model train set on track

Albert Finney’s Scrooge transformed Christmas then and now (A Christmas Memory!)

e*Train Issue: Dec 2023   |   Posted in: ,

by Scott Easterling, TCA# 86-24404                 Winter e*Train 2024

I was in the theater this past Sunday afternoon here in Melbourne Florida taking in Albert Finney in the musical Scrooge. I very much wanted to see this amazing story on the big screen once again. In 1970 when the movie was first released, I sat with my family in a very grand movie theater in the Maryland Suburbs of Washington D.C. experiencing Scrooge the musical. I was in second grade, and arguably too young for the complex storytelling and extensions of Dickens’ original work including flying thru the inhabitants of Hell and Ebenezer’s eternal assignment as Lucifer’s clerk in the only cold room there. No matter, my father, who at the time was just getting started in life and probably had to sacrifice a bit for us all to be at the showing, wanted his family to see this side of Christmas.

My dad had sacrificed a couple of years earlier obtaining a massive train set for me at GC Murphy’s — a regional discount department store. It was a place where he had scored a temporary position as floor help during the busy Christmas season of 1966. Apparently, it was just enough to make Christmas happen for his fledgling family. I imagine his employee discount and low sales of discounted electric trains were the only reasons I could have received my amazing “American Flyer, All Aboard” train set as a gift.

Scott and his American Flyer All Aboard Train

By Christmas of 1970 we had moved out of a city apartment and into an old house my parents had purchased in the country (only about 13 miles from Washington D.C.). It was Washington, where my father had found more permanent work with the ABC Radio Network at their D.C. Headquarters.

The old house had a damp, cold dark root cellar type of basement with an unlit exterior entrance which was even scary at high noon in the middle of August. This root cellar’s back most room was where my electric trains were relegated when we moved into the house. This is where I spent most of my non-school waking hours in those days.  It was there in the dimly lit cellar I became fascinated with engineering, science, and electricity, eventually leading to college and an offer from Harris, an engineering firm, someplace I had never heard of – Melbourne Florida!

The most memorable day of my 8th year on the planet (1970) was just before Christmas. Late in the afternoon of this cold and gloomy day, I was busy playing with my trains in the chilly dark recesses of the basement. I came upstairs but once to get an extension cord and some alcohol and cotton swabs to clean the tracks. Seeing me out of the inner sanctum, my father explains to me it is time to put away the trains because we are going to the movies. I protested, asking why and what for? He proceeded to tell me the story of an old man at Christmas time with many regrets. My objections notwithstanding, before I knew it, we were in our Plymouth Fury heading to the Langley Park movie theater. From this moment on, the images and memories are indelibly etched in my mind: The beautiful music, the modern cinematography, Ebenezer’s redemption, everything. But there was one problem with all of this — I was too young for the terrifying scenes of Scrooge wrapped in chains in his eternally frozen counting chambers surrounded by rats, cold, dark, and loneliness. 

So, while thoroughly enjoying the experience, and looking forward to getting home to the pre-Christmas joy of my railroad empire, something had changed. That evening, before dinner as I raced to the root cellar, my ears felt perpetually pinned back like a cat who hears something from behind.  As I reached to open the haunted door, I found myself checking its backside to see if Jacob Marley’s pigtail might be protruding. After ensuring the door was not haunted, I began the long walk down the hallway towards the back room, I half expected to see a phantom horse-drawn hearse float by wishing me (the Governor) a Merry Christmas. By the time I made it to my trains, the room seemed (in my imagination) to be Ebenezer’s frozen counting chamber in Hell, and I was sure I could hear the rats. The clanking of dinner silverware being set upstairs sounded to me as if the devils were on their way with my chains. It was too much for my 8-year-old mind, I banished myself from the root cellar indefinitely.

The spell finally broke Christmas morning when my father, once again, surprised me with more trains he had picked up at a hardware store near his office on Connecticut Avenue and 14th Street. And just like when Scrooge promises to find a cure for Tiny Tim, my father proclaimed to me, my trains could be brought up stairs and set up more permanently in my bedroom. 

What a grand 1970 Christmas it was!

Epilogue Arriving in Florida and reporting to work as an electrical engineer at the young age of 22, I never looked back or left Florida – Oh sure I miss winter around Christmas time but I have found that my Christmas layout’s winter wonderland is a fitting substitute for all of that. Below are a handful of pictures of my Christmas Only Model Railroad… each year I add a bit to it including this year an illuminated nose for Rudolph, who leads the team of Reindeer as they take to the sky launched from the Railroad’s Signal bridge!

Over the years I’ve detailed out such things as an oak chest – to store the menagerie for its annual 51-week hibernation – and saw horses shaped as Christmas trees holding up life size sleigh runners supporting the bench work. Each of the 8 panels of the modular track system are directly wired to the transformer providing uniform power without stalling or other disruptions for continuous and delightfully reliable operation. The Trains include Gondolas in Bethlehem Steel livery piled high with Christmas Trees, operating cars unloading miniature Christmas packages, and others delivering Candy Canes to the village residents…

Supporting Sawhorses Shaped as Christmas Trees

This year the center piece was a Christmas Tree.

… Also Note the Benchwork details – the supporting 1×4’s are finished as Christmas Trees!

The Mini craft Church from 1953 Complete with Stained glass ablaze awaits Christmas eve worshipers

Control Panel includes 150 Watt Transformer with Current and Voltage Monitoring meters  

Santa & his Sleigh with team of Miniature Reindeer are visible as a silhouette over the Signal Bridge    

Fast Freight wisping by as Rudolph signals the block is occupied with his “Nose So Bright”     

Christmas Candied Canes out for Delivery      

This Particular year the Center section was an animated outdoor winter carnival complete with Ice Skaters and miniature Christmas Lights