Even some model railroaders don't get it

It was about 10:30 at night on Christmas Eve as I took Ella Fitzgerald's "Wishing you a Swinging Christmas" off and put the
Charlie Brown Christmas CD on in the background when the phone rang at the model railroad club.
I answered with "CCMRC, Merry Christmas" and was greeted with a slight chuckle and "man, don't you have anywhere to go ? I figured you would be there, do you want to come by my parents house, we have a group of people over and we have a ham and stuff and plenty to drink ? ". It was Guy, one of the other club members. He was expressing genuine concern that I was at the model railroad club alone on Christmas Eve. I thanked him but said I was really happy there and how it's the place I want to be. Guy didn't understand. He knew I was weird but this was even weird for me, he stated.
Ok, Guy, let me explain
It was back in the early 60's when I had wished so hard for that Tyco New Haven passenger set. I knew it must be on it's way since dad had raised DOWN the train table in the workshop a few weeks earlier allowing me endless afternoons and evenings of running trains.
It was more of a train table than a layout but it was 6 x 6 with a double track arrangement. The outside track held to the outside and in the back left hand corner it disappeared into a home made bead board tunnel sort of thing that was about 2 feet long. Dad had glued a large block of bead board ( the white stuff before Dow Styrofoam ) and had cut the track area out. It was rough, but it served the purpose.
In inside loop followed the outside loop except at the back left hand corner where it turned in at a 45 and crossed a small bridge in the area in front of the white bead board block / mountain / cut thing.
The double crossover was in the center of the from edge and the transformer just sat on the left corner and controlled all tracks. There was no complex wiring or scenery. The Life-Like green grass matt was glued to the who inside of the table.
While my brothers no longer held interest in playing with trains, one brother did still have the bug for building structure kits and there were many a time we just set up a city scene on the dining room table so that I could play with my matchbox cars.
As I think back on all of this I'm amazed at just what I learned BECAUSE of trains. I wasn't more than 6 years old when I was taught how to light the gas heater in the workshop. I realize it was so my father would not have to come out in the cold to the workshop to light it himself, but the trust that my parents had in me and the way they taught me things like lighting a heater at such a young age dumbfounds me to this day.
It was Christmas Eve and I had been put to bed by 8 pm so I dozed off at some point with thought of trains in my head. I had received my 1st BB gun at 5 so a RED Ryder wasn't what did it for me......it was that New Haven passenger set. Sure we had one of those old silver hustlers, a UP switcher, a Santa Fe F unit and a dockside 060. We had a handful of cars, a few boxes, a cattle car, 2 tank cars a flat and a gon with a Santa Fe caboose and a bobber caboose. There were a few Varney passenger kits that were never finished, but we even had 2 NP passenger cars and the B&O heavyweight RPO that I had picked out at the hobby shop because of the pretty colors.
The colors had captured me. From my Grandmothers front yard near Central Ave I could look 12 houses to the north and see the Southern Belle of KCS. Two houses to the left and I could see the City of New Orleans and the Panama Limited of the IC and behind their main another block further I could see the TP ( or MP ) and the Sp daylight as it mad it's way up the Huey Long Bridge.
For months I has held that wish book in my hands, feeling the slick color pages full of train sets. Ahhh but that New Haven set, colors and a road name I had never seen, not too long for the table yet not too short, and it was LIGHTED !
As I awoke to complete darkness in the middle of the night, my breath short as I slowly got out of bed in hopes that St. Nick had been there. I eased into the living room to see the largest pile if wrapped presents I had ever seen. I had to think, this would take forever if I didn't think. What size would the box be ? I scanned all of the presents until I saw what I thought would be just the right size, but it was under three or four other presents. Making a mental note on just hoe the presents were stacked, i lifted each one out of the way until the right box was clear.
As I picked it up I could feel the ridges within the package...yep, just about the size of a passenger car, this must be it. I tip toed to the laundry room where my father had a small workbench and took an Exacto knife and slit the tape that held the wrapping paper in it's fold on one end. Yep, this was it. I took the package under my arm and snuck out of the house in my pajamas and make my way to the workshop. Unlocking the door I opened it as slow as I could so that it would not make a sound. I slipped into the cold workshop and closed the door before searching in the dark for the light switch. Once the lights were on I put my prize down and light the gas heater in hopes of taking the chill out of the air.
I savored the moment as I gazed upon the package a moment before gently picking it up and trying to tug gently at the box inside to pull it from it's wrapping. It seemed like it took hours, but it was finally free of the wrapping. I open the main box and freed each of the passenger cars and the engines from their own boxes and set each one carefully on the outside loop.
Finally, it was together and standing in all it's beauty and glory. As I pushed the switch on the old green transformer, that familiar 'buzz" of the electrical magic that took place inside, began. As the train began to roll on the track, the second wave of absolute pleasure washed over me. It was here, it was mine, all mine, it had come.
I stayed in the workshop for at least an hour and a half just watching that train go round and round. It was my own world, my secret world. No one knew I was there, no one knew the expanse of my imagination as I watched that train that night but I knew I had to stop and put everything back in the boxes. After all, I didn't want to disappoint my parents by having them find out that I had done all this.
So I put each car back in it's box then put all the boxes back in the correct location in the larger box. It took me a few tries but I was able to slip the box back into the wrapping paper. I turned off the transformer and turned off the gas. I turned to make sure everything looked as it should before turning off the light and easing outside into the cold once again. I turned and locked the door and quietly walked back into the house making my way to dads worktable and the tape. I set the package down and gently re taped the edge of the package before putting it back under the tree and replacing all the presents that were on top of it.
It was 5 am and all hell would break loose soon but I just stood there looking at the tree and the lights and that one screwed up C7 light that blinked years before lights were made to blink. I cherished the moment and the peace and contentment that I felt. As I turned to go back to bed I realized that I missed my train already. I couldn't wait till I was old enough to stay up all night and play with my trains.
That, Guy, is why I'm here, I "AM" having a Merry Christmas.
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Huzzah!
I nominate this man for a Pulitzer Prize ! ! !
Froggy,
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<SNIP>
Thanks for sharing Mike! It is a wonderful story.
--
73 de KT0T
Bob Schwartz
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As usual Mike, your writing skills are top notch! I've done the very same thing at The Reading Society of Model Engineers with a good friend of mine. We'd go up around Christmas and "let em run". Thanks for reminding me what good times those were!.. Now clear the isles...
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Why, you planning an invasion? :-)
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No but if it pays better i could!
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Wow, what a great story! Thanks for sharing!

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As usual, Mike, you know how to touch a nerve.
Thanks.
Andy
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the OTHER Mike wrote: [...]>

Good story.
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Wonderful story! Really conveys the almost "spiritual" kind of experience many of us have had from time to time. Thanks for sharing.
Now, how about an update on how the Crescent City Model Railroad Club is doing now in the aftermath of Katrina. The only previous report we had wasn't very encouraging.
the OTHER Mike wrote:

--
Hank Murray
Quincy, IL
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Hello
Wow I loved the story. I had a picture in my mind of you walking out to the shed. Only thing was with being in Australia, was thinking of the cold. lol :)
wrote:

My Website: http://members.ozemail.com.au/~jenniew/anwn/index.htm
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wrote:

Great story , and very well presented. I enjoyed it so much...so many memories came flooding back. I recall sneaking downstairs and opening an American Flyer train set. My first electric....had wind ups before this. I put a few pieces of track together in an S curve configuration......this was great , curves both ways. :-)We had no electric so I just pushed some cars back and forth for a while and then sneaked back upstairs a much happier boy and so impatient I could hardly control myself.. Christmas day I had to set it up in the back of my Grandmothers grocery store on a 4'x8' sheet of plywood painted green and my first layout was born. We finally got electric when I was 14 or 15 and I traded the American Flyer for some HO. Telling my age here , aren't I.
Ken Day
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