Anxiety and Model Railroading

I love model railroading. It’s been my hobby since I was fifteen, and I loved trains long before that. I’ve been working on my newest layout, which, at the present time is still quite a way from rolling stock moving along the rails, for about sixteen months.

I’ve seen posts of modelers who appear to be living the dream, spending tremendous amounts of time working on their railroad as a result of this unbelievable struggle with Corona Virus. This is NOT a criticism! I applaud their dedication to the hobby, and the pictures I’ve seen are amazing. We can all learn from each other. I also know that most of these modelers are working on their layout because they are not allowed to go to work. So it’s a battle to survive. No, my problem is me. Because of anxiety I struggle with almost constantly, it is very difficult for me to stay in my train room long enough to get a lot done. Oh, I know that’s okay. It’s not a project that has to be completed on a schedule. It’s mine, for me, by my plan, schedule, design, likes, dislikes, frustrations, disappointments, delights. I don’t need approval for completed projects, but I do crave it.

I’m retired, so you would think my days might look like morning coffee, a glance at the morning news, drinking more coffee, then heading to the layout, then coming back upstairs to get more coffee. Nope. I have this constant nag that I should be productive, I should be doing something. And model railroading, for some reason in my mind, doesn’t fall into the category of productivity. Sure, it’s productive as far as my layout is concerned, but not productive in the overall scheme of needs. There is always something that should be done.

Actually, even writing this blog is part of that nagging. need to be productive. It’s something that is considered, started, re-started, edited, almost published, re-written, edited again, and then published. After which it is taken down and edited again. And yet, even with that, it’s not really productive because it’s not necessary to life. Neither is model railroading. But, on the other hand, model railroading is absolutely necessary because it can definitely contribute to a sense of accomplishment. I did it! That looks great! And it only has to look good to me.

So, the daily struggle continues. Some days are better than others, I just have to keep working at it. In the process, I will find time to work on the Maple Valley Short Line and feel good about it. Eventually, there will be trains moving. The scenery will begin to take shape. With this layout, I am determined to be incredibly detailed down to the smallest weed by the side of a shack. The win over anxiety is in the details. Little by little.

Do Something Different

Have you had the experience of driving a familiar route and all of a sudden realize you don’t know where you are? Every time you get in the car do you have to think about where to put the key? How to make the car move? How to stop it?

When you wake up in the morning, is your routine exactly the same day after day? Is there a time during each day when you begin to feel anxious or depressed?

Unless you’re sixteen years old and driving is new, you never think about where to put the key or where the brake is. You have learned it, and have practiced it long enough it is now habitual.

Your brain and your body work together to record new actions, and if they are repeated again and again, they become a part of muscle memory. You can do them without thinking. Everyone knows the old saying about riding a bike.

Feelings work the same way. Your brain and your mind can associate feelings with actions, or places, and the environment and actions can trigger the same feelings repeatedly.

Here’s a quiz. Think about school, not just the word, but the experience of attending school. How do you feel? Think about going to the dentist. How do you feel? If your feelings about school are negative, in thirteen, or maybe many more years of school, you had thousands of experiences, and not all of them were bad. Many were terrific! In the dozens of times (hopefully) you’ve been to the dentist, not all of them resulted in pain and yet your feelings about it might be fear and dread.

Feelings can become habitual or automatic. One way to disrupt automatic feelings is to purposefully change what you do each day. It is important that you on purpose, in other words, while thinking about it, change your actions. For example, if your morning is shut off the alarm, use the bathroom, brush your teeth, fix the coffee, let the dog out, make the bed (what?), then take a shower, and you do that day after day after day automatically, change it! Get up, make coffee, let the dog out, brush you teeth, etc., purposefully. Think about it!

Here’s the point. If you are with purpose thinking about what you’re doing, your brain and feelings are not left on their own to begin setting you up for the anxiety and depression you might normally feel every day by mid-morning that short circuits your entire day. Do something different! If that doesn’t do it, with every action, think about each element of the action. Think about who ground the coffee, how the coffee pot was made, how hot the water gets, what color of coffee is actually perfect. Think about how toothpaste is made. Think about the person who had to glue all those little bristles in the handle. (Just kidding). Get it? If you’re purposefully thinking about what you’re doing, you are changing the way your brain automatically runs. Don’t leave your brain and emotions to stir up feelings on their own. They will automatically turn to the routes of thinking and feeling that have been there longest and strongest. Change them!

Make your brain and your feelings work for you, not against you.

Hope you have a great day.

Dale Parsons, MA, LPC

Model Railroad Therapy

Why would anyone go through all the work of planning, gathering, re-planning, gathering more, designing, deciding you haven’t gathered enough, redesigning, feeling discouraged, realizing gathering more would help you feel better, wondering whether you’re losing your mind, understanding that you’ll know you haven’t lost your mind when you see the things you continue to gather are soooo cool, completely changing your design, deciding the house you live in isn’t quite big enough to properly house the empire you are about to build, and finally settling on a manageable layout that satisfies you? Because it is great therapy. No, you don’t think of it that way, but it is. Model railroading is a microcosm of life the way we wish it was, or the way we think it used to be. No one builds a model railroad duplicating everything the way it is because as soon as you’re finished you realize something changed and now you have to rebuild. Model railroading works because you are in charge. No surprises, nothing unexpected, your opinion is the only one that matters. Reality isn’t like that at all. Model railroading is completely safe.

The secret to being satisfied with your work is not to compare yours with others. You can learn a great deal by watching how-to videos, reading books and magazines, but the bottom line in model railroading is deciding that what you have created is good. Not because it won an award, or was featured in a model railroading magazine, or your track-side photos had a million likes on social media, but just because you created it.

If you don’t have room to build a permanent (just kidding – no model railroad is permanent) layout, make that table-top empire great with what you have. Your imagination will work wonders with sectional track, snap-together buildings and plastic trees if you use it. When you’re done, put everything away and start dreaming about your next layout.

Okay, everyone, get started on that model railroad empire!

Adventures in Model Railroading – Small Beginnings

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People who consider themselves model railroaders, or someday hope to be, had to start somewhere.  Not very many start with a bunch of locomotives, tons of rolling stock, loads of scenery and a ready-made layout just waiting for an engineer.  Usually, they start with a “train set” and a dream.  Even a small oval on a tabletop allows a railroading dreamer to get down to eye level and watch the train roll by.  The clicking of metal wheels on rail joints is a wonderful sound.

You will know you’ve crossed a threshold from having a train set to being a model railroader when someone asks you, “How fast will it go?” and you are offended.  When you talk of operating your layout (no matter how small it is) instead of playing trains, you’ll know you have arrived.

Model railroaders find a way to move from a circle to an oval to their first turnout and spur as quickly as possible.  My first turnout was an Atlas kit I bought at the little hobby shop in our town.  I didn’t have enough money to buy a ready-to-use model, so I tried the the kit.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I tried to put it together on a small piece of plywood.  The result was a mess and it never worked.  The old hobby shop owner saved me.  You will find that used equipment can be your best friend.

For several years a ping-pong table I set up in my basement bedroom was the home of my layout.  Nothing permanent, it was 12 inch brass track pieces and turnouts, most of it used.  The wires weren’t hidden, I taped them down.  What few trees I had were stuck down with clay.  I loved it.  When I first started I set everything up on my bedroom floor,  so the table was quite an improvement.

Whatever you have is a great place to start.  Attend model railroading swap-meets to find hidden treasurers.  Online market places will sometimes have items for sale.  Keep your eyes open and your railroading empire will begin to grow.

Adventures in Model Railroading

My first HO scale train was a Tyco blue and yellow Santa Fe F-7 with a few freight cars, and an 18 inch radius circle of track I received for Christmas when I was fifteen.  My love of trains, however, began on Christmas morning in 1956 when my brother received an American Flyer S scale train set.  My fascination with trains has been life long.

Sadly, my new F-7 didn’t work right.  It ran backwards pretty well, but wouldn’t go forward. The small town we lived in had a model railroader’s paradise, a hobby shop where I spent a lot of time.  The shop was a small garage but it was loaded with HO treasure.  The owner loved trains as much as I did and was always willing to help.  I traded my Santa Fe engine for an old metal 2-6-0 switcher that squeeked, but it ran.  I also purchased two small boxes of track so my layout became a larger oval instead of a circle.

For those unfamiliar with model trains, HO actually stands for “Half-O.”  O gauge is the size of the familiar Lionel-type, three-rail trains.  HO trains are half that size.  I have always preferred HO.  The two-rail track and detail is more realistic.

The little hobby shop quickly became my favorite place, and the owner taught me everything he could about model railroading.  He also sold me Pere Marquette Berkshire 2-8-4 and Southern Pacific 4-8-8-2 Cab Forward steam locomotives for $10 with a trade and $25, respectively.  Unbelievable!  Those engines now are twenty times that much! The only thing I still own from the little hobby shop is a twenty-five foot fiber tie strip for hand laying and spiking rails.  I’ve never tried that.

The photos above are of my first full layout I built thirty years ago.  As you can see, it had open-grid benchwork and it was also my first experience with cork roadbed and ballast. I learned a great deal about what not to do with future layouts.  The biggest mistake I made was not planning for taking it apart.  When we moved I had to chose the best spots to cut it apart and it was not easy putting it back together.

The unpainted wood stand with the white tank structure was scratch-built forty-two years ago.  At one point it was crushed by a basketball, but since has been rebuilt and painted.

In upcoming posts I will include details about benchwork, scenery, and model railroading in general.  I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful.

 

 

 

 

Another Dog Who Loved Us

After our golden retriever, Lady, left us it was some time before another dog found us.

One summer afternoon, I played a terribly dirty trick on our little boys.  I retrieved a new tent I placed on layaway and put it together in the back yard.  I went inside where the boys were eating lunch and said I had a surprise for them.  I went back outside and yelled, “Here!  Come here!  Here boy!”  I whistled, then went back inside.  Of course, they were all excited, “Did you get a puppy?!”  I took them outside and when they saw the tent they started crying, “We thought you got a dog and it’s just a tent!”

Not long after my ill-advised stunt, my wife saw an ad in the newspaper for a rescue shelter.  There on the page was a very cute little terrier-beagle mix with adorable eyes saying, “Please, please take me home!”  We went to the rescue and the puppy adopted us.

Our boys were excited as they could be.  They played with the puppy in the back seat of the big car I was driving when all of a sudden, “Dad!  She’s pooping!”

Sure enough, the pup was hunched over in the familiar pose, leaving a warm pile of fresh steamer filling the car with an aroma never mistaken for anything else.  I quickly pulled over to the side of the road and cleaned up the mess.

Libby grew quickly but was never bigger than a small beagle.  She loved playing with the kids and was very attentive to them.  Her energy never ended.

We moved to another rental home to get close to the university where my wife was attending classes.  Now that our boys were in school, she was studying to complete her degree in elementary education.  Our neighbors had a boy who was about the same age as our triplet sons so they spent a great deal of time playing together.  One afternoon our Libby grabbed the neighbor boy, but luckily did not break the skin.  She was very protective of her turf and her boys.

We accepted the pastorate of a small church in a distant town which meant another move.  We quickly settled into our new home, our children into a new school district.  The church we pastored was in the beginning stages of building a new facility which was going to be on the same property as our home, which was also owned by the church.

Sunday morning was always a very tense and anxiety-filled time for me as I anticipated speaking to the people.  Five minutes before the morning worship service was to begin, with my anxiety peaking, a church leader walked into my office and with his familiar exaggerated gesturing, said, “Your dog bit the builder!!”

I pictured a limb torn and tattered, and expected the builder to be furious.  The truth was much less dramatic.  The man went into a metal shed in our yard to retrieve something he needed.  When he came out, the dog grabbed just his pants but no skin.  It was becoming apparent that a change was going to be necessary.  Our Libby was unpredictable and that was making us nervous.  As she got older, she was becoming more protective.

We had Libby for two years but determined it was time to find her a new home.  The wiry and energetic little dog would no longer be running around our yard.  We would not have to worry about her anymore.

Once again, we were without a dog.  A ten-gallon fish tank and several gold fish took her place.  Fish don’t fetch and they’re hard to cuddle, but they generally don’t jump on or bite anybody, either.

(The dog in the picture is not Libby, but looks just like her.)

A Dog Knows His Nose

 

A dog knows his nose is a meaningful part
Like a handshake of greeting, extending the heart.
A dog knows his nose is not right or wrong
It is what it is, like a bird and a song.

A dog knows his nose picks up things that we wouldn’t
If it were possible, we’d teach him he shouldn’t.
A dog knows his nose will show him around
And tell him all things without hearing a sound.

A dog knows his nose is dripping and cold
And will be that way until he is old.
If you wondering why his attentiveness goes,
He’s following close cuz a dog knows his nose.

Copyright 2019 by Dale R. Parsons