Playing With Trains

imageLike most men my age I have an extensive O-gauge train layout that runs around my living room, past the bathroom, into the bedroom, circles under the bed, and returns to the living room. If you’re not familiar with O-gauge, it’s the big “Lionel” size, a gauge normally considered to be somewhere between the width of Lionel Hampton and Lionel Barrymore. I got “hooked” on trains when Carra decided that the thing at the very top of my Christmas list (a brewery) was beyond her price limit and so she bought me a 50th anniversary Lionel starter set (known within the industry as “a gateway set” by manufacturers that make steam engines costing $1,500 which do nothing other than go around in a circle, but look really cool doing so. Except to women).

Model trains are a wonderful hobby for me. Here’s why: I am now at an age, that had I lived in the thirteenth century, would have been considered highly respectable. No doubt I would have been considered the village grand elder, and due to my extraordinary life experiences be sought out and asked all sorts of important questions, such as,

1) “The sun disappeared in the middle of the day! Will it come back?” (And wisely I would say, “Yes, fear not. It’s just an eclipse.”)

2) “How might we increase our food yield yet work less hard in the fields?” (And wisely I would say, “Make your plow blade of iron rather than wood. Tie the plow to a horse, instead of your wife.”)

3) “What is the appropriate age for young people to marry?” (And wisely I would say, “Fifty.”)

4) “What do we do if the village is put under siege by a dragon?” (And wisely I would say, “Kiss your ass goodbye.”)

And I would be revered for being a fount of information and wisdom. Unfortunately I exist in the present. And given the year of my birth, in relation to the year it is now, I have NO IDEA HOW ANYTHING WORKS. I don’t know how phones work, I don’t know how the cloud thing works, I don’t know how to make video games go, and I can’t even watch television without the aid of four remote controls and sets of instructions by the TV that I have to review nightly like it’s Vespers. I hate this.

Which is what makes model trains such a valuable thing to have as a hobby. Two things you need to know about O-gauge model trains: 1) They’re very expensive, and 2) They’re all made in China. Given that they’re all made in China, they don’t work a lot of the time. But the good thing is, a lot of times I can actually figure out why they don’t work. Usually it’s because an excessive build-up of carbon, dust, or mystery goo is on the electrical pick-ups—yet this is easily resolved with some 91% rubbing alcohol and Q-tips. And the fact that I can figure out how to fix this problem makes me feel good about myself. Even the problems I can’t fix, such as the fact that the wheels were never put on the locomotive before it left the factory or half a can of beer was accidentally spilled in the cab, where the motor is, afford me the opportunity to maintain a healthy self-esteem because I at least know what caused the problem. I can’t say the same about why the DVD drawer opens and then snaps shut before I can remove the DVD. Over and over again. For fifteen minutes.

Should you be of similar age or disposition, I highly recommend you get yourself involved with O-gauge model trains. Of course, keep in mind it’s not all Q-tips and rubbing alcohol. There’s a lot of wires too. And it’s not all that simple when starting out. So to save yourself a lot of guesswork I’d recommend you get Model Trains For Dummies. Now, I will be quick to declare that this Dummies cartel has gotten way out of hand. PC’s For Dummies, being the first in the series, was cute. The idea had value, even if the actual book was more like a college calculus text book written by Nikola Tesla with cartoons and doodles in the margins. But now we’re on to Blankets For Dummies and I think it’s time these people closed up shop. I’m also tired of seeing the word Dummies attached to something I already understand, like stretching, insinuating that I’ve missed the boat somewhere on everything in the universe that has a noun form. That said, I still recommend Model Trains For Dummies as in this case the book is aptly named. Because they’re toy trains. And you’re an adult.

But having something not work that you know how to fix is an extraordinary boost to your self-esteem. Of course, since you will be dealing with oftentimes finicky electrical toys made by underpaid people who hate your American guts because we let Japan walk all over their country and didn’t do anything about it until the Japanese started shooting at us, and who know how to play ping pong way, way better than they know how to solder, you will at times find yourself unable to repair your $800 K-4 Pacific steam engine, especially since it doesn’t come apart unless you have the Special Magical Chinese Screwdriver Micro Wand. This can be frustrating. And this is why I recommend getting a back-up hobby, preferably something that was popular prior to the Industrial Revolution. Like whittling. If you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of this hobby then I suggest you get Whittling For Dummies. I’m pretty sure they have that.

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