Like many men of his generation, my father loved steam trains. The smell, the noise, the smoke all of it was evocative of another time.
He instilled that interest in me and shared his trains with me spending a happy afternoon hunched over a complicated track and a humming transformer lost in the joy of small details and construction.
My own son shares this fascination and it’s through this shared interest that he built a bond with my father and now those memories of running a train track round a kitchen table and a final trip to ride on Thomas and “Lady Train” will be my son’s abiding memory of his grandfather.
It was in this spirit that I took my son to a model railway exhibition. It was going to be a weekend of trains with the exhibition on Saturday and a surprise visit from my father’s widow with my father’s train sets on Sunday.
We walked to the exhibition and talked about what we would see and how much his grandfather would have enjoyed coming with us.
The room was filled with all the things you would expect; tiny, intricate and lovingly crafted dioramas, men of a certain age misty with nostalgia or brows furrowed in concentration and of course so many trains.
Each exhibit gave a little pang of memory as I struggled to remember the full range of the trains we had played together.
I also felt an excitement about the prospect of what was to come. The thought of sitting cross legged in my son’s room as we went through the boxes and discovered the hidden treasures and maybe set up a track together.
That was mingled with the prospect of being faced with so much stuff that we couldn’t store or keep and what I would be able to bear. We need money so we could potentially sell the extra to collectors or maybe a more honourable idea would be to donate to a club.
All of this swirled round my head as a tiny hand pulled mine to ‘different one’ as we moved around the room, hefting him up to see the trains circle round and round or back and forth.
…and you’re back in the room
Model railways are an inherently conservative pursuit rooted in recreation or a past made golden by memory. It was good to see a few enthusiasts do something a little different and insert their own interests and perspective into their hobby.
One guy had produced an amazing display of Lego trains packed with little jokes and customised stickers to create scenes within scenes.
Along with a bank heist at NotBust there was a Time Tomb excavation and an ice cream stand run by Yoda.
I was delighted to see someone blending their love of science fiction, Warhammer and Steam Punk to create their own future past version of model railways with steam punk customised train sets and scenery.
It being steam punk it wouldn’t have been complete without brass goggles.
I was so taken by it that I had a lovely chat with the creator and he gave us the gift of a tiny clay steam punk train.
Seeing people play like this shook me from my reverie and we carried on for another hour until time for home.
What’s the point in always looking back…
The next day my father’s widow dropped the boxes over. The day before had been one of anticipation. I remembered that my father had cut down his collection considerably through successive moves and limited storage space but was hopeful of a treasure trove of memories and new discoveries.
It was only when I saw the boxes I realised how much had gone.
These weren’t the trains I had expected. I would not sit with my son that day and play as my father had done so with me. This was less a collection and more a jumble of parts. There were tracks and carriages but no trains to ride them.
There were boxes of tin train carriages he had played with in his youth but I had never seen before.
There may be some hidden gems buried amongst the cotton wool but that will have to wait for another time. It may have caused a meltdown but I’m glad that I didn’t bow to toddler tantrums and open the box in front of my son.
It would have been horrible to be promised so much and get so little.