Sunday, February 19, 2006

At The Model Railroad Show

by Tom Bozzo

My mother and I took John to the Mad City Model Railroad Show this morning. About all I can say is that 2-1/2 hours is a lot of time for a 3-year-old to stay (mostly) on his feet.

OK, I can say a little more. We probably could have just let John watch the first display, a layout of vintage American Flyer S-gauge toy trains, for the duration, and it would have been fine with him. After that, a curiosity was that he was more interested in the extremes of scale, with HO drawing much less attention. Except, that is, for the HO TtFTE, which he was happy to drive.

Indeed, a layout with a tiny Z-gauge (1:220) Santa Fe passenger train with the classic 'warbonnet' F7 was captivating if for nothing other than the teeny couplings. And one of the garden train layouts was at a convenient height for preschooler viewing.

And, of course, we spent a lot of time at the LEGO train layout, even though it wasn't remotely as elaborate as some of the LEGO train clubs stage elsewhere. In fairness, it seemed to be the work of one youngish guy who may not have exactly been made of bricks, and it did have an impressive set of robotic track, train, and signal controls driven by a ThinkPad. Seeing a LEGO Santa Fe passenger train (with two more cars than we have, plus a nice custom B unit to go with the official F7 A unit) did NOT make him remotely interested in transferring the light and motor from the High-Speed Train over to the Super Chief. Ah well.

After the LEGOs, the boy was starting to flag, and things went a little south from there. He was eager to go on a circus train ride, which he did all by himself, and remained pleased with himself for the first few laps of the track. The last couple loops had him asking to get off even more loudly than he nixed changes to the trains in the basement. Fortunately, there was a big garden train layout nearby with room to flop.

Then, he discovered that there were vendors selling Thomas trains, and lots of 'em. In a parenting move I may regret later, a relatively calm exit from the show was purchased with the promise that I would extract Murdoch from the heretofore super-secret Strategic TtFTE Train Reserve upon our return to the ranch. There are times when you do what you have to do.


(Note to my grandmother: Most of the links in the post are to other pictures of John.)
The Thomas stuff is useful for recruiting the next generation of hobbyists. On Saturday I saw herds of toddlers up until nap time, although one of the traders told me the show wasn't as crowded as it sometimes gets. If one percent of those Thomas fans becomes a train buff in later years, the hobby will be safe for another generation.
Yes, Thomas is basically the gateway drug of model railroading. I gather that there's an issue that kids tire of their wooden toy trains before they're ready for scale models; the LEGO trains may serve as an additional bridge (in addition to being a legitimate hobbyist outlet in their own right), though they're not so well known as they're difficult to find at retail.

The bigger problem is that for the kids there, trains are a novelty (a la the WSOR's open house) or an historical curiosity, vs. residents of the NE Corridor who can use them as a practical means of intercity transportation.
Yes, train relevance might be driven by train proximity. Even there, there is reason for optimism. I'm watching the proliferation of light rail systems in the Sun Belt and expect that to change the demographics of the Central Electric Railfans' Association, which will be a bit more cheering than watching it die out with the people who remember the Depression-era last interurbans.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?