Sunday, December 31, 2006

Rethinking Model Trains

On a recent visit to see holiday lights, I was reminded of how much people can love railroading. We went to a local park to see the Christmas lights. After seeing the lights, you have the option of turning in and checking out the other exhibits. Though it was bitterly cold, I wanted my son to get a chance to see the museum inside. The museum itself was about the history of horses and was fascinating both for us and for our toddler.

He got the most excitement out of the model train exhibit, however. A local railroad enthusiasts club was set up in one of the conference rooms. They had information to educate the uninitiated about the various scales of trains. Then they had exhibits set up in the various scales.

My son was oohing and aahing the entire time. He had a blast checking out the trains. He was impressed with the small detail he saw on the very small-scale trains, and he was excited to see Thomas the Tank coming around the bend in one of the larger exhibits. The exhibiters, too, seemed to delight in seeing the children there enjoy their work.

It reminded that something that has existed for a long time is still around because so many people get pleasure out of it. Model trains are an interesting hobby because they can teach us so much. Many people now think of trains as only an inconvenience if they have ever even lived close enough to a rail line to see trains regularly. I grew up in a train town, and we had 100 or so pass through everyday. Trust me that it can get old to have to wait on trains all the time. The overpass in our town has been around only about six or seven years.

Still in all of the time I complained about trains, no one ever explained that they were the reason towns exist where they do in rural areas of the country. Trains were the main mode of transportation for decades in this nation, and they are what allowed us to inhabit the Western portion of the United States. Without railroads, there would have been no way to get materials out to the Western territories.

The advent of refrigerated cars, too, allowed for industry to explode. Cities like Cincinnati survived because of the slaughterhouses located there. Without refrigeration, the city was limited in where meat could be sent, but the refrigeration permitted the city to sell throughout the country.

Knowing these types of interesting tidbits about trains helps put model trains in perspective. If you are talking to a serious enthusiast, you will find that they are not just interested in creating a train to go into a circle. The process of creating a model train environment involves massive research. The exhibit we saw included replicas of nearby towns in the 1800s. The people who created these trains used interesting materials and beautiful artistry to create backdrops for their trains. They did not just throw these pieces together. They worked on them for weeks or months to get them just right.

Model train enthusiasts could teach the rest of us a thing or two about being devoted to a hobby. I used to think that the reason you only saw old men as model train exhibiters was because the hobby was boring (though my son would suggest differently), but looking at the exhibit from the perspective of an adult, I realized that in fact the hobby is very time-consuming. Most of the people who are into them are retired and have the time and energy to devote to the hobby.

So the next time you see a model train exhibit, check it out. And make a donation if you can. I found out that our local exhibiters travel to schools to teach children about history and trains and that they put on many presentations throughout the year. Their work is more than just sitting around working on a model. Instead they try hard to bring something exciting and educational to the community. Try to remember to give back to them so that others can continue to enjoy their work.

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