Of Baggage Cars and Baggage
By Alan MacDonald
Over the breakfast table at the Train Collectors Association Eastern Division Meet in York, PA last spring, the conversation turned to how various ones informed girlfriends, spouses and significant others of this “thing” we have with toy trains. The richness of the re-counted experiences suggested there were many more such tales worth seeking out. The essential question was, “how did you break the news of your train addiction to the significant person in your life?”
Some of those who responded asked to remain anonymous, others have been willing to share their triumphs and tragedies with names named. There seems to be general agreement that breaking such news can be a delicate matter. Some married prior to the train addiction manifested itself thus saving that initial potentially awkward moment of revelation. As one avid collector said, “From the beginning of the 60s until sometime in the early 80s, admitting to running and collecting toy trains was social suicide.” As most of us can appreciate, the risk of social suicide didn’t deter many from pursuing their “first love” of toy trains before moving onto the more complicated world of dating and marriage.
Sadly to say, in some cases, the “affliction” no doubt contributed to the dissolution of marriages, second marriages and perhaps ultimately, singleness by choice or circumstances. To this day in some circles, one runs the risk of social isolation by admitting to playing with toy trains. However, most would deal with this phenomenon by changing circles!
Nonetheless, toy trains can at times be hazardous to one’s social life and standing.
TOY TRAINS AND THE DATING YEARS
I don’t want to paint a totally bleak picture of the impact of toy trains on one’s dating life. A toy train enthusiast, who may represent many more, recounted how he would invite the girl he was dating over to his basement to watch him operate his trains. It seems that as the trains could operate in a “hands-off” manner, it in turn, allowed for some “hands on” activity as those trains ran! Perhaps there are other “right of way” Romeo’s out there.
Robert Butler, another enthusiast known to many in the TCA, recounted one particularly memorable introduction to his collection that took place at his home.
For those of you too young to remember, there was a time from about the beginning of the 1960’s until sometime in the early 1980’s when admitting to running and collecting toy trains was social suicide. Unlike most of us I never shifted from trains to cars and dating when I hit my teen years. After getting the first train set in 1951, I just kept adding to the collection. After service and college I started working in industry and one of the first things I did when I had my own apartment was to have an annual eight week train binge. I’d move all of the furniture out of the living room after Christmas and set up a monster layout and run trains.
In due time, I started dating and it was then that I discovered what a burden this hobby could be. Time and again I would start to get interested in a member of the opposite sex and in due course the subject of hobbies would come up. The reaction when I confessed to liking and collecting TOYS was unbelievable. I actually had a date get up from the restaurant table, make an excuse about having to go to the ladies, and then disappear. When I went out to the reception area and asked the hostess to check to see if she was all right the hostess said, “Oh, you’re that train guy. She called a cab and she said to tell you don’t bother to call again.”
The rejection rate was such that I was convinced that I could have confessed to being a drug addicted ax murderer and that option would have been preferable to an admission of an interest in toy trains.
The reason for bringing this up isn’t to seek sympathy but only to set the stage for what follows: It is now Christmas 1986. I’m living in a 2 bedroom duplex with an absolute monster master bedroom. I use the smaller bedroom to store the trains and, as before, around about Christmas I move the furniture out of the master bedroom and into the small one and I set up a huge train display on the master bedroom floor.
I had been dating Lorraine off and on for most of 1986. Things were starting to get serious and I had to face the fact that at some point I was going to have to admit to my weakness for things of the three rail tinplate persuasion.
I cleared out the master bedroom, set up the trains and when all was ready I screwed my courage up to the sticking point and I made a telephone call. The state of my nerves can be imagined. All I could think of was the coming rejection and as a consequence, I completely missed the subtler aspects of my verbal communication.
Lorraine answered her phone.
“Hi, how’s it going?”
“I haven’t heard from you lately.”
“Yeah, I know, I’ve been kind of busy.”
“Yeah, I’ve been working on a few things….Say, I was wondering if you’d like to come over and see some toy trains?”
“Toy trains? What do you mean toy trains?”
“Oh really? Where do you have them set up?”
“In the bedroom.”
“So…would you like to come over and see them?”
Verrrry long pause….”Well,…..Ok.”
It took Lorraine about 20 minutes to drive over to my place. It seemed like forever and I had interpreted here complete lack of enthusiasm as the prelude to the coming rejection. There was a knock on the door. I opened it. Lorraine was standing about 7 feet back from the threshold. When I greeted her she didn’t even look me in the eye. Rather she looked past me and into the living room. Her demeanor was that of a person anticipating an ambush by a Bengal tiger or some other equally ferocious beast.
“Where are the trains?”
“Ok, …you lead the way.”
So I walked up the stairs with Lorraine trailing a good 10 feet behind. I turned the hallway corner and switched on the bedroom light. From behind I heard a sudden gasp followed by the exclamation.
“My God, there ARE trains in here!”
I turned around in total surprise and, with my voice full of indignation I said, ” Well, OF COURSE there are trains here! What the heck did you think I had in here anyway?”
She was fascinated. She still is fascinated. We were married seven months later.
TO HIDE THE “ELEPHANT” OR NOT?
A common thread running through the lives of many collectors is the first introduction of the significant other to the “wall of trains,” “hall of trains,” “room of trains,” or “house of trains.” Reactions run the gamut from disbelief to amazement to indifference.
Bob Mintz recounts his experience. “I had a 28-foot wall in the living room where I would display my huge collection. I would have no need to “inform” my date of my “affliction”. It was there front and center.
The responses have ranged from some polite small talk to others acting as if there was nothing unusual about Bob’s living room. “It was kind of strange to see others totally ignore the 48 train laden glass shelves hanging over their heads!”
Amusing reactions to the discovery of a large number of trains in living spaces of otherwise normal adults appear to be fairly common. Many have happy endings as in the case of Clive Ghele in London. I’ll let him tell his story.
“As I live in a very small flat in Covent Garden train hiding was not an option. When my “significant other” appeared on the scene she remarked, “There’s a train in your flat.” I simply agreed and moved the conversation on. This initial encounter didn’t seem to deter the young woman and in due course Clive met her father. As it turns out, her father built live steamers! It was at this point Clive knew he had nothing to worry about.
I’m afraid that in the course of collecting material for this article I inadvertently blew the cover of one very notable collector of clockwork Hornby in Edinburgh. At the risk of potential litigation, I must share the tale. I had the pleasure of visiting Nicholas Oddy on a trip to Scotland. Having seen that every nook and cranny of Nicholas’ home held some prized and rare piece of early Hornby, I wanted to know what he said, when for the first time he opened the door to his flat for his wife to be.
Unthinkingly, I copied Nicolas’ wife Samantha on my query. Imagine my shock and horror to read the flurry of email communications my query unleashed between Samantha and Nicholas!
“Since when have you been into trains? When did this habit begin? Perhaps you can tell me next time we meet!” — Samantha
“I hoped that you would never find out. I have made every effort to conceal it from you, but yes, I have to admit to an interest in old toy trains.” — Nicolas
“Well, this is a double bluff because actually I ALREADY KNEW!! I have kept this knowledge secret from you for the last 12 years and really thought my cover would never be blown — bloody TCS (Train Collector Society) lot, why did they have to stir things up?” — Samantha
“Ha! So my elaborate front worked. As part of a wager in 1990 I bet that I could convince a complete stranger that not only was I a closet train enthusiast but also could convince here to marry me. Now I must repair to my club to collect the ten million guineas prize before fleeing the country!” — Nicholas
There is no doubt that many of our significant others have just given in and gone along on this peculiar journey into the world of toy trains that so fascinates us. In rare cases, it’s been the significant other that led the way on this journey.
Paul Edgar describes how he got into toy trains. “My wife got me into it!”
He goes on, “When we were married in 1971, we were picking up a few pieces of used furniture from our parents to pack in a U-Haul and move to Washington, D.C. After packing everything at my wife’s house she said, “You have to go up to the attic and get my Lionel trains.” As it turns out, upon seeing the engines, rolling stock and tons of track, Paul remembered he still had some Marx trains in his parent’s attic and decided he might as well retrieve those as well. They were again packed away in the Edgar’s new home until they again saw the light of day during Christmas of 1995.
Paul’s wife is the Postwar expert in the family and their collection and layout have grown at somewhat of an exponential rate in the years since 1995. Most of us would be content with a spouse who puts up with our toy train interests with a bemused yet somewhat supportive disinterest. Paul’s a rare and lucky man.
There are also cases of the lucky woman with a supportive spouse. One notable example is Barb Jones. She recounts how early in her collecting years she purchased 18 McCoy standard gauge circus cars in one fell swoop. Barb says, “I could hardly get them to the car but I took them to my best friend’s house.” Now faced with how to deal with the issue of what her spouse would handle this she implemented a plan that sometimes works for the rest of us and sometimes not. “I spent several weeks telling my husband how much I wanted these cars until he finally told me to go ahead and buy them. “At that point”, Barb said with mischievous delight, “I was able to bring them home!”
IT’S ALWAYS DARKEST BEFORE THE DAWN
When it comes to dating and the toy train enthusiast, the humiliation couldn’t get much worse than that experienced by Robert Butler. We all know that things worked out in the end. However, there were some bumps along the way. There were times when the rejection he experienced convinced him that it would be preferable to confess to being a drug-addicted axe murderer than to admit to an interest in toy trains.
On one occasion Robert had invited a young lady to dinner at a nice restaurant. After some small talk, he got up the nerve to mention his liking and collecting toy trains. Shortly thereafter the young woman excused herself to go to the ladies room. After an inordinate amount of time had passed, Robert went to out to the reception area. Upon finding the hostess he explained that his date had gone to the ladies room and he was concerned that she had been gone for so long. “Could you please check to see if she’s Ok?” With a disdainful look the hostess replied, “Oh, you’re the train guy. She called a cab and said to tell you ‘don’t bother to call again.” Ouch!
HAPPILY EVER AFTER…IN SOME CASES
Many of us are thankful for spouses who encourage us and, while not personally interested in toy trains, are happy to see the enjoyment we get from the hobby. Some of these supportive relationships span the years. One such case is that of the Rev. Alan Cliff and his wife Rosemary in Wales.
“I proposed to my wife nearly 45 years ago whilst traveling on a Baker Street-Watford Metropolitan Line train. She has coped very well with a train enthusiast. All the manses we have lived in plus our present house have had model railways of different gauges lurking in various places.” Rosemary has faithfully typed his over 125 columns “Lock’s Siding” that appear monthly in British Railway Modeling magazine. In addition, she has prepared for publication each of Alan’s “Jack the Station Cat” children’s books.
“I count myself a very fortunate man” says Rev. Cliff. So are those of us who have wonderful spouses or significant others who put up with our afflictions and us.