If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
Even at the age of seven, I could tell that my grandparents had repurposed a large cardboard box by wrapping it outside and inside with Christmas paper, packing a lot of smaller boxes inside it and then putting more paper around the whole thing.
I can remember exactly where I was sitting at that moment, and that every adult in the room had eyes on me with that large and colorfully wrapped gift. A stillness fell upon the room, lending an air of excitement to the occasion.
Did everyone in the room except me know what was in that box? I had to wonder.
I carefully lifted the outer wrapping and found that the box contained a complete model train set. Each piece was in a separate box. The collection was made up of a little red diesel locomotive, four freight cars, two cattle cars, a brake van (you’d call it a caboose, but this was in Germany, so bear with me), a controller and dozens of pieces of track in straight and curved sections.
I had never seen anything like it up close. I had looked in catalogs, seen display layouts in shop windows, but never actually held a model train. In fact, I hadn’t even dared wish for one, because I knew that they were expensive and someone far older and wiser would say I wasn’t ready for something like that.
Well, in that moment of silent awe, I realized that someone older and wiser must have decided that I was now ready for my very own model train set.
The name ‘Fleischmann’ was printed in red on each little box. I knew immediately that these models had come from the catalog I had (not very secretly) been treasuring for months.
That Christmas marked the beginning of my undying love affair with model trains. Other boys had toy cars, dinosaurs, soccer balls, board games… I had a model train set that would be added to with every gift-giving occasion for the next dozen years. It’s a passion that survives to this day, half a century later, and I’m proud to say that I still have each of those models that arrived under the Christmas tree that marvelous day.
A model train set is far more than just a locomotive pulling some cars around a track. It won’t be long before a child loses interest in something that just whizzes around in circles. A model train set has to grow.
Within a year or two, I had added switches, sidings, houses and more trains to my collection. Fleischmann models were some of the highest quality and highest priced on the market, and they remain so today. Christmases and birthdays, therefore, were highlighted by the arrival of perhaps just one or two models each time, never an enormous quantity. That would have been decadent. My appreciation of each would have been diluted by the numbers.
My father built tables on which I could lay the track in all sorts of configurations. Eventually, there would be mountains and fields, overpasses and underpasses, towns with stations, freight yards with cranes, landscapes with trees and miniature people… The possibilities were boundless.
Over the years, my skills at carpentry, model building, design, painting and electrical wiring were developed and improved. I’d think of something I wanted to accomplish, find a way to build it, and make it part of the layout. If something was unavailable from catalogs or toy shops, or if it was too expensive, I’d find a way to make it myself. Wherever I traveled as a child, I’d find something that could be used on my layout. I created rocky cliffs with pine tree bark from a logging camp in Bavaria; I picked lichen off boulders in Norway for shrubbery; I sifted sand off English beaches for my gravel loaders. I made trees out of foam and sticks, houses out of card and plastic, mountains out of wire and plaster, bridges out of wood and stone; the beautiful Fleischmann trains would run around it all, under it and over it, flawlessly, at my command.
A whole new world of creativity was opened up for me that day when I was seven years old. It became a constructive hobby, educational, creative, challenging… and it grew up with me in ways that no other child’s gift ever could have done.
Sometimes, a grandparent just seems to know when the time is right for a child to have that first properly valuable gift that will last a lifetime.