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"Trains is a Winter Sport" - Not!

Updated: Jul 31

"Trains is a winter sport!" a wise man once said. I think it was Dagwood Bumstead's hobby shop owner. With the spring season upon us I question this notion.


The concept of trains being a winter focused activity was certainly true for me and my friends growing up in the 1940's, 1950's and early 1960's:


The colder weather and shorter days of fall had us spending more time indoors. Thoughts of our next great 4 x 8 train layout started to occupy our minds at school. Did you have a well worn issue of the prior year's Lionel or American Flyer catalog in your school bag? I did.


While we hated to cut up a page from our favorite comic book, we happily cut out the coupon from Lionel's advertisement. We mailed it into The Lionel Corporation P.O. Box 9, NY, 46, NY. with a dime taped to it. We then waited anxiously by the mailbox for the catalog to arrive. If we were lucky, we might have had a chance to briefly look at Lionel's Preview catalog at our local hobby shop while waiting.


Traditionally, the lead up to Christmas and/or Chanukah brought the anticipation of once again building our own layout empires and being the engineers in charge. Forget the video games of today. We had our imaginations and such wonderful things as remote control that could start, stop, speed up or slow down our trains. Remote uncoupling, switching, dumping and loading - WOW! The sound of whistles and horns. Real smoke puffing from our Steam engines - frequently creating smoke rings - these were truly exciting times.


We pulled out the "Lionel Model Railroad Printing Kit" that we received in the mail the prior year - a hard earned quarter was sent to Lionel for it and a catalog. The kit consisted of an ink stamp pad and plastic stamping pieces to use with it. Miniature stamps of straight, curve, cross and switch tracks, both O and O27 gauges. After drawing out our dream layout, we used these stamps on a piece of paper not only to refine it, but to also help make up a list of what track we would need to purchase to make that year's dream layout come true.


We raked leaves, shoveled snow and did other chores for funds to buy track trains and scenery. If we got good marks in school, and caught Mom and Dad in a generous mood, they might have even matched what we saved.


When THE catalog arrived, we tore open the envelope it came in (HOW some of these mailing envelopes survived I'll never know) to see what new goodies were being offered. We studied every page until they became loose from their staples. We then planted seeds in Mom and Dad's minds as to what we were wishing for by leaving it open, or with bookmarks, on the coffee table for them to find.


We went to the library and took out books such as Model Railroading by Bantam Books to learn how to make ground cover from coffee grounds and dyed sawdust, gas tanks from coffee cans, tunnels from paper mache, etc. The track plan ideas offered therein were traced by our fingers to follow the route. The basement "Rec Room" pictures stuck in our minds - someday I'll have something like that, we dreamed.


We went to the hobby store to buy the additional trackage we needed for the layout that we planned, and screwed it down to the plywood stored from the previous year. Buildings, tunnels, tanks and towers, either store bought or home made, were brought out of storage and added to begin to create that year's empire. The trains themselves came out of their tattered boxes. Dad showed us how to lube them, and onto the tracks they went - finally!


We had trouble sleeping on Christmas Eve. We didn't have visions of Sugar Plums dancing through our heads, we had visions of the new railroad goodies we hinted for.


Christmas day arrived, we scanned the wrapped boxes under the tree - "gee, that package looks to be the shape of a new train car box!" Still, we politely held ourselves back until Mom and Dad handed us our presents, one at a time, taking our turn so that we could all see the treasures everyone received. We hated it when the first one handed to us turned out to be a sweater or socks.


As much as we loved our Grandparents, it was still hard to leave whatever we were lucky to receive behind to visit them. We might have taken a new board game with us to play with cousins, that made leaving a little easier. So did the thought of Grandma and Grandpa's envelope with $5 or $10 dollars in it. Perhaps a ride to the hobby shop or Department store the next day to take advantage of after Christmas sales?


No school for a week! If there was snow we played outside, but sharing what we received with friends was always fun too. A "tug of war" between our new engine and theirs perhaps? Maybe a friend would bring their trains and tracks over and we would make a combined train layout on the living room floor for an afternoon?


As the weather warmed up in the Spring, and the days got longer, the trains were packed up for another year. Our focus turned to outside activities.


For us, trains were indeed a "winter sport" but, as adult enthusiasts, it can be a year round one!

We still wait for, and enjoy, the catalogs that arrive in the early winter (although probably on-line) and peruse them for new items and things we may want to add to our collections. We continue to be awed by the technological advances in remote control, sound, smoke, etc., much like we did six or so decades ago.


But, spring is here and I'm as active in the hobby as I was all winter. Lots of train related things to look forward to in the summer and fall seasons come too.


Many of us now have "permanent" layouts that we enjoy all year. Let me take this opportunity to point you to the "Friend's Layouts" monthly blog feature on this website.


I actually look forward to a periodic rainy spring or summer day - a reason to spend time downstairs running trains or working on the layout.


A panoramic view of part of my permanent layout:

Train shows (swap meets) that popped up again in the fall continue into the spring - some are even now being scheduled for the summer months. In addition to searching for deals and searching for what we didn't know we needed, at these shows, they are a great way to make and reconnect with friends. If you are not familiar with train shows, check out my earlier blog post, "Tis Train Show Season".


We formed a group of guys (now numbering 16) to get together at least once a month, year round, for lunch and other activities. We call this group LITCA (Long Island Train Collecting Aficionados). One of our members, Walter P, (whose layout was featured in "Friend's Layouts" Installment #5) has a box at the local Minor League baseball park featuring the Long Island Ducks. He has been hosting an excursion for our group once a year, most recently July 2022. Here is a picture of eleven LITCA members there with the team's mascot, Quacker Jack:


Early this summer our LITCA group was invited to a special tour of the Railroad Musem of Long Island, thanks to an arrangement made by LITCA member Barry P. Here is a picture of eleven of us on that excursion:

As you can see, enjoyment of trains continues through the summer season!


Spring and Fall also bring local Train Club Layout open houses, always best attended with a couple like minded friends. Here we get inspiration and ideas for our own pikes.


Don't run home after these train shows and Club open houses - breakfast, brunch or lunch with friends and acquaintances is a fun way to talk trains and spend time.


Invitations to visit friend's layouts are commonplace in the Fall and Winter, a much better activity than vegetating in front of the TV after dinner.


Fall is a great time to collect dried flowered weeds (such as ragweed) for trees and bushes.

Some trees made from weeds picked last year:


Train ride excursions can usually fit into your Spring, Summer and Fall vacation travel plans. Dinner trains are my favorites - 5 star meals can be expected. I've enjoyed the Napa Valley Dinner Train in CA, the Dinner/Bourbon train in Louisville, KY and the White Mountain Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train in Woodstock, NH (do this one in the fall to also enjoy the foliage!).


Dining room on the Napa Valley Dinner Train:


Dining car on the Lafeyette Diner Train in NH:


Don't forget to keep an eye out for hobby shops on your road trips, a great way to stretch your legs and maybe even find a treasure.


Family vacation plans, or side trips with your "train friends", can also include train museums and sites such as the Strasburg RR and The Pennsylvania RR Museum close to each other in PA., The Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, PA, the Baltimore Railroad Museum in MD, The Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, the Sacramento Rail Road Museum in CA and The Age of Steam Roundhouse in Sugarcreek, OH. I'm sure that there are more but these are the ones that I visited to date - they are fun road trip stops.


Restoration shop at the Age of Steam Roundhouse:


It appears that "Trains are really a year round sport".

Enjoy!

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