Ghosts of Christmas Past

Just to make sure I don’t get nailed for copyright infringement, this is obviously a photo of the “Muppets Christmas Carol” when Marley and Marley come to heckle Scrooge. I love the part in the movie when Scrooge is apprenticed at Fozziwig and Mom’s Rubber Chicken Factory, and Fozziwig was going to make a speech. The two old hecklers in the balcony hollered, “It’s time for us to take a nap!” Fozziwig’s speech was something like, “Merry Christmas to everyone!” The Marleys said, “That was dumb! It was short! We loved it!!”

You often hear about the Christmas season being one of the most depression-causing times of the year. There are statistically more heart attacks on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year. What the heck?! It’s probably easy to figure out why.

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time, maybe unconsciously, trying to recreate all of the cherished feelings of Christmases past. I think I’m not alone. It becomes exhausting, trying to make everything just perfect, like our memories faithfully recall, so that we can relive all of the best moments once again. The problem is it’s impossible. The past can’t be brought back, recreated, or experienced again. Every moment and experience is brand new, nothing is exactly the way it used to be. That’s not negativity or sarcasm, it’s the truth. And the longer we spend and the energy we waste trying to do something that can’t be done, the more likely it is the actual result will be depression and maybe worse.

Enough therapy, it’s time to remember some fun things.

Most boys at some time want a BB gun, and I was no different. Our dad was an avid hunter, so I naturally wanted to follow. I think I was ten when my wish came true. On Christmas morning I first opened a heavy box that was filled with little packs of BBs that looked like shotgun shells. That was the neatest thing ever. The BB gun I received made an annoying “pinnnggg” sound that was supposed to be like a ricochet. It wasn’t. But it was a BB gun, and I loved it. We spent Christmas Day in the basement shooting at plastic army men with the backdrop of a big box with a quilt folded up inside to catch the BBs.

Another great gift my brother got was a slot-car race track. With super-realistic video games that put you in the driver’s seat of a race car, it’s hard to imagine kids today being interested in slot-car racing, but back then it was the best! We had that track for many years and wore it out.

A gift my sister and I still laugh about was her EasyBake Oven. How I loved it! Yes, I meant to say “I”. My young sister, obviously, had to be shown how to do everything, so I did it for her. We made all of the goodies that first Christmas Day and just about made ourselves sick eating all of the little pies and cakes. (I just thought of something. That EasyBake Oven is probably why I love baking so much and now have people hollering “enough already!!” because all the sweets I made will probably last til April).

Reading back over the paragraph about the BB gun reminded me of the year, I think I was seven, that I received two six-shooters in a holster, designed after the old TV show, “Have Gun Will Travel”. Oh my gosh!! The basement was blue with smoke from the rolls of caps we shot at each other all afternoon! I’m amused how often I see six-shooters like that in antique stores. Until I finally got a BB gun, I took my holster and six-guns on hunting trips with our dad.

One last favorite. When I was fifteen I received my first HO scale train set. For the unaware, HO actually means “half-O”. O scale is the size of Lionel trains. I prefer HO, because, to me and many others, it’s more realistic, and doesn’t take up as much space. That Christmas was fifty years ago, but I still love HO trains, and am getting ready to build another big layout in the basement of our new home. And, by the way, we model railroaders do not “play trains” and we don’t care how fast they go, so don’t ask! They are not train sets, they are layouts. Now that we’ve settled that, I’ll move on.

Merry Christmas.

I think it’s time for coffee.

Building An HO Scale Layout

These are some track-level photos of my most recent HO scale train layout.  It was a “shelf-style” layout, which simply means the room I was using was too small to have a free standing layout supported by its own benchwork legs.  I used a model railroading magazine specifically for benchwork and just followed sketches to build the shelf supports along the wall.

My first obstacle was trying to figure out how much room I had for the loops on each end of the layout.  I didn’t want to build a “down and back” type of track plan.  I wanted to allow the trains to run continually, and wanted to be able to run two trains at the same time.  So, I ended up with a detailed two-line track plan with several sidings and a couple freight yards to choose from.  What I ended up with was a 22 inch outer line radius, and an 18 inch radius on the inner curve.  One mistake I made was not allowing enough room through the entire curve for two trains to run side-by-side.  I had to make sure the two trains did not run through the curves together.  I won’t make that mistake again.

I don’t run passenger trains, so the entire layout was built for freight operation.  Most of my buildings are manufacturing style, as a few can be seen in the photos.  Although I enjoy operating the trains, my main focus is scenery.  As you can see in the photos, the layout was not finished, as there were plenty of bare spots where there were neither roads, grass, or weeds.  But, that’s just part of the hobby.  The work is never finished.

I used “flex-track” which comes in 3′ sections.  I used code 100 rail, which has to do with the fine detail of the rails.  For my use, this code works great and it is less expensive.  I only use nickle-silver track as it does not corrode as quickly as brass.  I don’t know of anyone who uses brass track for serious layout construction.  The flex-track works great for my layouts.  I have never tried scratch-building track, either with a tie-strip and rails, or by hand laying ties.  It’s too much work.

Model railroading is a great hobby.  There is just something about trains that have captured my attention my entire life.  I take every chance I can get to watch trains. Unfortunately, I don’t live close enough to any operational lines to allow me to watch every day.  I am really looking forward to starting my next layout.

Working on trains always makes me think of coffee.  Speaking of which, it’s time for more.  Coffee, that is.

– Dale Parsons

 

Model Railroading

 

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Model railroading has been my main hobby since I was fifteen.  My brother and I had O scale trains when we were younger but as I got older my interests changed to HO.  HO actually stands for “Half-O”, so HO gauge is half the size of O gauge.  Lionel trains are the main brand for those who have “train sets.”  In my opinion, for those who are more serious about really doing something with the hobby, HO is the preferred scale.

The photo above is a layout I had until we moved last year.  And, by the way, those who are serious model railroaders don’t have train sets, they have layouts.  A serious layout is crafted from the bench work, which is the wooden frame that is the basis for all the railroading action, all the way up to the track work, the rolling stock, and the scenery.

For me, the railroad operation is not the most interesting part.  The scenery is definitely the most fun.  And scenery is not just trees or grass.  The scenery includes buildings, mountains, grass, weeds, junk, people, everything that is not the track and trains themselves.  The scenery work is never finished.  There is always something more to add, some new little detail, which might be as small as adding small bits of model scrap to a junkyard.

One of the most fun things to do is putting lights in the buildings.  It’s fascinating to get down on track level and watch the trains move among buildings that are casting rays of light through their tiny windows.

My uncle, who is now in his eighties, is the one really responsible for getting me into HO model trains.  In 1970, I spent spring break with him and his family.  We spent the entire week working on trains and going to hobby shops.  In the back corner of layout pictured above, there is a small cottage that we built from scratch that week.  It is a treasure of mine.

Model railroading is a terrific way to relax and forget about life for a while.  Scratch-building items for the layout, including operating signal lights (that’s for another blog session) and other little things is the best.  There is nothing like the sound of the wheels clicking over the rails.

Something that makes it even better is a cup of coffee sitting close by.

– Dale Parsons