What do your toy trains mean to you?

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What do your toy trains mean to you?
Posted by emdmike on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 11:47 PM

To me, they represent peace and calm, a safe place(world) that I can escape to when the real world overwhelms or scares me.  They have been this, even without knowing so, from the time I could walk to right now as a middle aged adult.  I am autistic, and while not formaly diagnosed till nearly 40, its been part of me since I was that child.  I was just high functioning enough for it to be missed, being pushed aside and swept under the rug as a odd, extreemly shy, nerdy kid/teen.  My Lionel trains got me thru those rough years in middle and high school were I was relentlessly bullied.  Pushing me to the point of considering suicide as a teen.  But instead, I would escape to Lionelville in my bed room.  Where I had snaked track all over the floor of my room, under my bed, behind the dresser and where ever I could fit it.  I would run trains till either I fell asleep laying on the floor or my sisters or parents went to bed and I had to shut them off.  As an adult that has to work, deal with people ect.  These trains still provide that safe place to escape to, and always will.  My therapist had to explain this to my wife, that my comfort place is with the trains and not being held by her.  This is something I cannot control or change and she is ok with this now.  So whether its Lionel, American Flyer or whatever brand you enjoy.  In this time of unrest and uncertiany in the world, I find myself running my trains quite a bit!  Stay safe out there everybody!    Mike the Aspie

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 9:28 AM

Beautifully written Mike, and thanks for posting it!

Yeah, I got the bullying in junior high too, I think just about all of us get it in one form or another in those years, and like you the trains and the layout were my refuge.  High school wasn't a problem though, everyone had grown up a bit by then, but I'm not nostalgic for it at any rate.  When it was over I never looked back.

But you're correct, the trains and the layouts they run on are our own little worlds where everything makes sense, and when something goes wrong and it doesn't  make sense it's usually not out of our ability to correct.  What a relief! 

emdmike
Pushing me to the point of considering suicide as a teen.

That really makes me wonder how many lives Joshua Lionel Cowan, A.C. Gilbert, and other toy and model train makers have saved over the years without ever knowing it.  Maybe the world owes them a bigger debt than it realizes? 

And for those in the business now, thank you!  You may be doing a lot more good than you'll ever imagine!

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Posted by Billwiz on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 12:30 PM

For me, my trains connect to the past, especially my father who introduced me to them. They are a diversion from the pressures of the world, they are a fun hobby. And sometimes the trains are all between me and going nuts. 

After one of my church’s train displays a member commented how they look calming. And yes they are. Watching a model train operating calms me down during stressful situations. 

Mike, thank you for starting the post. I am sorry for the bullying you experienced and am happy you are here to share your hobby with us. 

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Posted by KRM on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 1:15 PM

 

Nicely put Mike,
 I to have leaned on trains as refuge from reality. When I was 6 years and 4 months old our mother died of cancer on 1-1-59. She had only been sick for about 5 months before it took her. My small life that had barley got started was crushed before I had a grip on it. My brother was 18 months older and understood better than me but hardly coped any better. Our father brought home a train table and train set a friend of his gave him and told him to give it to us boys.  Dad placed it in the basement of our aunt’s house where we were living the last days of mom. We escaped the grief and un-knowns down there playing with our own secure little world. 
 When dad got re-married later, we moved the layout into the attic of our step-grandparents house and with the help of our uncle who was only 9 years older than me, we expanded it and had many good times.
 After that till we built this house with a basement they were in boxes waiting for the day I could build a new layout to run with my grand-kids.
  Now since I retired the trains have been a way to keep the mind at work and the creative juices flowing. Watching the grand-children run and play with them makes it all worth it and sets me back to fun times in the mist of bad times. Smile
 

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Kev, From The North Bluff Above Marseilles IL. Whistling

 

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Posted by Postwar Paul on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 5:56 PM

The trains are an escape, and it's harmless, and fun!

Sometimes the pressures of work have been such that it takes all day Saturday to de-program all the experiences of the week. To forget...

With the garden railroad, many times I would sit in the backyard with trains making laps, and I would get SO relaxed...I would start to nod off! 
Indoors, I get lost in Lionel and American Flyer, and forget the real world. The toy train experience differs in that it is so interactive...

Many buttons to push!

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Posted by Leverettrailfan on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 10:08 PM

Since around the age of two, trains have been a huge part of my life. It's funny, since there was no train or railroad people in my life whatsoever! Somehow, between playing with my brio trains, watching the real thing blast through a grade crossing, reading picture books, and watching the "I Love Toy Trains" DVD that my parents bought for my older brother (but which I ended up watching relentlessly!), I developed a passion that I can't imagine I'll ever grow out of. In elementary school, my only two real interests were trains, and legos. Anything else was of much less importance! I definitely hung out with the "weird nerdy kids" that nobody else wanted to be around much, and it took me a long, long time to realize that I was so focused on my trains that I wasn't really getting to know other people and what drove THEM, like trains really drove me. All the same, I was overjoyed with my battery operated set I had when I was maybe 6 or 7, and my HO scale set I got for my birthday when I turned 8 brought me lots of fun! Trains were always about fun for me. But that has actually changed in some ways. Around the age of 12 I got my first lionel train- in a very unlikely turn of events! It was an incomplete MPC Lionel "yardmaster" set saved from the town dump my my aunt's boyfriend. I overheard him asking my parents if they felt I was ready for it, and I begged them to let me have it! The whole set was a mess- track was rusty, the transformer was abysmal in capacity, and the locomotive would buzz, but refused to operate. It was frustrating! But my parents bought me the TM books & video guide to servicing lionel trains, and a Lionel lubrication & maintennance kit, and soon I was eagerly working on trying to get my train running. In the meantime, I would set up the track, and roll the cars around it, to get a taste of what it might be like to finally get that engine running. Oddly enough, I never did get it working. I may still try to round up all the bits of it, and try again, but it taught me valuable lessons, and started getting me interested in FIXING trains, not just playing with them! I gradually bought new track, a new transformer, and then a new locomotive, and then before long I had begun accumulating Lionel trains! I kept trying to learn how to fix them, and as time went on, and I went through the hardships of mental health issues and grappling with my gender identity and sexuality through middle and high school, I kept coming back to my workbench and my trains, and my skills gradually improved, so much so that I started to enjoy the proccess of repairing my toy trains. I almost get more pleasure out of fixing a train than I do from playing with it! It's been almost a year since I kissed high school goodbye, and life hasn't been going well, but the trains have remained a constant for me. I'm currently recovering from some health issues, and I've finally been able to get back to my workbench, and it's reminded me how much I missed feeling myself enough to have fun! My toy trains are a welcome, and comforting diversion from the rest of reality, where almost all problems are simple enough, and have somewhat straightforward solutions. When I'm playing with, or fixing my trains, the smell of the sparks, and the feeling of rubbing away grime and lubricating moving parts gives a soothing sensory experience that I can't really experience with anything else. I've built up so much knowledge and skill that can be traced back to my toy trains. They're a passion that has many aspects: fun, therapy, and education. I don't think I'd be anything like who I am today, without my toy trains.

"If it don't work, then gosh darn it, get a' fixin!"

Can I fix trains? Mostly. How long have I been doing it? Took me years to get much success beyond the "taking it apart" step. Where am I at now? Well, does she run?

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Posted by emdmike on Wednesday, June 3, 2020 11:34 PM

I know many on the autism spectrum have a connection or are drawn to trains for various reasons.  I see this at model train shows all the time.  While just a toy to many, they are also a calming tool, and a method of escape a world that does not make sense to those of us with ASD.  Even those that are neurotypical, having model trains growing up teaches valuable mechanical skills that no tablet, smartphone or computer can.  

Sadly my bullying lasted till my parents pulled me out of public high school and put me at a private, church run school.  My last 2 years of high school, while still ackward as my guard was still way up, was much better and I was accpeted for the oddball that I was at that time(pre diagnosis).  Look back at history, what other name brand toy has the history of Lionel when it comes to toys for boys(not to be sexest) as I know girls that had Lionel as well.  But it was marketed as a toy for the boys back in the pre and postwar eras.  Barbie comes to mind, maybe Hot Wheels, Lincoln Logs and Erector Sets.  For those with parents allowing a bit more exotic toys, Estes rockets and BB guns.  Yet, J.L Cowen put Lionel right up there with the family Christmas tree and Santa.  Pretty impressive if you ask me.  Even today, while parents balk at the cost of a basic Lionel set, watching all the kids flock to the layouts and stare in amazement at the trains running is priceless and brings back fond memories of shows when I was a child.  

For me my Lionel layouts were my coping tool.  Dad was hardly ever home and did very little with me, mom and I did not get along that well.  I stayed in my room most of the time, or in the basement when the layout was down there(moved it to my bedroom once we started to have water problems in the basement).       Mike the Aspie

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Thursday, June 4, 2020 9:34 AM

Mike, I think you've started something here, I mean really  started something here!

So much so, I seriously think CTT should pick up this ball and run with it, say a column in each issue written by readers, and why not CTT staffers as well?

"What Do Toy Trains Mean To You?"  There's got to be a lot of material out there and stories waiting to be told.   People tend to associate toy trains with the usual things like Christmas, Hannukah, birthdays, fond memories of parents and grandparents, but the ideas of "Inner peace" and "A refuge" is something that's almost never mentioned. 

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Posted by V8Vega on Thursday, June 4, 2020 10:44 AM

I don't have a history of trains as a child like most others. I did have a Marx set I played with on the floor. My dad was busy with supporting the famly and never did any kind of models. I did like models and built cars kits. We lived in rural Oregon and I can't remember the 1st model RR I ever saw but later I knew I liked model RR and as I had a very small house I built a N gauge model RR even had it senicked some. I read Model Railroader and Model Railroad Craftsman and build your layout type books. Sold everything N to one guy, N was still pretty new and I didn't have that much, and started HO. Aquired a lot of HO and had a small layout I still have.

I was a drinker then and a guy in a bar offered his childhood set to me. I put it in a closet. One day I was looking at it and thought this can go around small radus curves so got it going. It was a prewar 0-4-0 and I started with O. I liked all the advantages of O gone over many times here and everywhere.

At my current house I built the framework for two seperate layouts one HO and one O The O got operational and then I decided to expand O into where HO was planned for one big layout. I'm working on the expansion now. At my age I'm beginning to think I'll never get to much scenery. So now I have a lot of HO it dosn't look like I'll ever do anything with.

Dennis  San Fernando Valley CA.  Joined August 2009

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Posted by emdmike on Thursday, June 4, 2020 9:35 PM

It wasn't for my inner desire for trains and my grandfather. I might not have had the trains I got thru the years.  My dad was not around much, he was a doctor(now retired).  But we never went without anything, be it toys of any kind, food, nice clean house ect.   I and my 2 younger sisters grew up quite spoiled when it came to amount of presents at Christmas and birthdays.  I am thankful for that!  But yes, a montly column about what toy trains(of any brand) mean to that person.  I bet there are more inner stories than just the Christmas/Birthday ones that usually get published.  Especially from the kids that were the odd/nerd/autism spectrum ect.  The ones that didnt really play sports, dealt with bullying in school.  Many more like me, I have met them at shows.  Those stories need to be told.  The link to our trains is stronger and more personal than some want to admit to.  But at the same time, they are the reason some of us survived childhood/school years.  They are the respite from the world that lets us, as adults, recharge and be able to continue to provide for our familes.  

 For several years, I have pestered Lionel to make a special Autism Awareness/Acceptance car, or even a whole set.  Donate a portion of each sale to one of the charities that work on autism research.  I have done a few custom cars in G scale and a pair of Lionel F3's in O gauge.  But would love to see big "L" step up and make a special set.  That would mean alot to me and many others.    Mike the Aspie

 

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Posted by fifedog on Sunday, June 7, 2020 6:31 AM

I tried to sum up in one word (or phrase) to explain what toy trains meant to me, and couldn't.  But I was able to "group", if you will, a trio of personal "satisfiers", that apply, now that I'm into my fifth decade.

* Artistic outlet.  This satisfies my need to create, and to share with others.

* Escapism.  I can go into the train room, shut the door, work on the layout, or equipment, or simply run all 4 lines at once.  And in the first half of year 2020, has anyone's hobby meant more? 

* The Hunter-Gatherer need.  It's in most of us.  That instinct to go out and capture something, and bring it back to the "cave".

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Posted by M636C on Monday, June 8, 2020 7:48 AM
I’m a retired engineer.  Not a driver of locomotives, that term isn’t used here in Australia, but a university educated professional engineer who has worked in railways but also in aviation and in marine engineering.
I believe that I can visualise the characteristics of an item from an engineering drawing more easily than many other people with the same training. This of course refers to paper two dimensional drawings. There is a really good reason for the increasing use of 3D computer aided design and the ability to create 3D models through printing.
I am basically a collector and have very little interest in running my trains although I do have quite a large collection of passenger cars to run with my locomotives (and very few freight wagons).
Quite some time ago, I was impressed with the first generation of Chinese made models of British OO locomotives which date from around 1980, so the last 40 years. These were made for two English companies, Airfix (known for model aircraft) and Mainline. Mainline took over the Airfix range but they too failed and their models went to Dapol and then Hornby. Some Mainline models were made by Kader (Bachmann) and these are now made by Bachmann (or have been replaced by improved similar models).
Mainline and Airfix both made a model of the former LMS Railway Rebuilt “Royal Scot” class 4-6-0 which at the time was the most requested unbuilt model locomotive. The Mainline model was better mechanically and the Airfix model disappeared without trace.
Having grown up in the 1950s, books on railways and model railways were all British, so we had to learn and read about British trains, since books on Australian Railways were pretty much non-existent (although I’ve done my best to change that).
Anyway, the “Royal Scot” had an interesting history involving internal politics within the LMS Railway and the influence of the Great Western Railway. Long story short, the LMS borrowed a GWR “Castle” class for trials but couldn’t buy any. They designed their own loco of about the same size in conjunction with North British Locomotive Works. This involved using the boiler design of yet another locomotive, the Southern Railway “Lord Nelson”.
Anyway I had a number of books describing this process and I’d been careful to get diagrams of all the locomotives involved. But I realised that the models gave a much clearer idea of the relative dimensions of these locomotives, and an idea was forming.
I would assemble a group of models demonstrating the development of the boilers of the LMS 4-6-0s
This wasn’t as simple as it might sound:
In 1927, they built the “Royal Scot”.
In 1930, they built the “Patriot”, which was a Royal Scot with a smaller Boiler for lighter track.
In 1935 the “Patriot” was superseded by the “Jubilee”, which had a different boiler
An even lighter locomotive the “Black 5” was built at the same time as the “Jubilee”.
There was 71st “Royal Scot” built with a new design of boiler (rebuilt from a high pressure experiment).
In 1942, two “Jubilees” were rebuilt with the new “Royal Scot” boiler
In 1943, the “Royal Scots” themselves began to be rebuilt with the new boiler design.
From 1945, about half of the “Patriots” were rebuilt with the “Royal Scot” boiler.
OK, how did that end up in model form?
I already had a “Castle” (Airfix built one early on).
I got myself a Mainline “Royal Scot” and a Rebuilt “Patriot” (similar but with a different cab.)
Mainline produced a “Royal Scot” with the original boiler, I have two of those....
I also have two Mainline “Jubilees”, Like the” Scots”, one each in BR and LMS colours....
By this time we were into later owners of the tooling and I bought a Bachmann “Lord Nelson”, giving me the other source of the original “Royal Scot“ boiler.
As time went on, Hornby produced a a good “Black Five” and Bachmann made a nice BR Standard 5MT which had the same boiler.
Finally, Bachmann made a “Patriot” with the original boiler a couple of years ago....
At one stage the Bachmann tools were used by a company called “Replica Railways” who produced a GWR “Modified Hall” which had the boiler from which the “Castle” boiler was developed, so I needed one of those.
(The Swindon No 1 boiler on the “Hall”was a very close copy of a design from the Alco Cooke works. The shape of the firebox was very important in reducing stresses as the boiler expanded and contracted, remembering that these were narrow fireboxes to fit between the wheels of 4-6-0s and 2-8-0s. The New York Central had a number of locomotives with this design of boiler).
Anyway, that’s what one group of models mean to me...
There are other “sets”: a pair of East German built HO models of Russian built East German locomotives...  even sets of USA domestic locomotives, a Bachmann BQ23-7 being the prize exhibit...
 
Anyway, that’s what my models mean to me.........
Peter
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Posted by Flintlock76 on Monday, June 8, 2020 10:05 AM

I certainly remember the name "Airfix."

Back in my teenage years I did quite a bit of modeling of WW1 era aircraft.  My preferred kits were Revells, but they left quite a few gaps that were nicely filled by the Airfix line.  As I recall before I specialized in WW1 types I also built an Airfix "Lancaster," a "Swordfish," and a "Mosquito" as well.  Airfix had some good stuff!

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Posted by emdmike on Tuesday, June 9, 2020 10:14 PM

My inital "false" start was in 1978 with Tyco HO sets at Christmas time.  I got 3 of them from my parents and grand parents.  I had them all dead before the holiday was over.  We were at my grandparents in Ohio and after killing the HO engines in short order, grandpa and me went to the detached garage and got this big piece of plywood with track on it....3 rail track.  Grandma in the mean time, had retrieved my father's Lionel set from the upstairs closet where it has slept since he was a boy.  Grandpa and I then returned to the cold shop in the detached garage to clean and oil the locomotive, all the wheels/axles on the cars.  I then spent the rest of my time there running Lionel trains.  While those trains stayed there till I turned 12(I was 5 at the time), I got my own Lionel MPC era steam set(the Atlantic Coast line set with a 2-4-0 plastic steamer) for my birthday in March.  I remember grandpa telling dad at dinner that night "You should have bought the boy a Lionel!)      Mike the Aspie

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Wednesday, June 10, 2020 9:26 AM

Interesting story, Mike.  I had Lionels as a kid, and in the early 60's a lot of my friends started recieving Tyco HO sets at Christmas time.  Those Tyco set left me cold, the quality didn't seem anywhere near as good as my Lionels, they derailed constantly, and they just didn't have the awesome presence the Lionels did.

A few months after Christmas I didn't see any of my friends running those Tycos.  I have to wonder how many kids were turned off model railroading by Tyco as opposed to being turned on by Lionel.  We'll never know, of course.

All I can say is those cheap HO sets left a bad taste in my mouth at the time so when I got into trains again years later HO was out of the question, even though I'll fully admit the trains made now are a world apart from those Tycos.  I'm just not impressed by HO at all.

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Posted by emdmike on Wednesday, June 10, 2020 11:13 AM

I wasn't turned off by the Tycos, more like having an autistic meltdown since I couldn't run my trains.  Grandpa fixed that by getting out the old Lionels and that is what I have had in some shape or form ever since.  I got into HO scale stuff at the local club as a teen and thru my mid20's, then moved out, got married and was not near any clubs.  So I got back deep into Lionel O and OO.  

 

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Posted by Postwar Paul on Friday, June 12, 2020 4:45 PM

Here's a few words about Tyco:

nobody ever believes me when I say this :

the Tyco of the 50's and 60's was a quality product! It was Tyco/Mantua, and made in New Jersey. Smooth running, I still have 4 engines from this era, and they all still run. By the 70's, manufacturing went overseas, and the quality took a nosedive. This was the era of chrome plated Alco Centuries ( which is cool in itself) but the drives were no good. Unfortunately, this reputation has stuck, and this is what people associate with Tyco. But, there was a time.....

If I was not already so involved with so many different scales, I might start collecting the 60's Tyco.

This is what I grew up with, and still have a soft spot....

Paul

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Friday, June 12, 2020 5:40 PM

Well if what you say is true Paul then I have to be fair and admit that maybe those weren't Tyco sets at all my friends had.  Might very well have been something else low-end.  It's almost 60 years ago now so I can't say I'm infallible in remembering the brand of the sets, but I certainly remember the poor performance of whatever they were.

No offense to you Tyco fans!  

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Posted by Billwiz on Saturday, June 13, 2020 7:25 AM

Postwar Paul
the Tyco of the 50's and 60's was a quality product! It was Tyco/Mantua, and made in New Jersey.

 

This is the truth!  I grew up with Tyco train sets that just didnt run well.  Continued with both O and HO and have some decent HO now.  I was given a Tyco Mantua steam engine from the end of the Mantua era and it is beautiful and solidly built.  In process of rebuilding as the motor is shot, but otherwise it is a great locomotive.  Some of the cars of that era also quality.  The Tyco of my childhood, advertised on Saturday mornings, was the cheap quality trainsets that many endured before either going higher quality or leaving the hobby.

 

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Posted by emdmike on Saturday, June 13, 2020 10:23 AM

I have a near mint in the box version of the Royal Blue 2-8-0, which I still think is a really cool looking engine.  But it has that piss poor Powr-torque tender drive.  There is a mod to put a Bachmann 44 tonner drive(the single can motor style) into the tender, making the engine run as good as it looks.  I also have a near mint boxed Silver Steak Alco C430.  They rarely get run as I do not have an HO layout anymore.  HO is also becoming more difficult for me to see as I near 50 years old.  My Lionel OO, O and G scale in my garden are my scales now.  The old Tyco stuff sits in my display case for the fond memories of my childhood.    Mikie

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Posted by Banks on Tuesday, June 16, 2020 10:28 PM

My trains bring out the kid in me. My 1st train was an HO    0 6 0 by Gilbert HO.  That and an assortment of postwar HO cars. Dad bought a used 4x7 platform and rolling stocking '55. The year I was born. Christmas day the John English 0 4 0 was . The next day he went to the local hobby shop and bought the Gilbert. I ran that thing for hours. It's a bit rough but still runs. Been buying HO trains ever since.

Tyco from the 60s is nearly bullet proof. My most prized train is the 254E passenger seat that Dad and his 4 brothers got for Christmas in '29. It was  used when they got it and used and abused by the time I say it in the early 80s. Dad grinned from ear to ear when I got repro wheels and got it going again. Dad passed in Jan 17 but the train has been under the tree every year since I got it going.

Banks, Proud member of the OTTS  TCA 12-67310

  

   

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