were crowded into two rooms and in the former 2nd bedroom they had set up a large plywood table with a model train village that covered most of the small 10x10 room.

The village was extremely detailed. These two boys were about 12 and 14 years of age, but they had put work into it that gave it a professional look. The model train was a small, narrow gage engine with a few basic cars and of course, a red caboose. But it wasn't so much the train that gave the village its appeal; it was the variety of landscaping, terrain, and villages.

On one side of the table there was a low-lying village by the sea, complete with tiny boats, docks, and blue-painted water. The model train tracks swept through the edge of town, not far from the harbor, with an old fashioned train station and loading dock situated just so.

As the train chugged along the tracks away from the seaside village, it passed a short beach before it began a small ascent up into the hills away from the sea. There it passed miniature forests, mountain glens and the occasional plastic deer or fox hiding in the trees. There was even an RV out for a campout next to a small picnic table.

The train meandered through the hills around to the far side of the table where it met with another village. This time the village was a mining town, complete with a painted-on tumbling river for gold-panning, saloons and a hotel on the main street, and a mine next to the tallest hill on the edge of the town. The train passed and slowed down considerably right next to the mine.

After the mountain town, the model train began a gentle ascent around toward the middle of the table where a beautiful valley opened up and there was a woodland lake with an old farmhouse near-by. Tiny people were situated outside the farmhouse: a farmer working in a miniature field and children waving from the porch of the house. The train slowed again as it passed by.

After circling the valley with the farmhouse, the model train then chugged back up a short hill past a road with a few model cars placed strategically in front of the flashing railroad crossing sign. The barriers would lower and rise as the train passed. After this, the model train once again descended back around to the front of the table where it began at the seaside village.

The terrain was truly beautiful and the details precise. Nothing was left undone; while watching the model train go about its scheduled course, one could lose himself in the trip, imagining he were actually on the train, seeing the sights on a life-sized scale. I used to watch the train for long periods of time, delighted when it slowed at the right times, always watching to see if the railroad crossing barriers lowered on time. It was peaceful, with the only sound as that of the chugging train that blew a small whistle when it approached the mine and when it passed the road.

Several days later, on our long drive back to Colorado, I watched the scenery go by out the car window, remembering my miniature vacation with the model train. We passed wheat field, cotton fields, small towns, large cities, and campgrounds. As we made our way north, we climbed into the foothills, passed rivers and streams, and saw life-sized railroad crossings. We even had the pleasure of seeing several real-life trains on our trip and they made me smile.

I haven't had much opportunity to ride on life-sized trains, and when I have, it usually hasn't been for pleasure, but rather, for the necessity of getting somewhere in a timely fashion. But there is pleasure to be found in riding a train the old-fashioned way, watching the trees, meadows and small towns go by, seeing a view only available to those on the track.

But if the opportunity isn't possible, the next best thing is a model railroad. When you take the time to set up your own model railroad in a spare room or basement, you can take the old fashioned vacation of your dreams without leaving your own home.

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