specifically model trains, are not dead. The hobby is booming. And it’s adults
who are providing the growth.
Having just spent the past several days working on the railroad, I know the Washington Post’s article on model trains is on track.
Model railroads may be marketed to kids, but it’s the old guys who are buying. I know from attending a pre-Christmas train show and shopping at a couple of hobby stores. It’s Boomers who are laying down the money for laying down the “high iron.”
What’s the appeal? For me, it’s partly nostalgia. I remember as a kid delivering newspapers in the late afternoon waiting as the passenger train would pause at our little town, blocking the road. I’d see folks in the warmly-lit dining car enjoying their meal enroute to Tulsa. That seemed an unapproachable world, yet so close I could reach out and touch it. I yearned to one day be in that car.
I found setting up the model railroad an engrossing challenge. It’s physical and hands-on. The wiring is simple but frustrating. If the connections work, it’s great. If not, you have to keep tinkering until they do. Likewise, the maintenance of the cars is basic. Grease, oil and graphite. And the placement of the track involves pulling pins, soldering and screwing sections down tight.
You get your hands dirty but the payoff is immediate. So this isn’t heady stuff, it’s simple and basic.
It’s also totally different from everyday work before a computer or participating in meetings. Besides, the Lionel set we got as kids still runs perfectly after all these years. Newer models run even better due to improved electronics, wiring and motors.
I could wax literary or even artsy. Hank Williams said the train evoked the sound of a lonesome whipporwill. Johnny Cash sang he heard “the train a’callin’, comin’ round the bend, but I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when. I’m stuck in Folsom prison.” Roy Acuff got hands clapping for the Night Train to Memphis. And Thomas Wolfe used the train as a metaphor for the passage of time.
But the truth is, these things are just plain fun.