Who doesn’t love model trains? I mean, model trains are cool. I remember growing up and the best part of decorating the Christmas tree was setting up the model train that ran around it. It’s not like it was anything special, it was probably the cheapest set available, but it came out of the box once a year, and it was gone on New Year’s Eve…. It’s bad luck to leave your Christmas stuff up for the New Year, after all. That time period from Thanksgiving day until the end of the year during my youth is where my fascination with model trains started… and continued.
After moving away for college, my interests had shifted… do you know how many girls (and beers) there are at college?!? Going home on Christmas break now meant borrowing the family car to hang out with my new friends (who I spent 100% of my time with at school, anyway), and my folks stopped setting up the train… I don’t know how I never noticed it was gone. Life went on. What model train?
A few years ago my grandfather passed away. It was tough, real tough. I was fortunate enough to be able to call him my friend. We talked regularly, had family dinners and even played Xbox together online. He didn’t have a whole lot… he worked hard his whole life, and saved what money he could so my grandmother could remain independent. A good man. The one thing he left me? 200 feet of track and more Lionel train cars than I could count… and I never knew he owned them. When he had kids and his priorities changed, he put his hobby on the backburner. It was almost like his last message to me was “don’t forget to make time for yourself”.
After convincing my wife to let me take a room in the basement, I began construction on my model train world. I’m not a handy person, one thing my grandfather forgot to pass down on me, I presume. I started with a U-shaped table to span most of the 300 or so square feet of my new haven. I went to hobby shops and spent a small fortune on supplies… tiny pine trees, palm trees, rocks (mountains), paints, tiny brushes, modeling clay, wire mesh – you name it, I got it.
Things didn’t progress quickly. I got a good bit of the East Coast taken care of, from the rural South up through the not-quite-to-scale skyscrapers of the Big Apple, and I was proud of it. I felt close to my grandfather again. Baby number three came (unexpectedly?) and “me time” became her time… but we were happy, so I didn’t notice… except for the sleepless nights.
I started spending all of those late nights watching videos on YouTube of some of the most amazing model train set-ups I’d ever imagined. These guys I was watching were making these things into real, living worlds. I knew what I had to do. I scrapped the entire project and started over, this time with more knowledge and ideas under my belt. Bridges, running water, mountain climbers, live miniature trees… it was going to be awesome. But my nights became times of doing, not watching, and continue to be that way. There’s still a lot to do, but I feel like I’m bonding with the old man again, and I don’t care how long it takes.
Here are some pretty impressive videos below… maybe they’ll inspire you like they did me.