model train set on track

Riley’s Summer Vacation – or, “Windows of Opportunity”

e*Train Issue: Oct 2005   |   Posted in:

By Bill Laughlin, President Wichita Toy Train Club

When my wife Cathy informed me over the Fourth of July weekend that our six-year old grandson Riley Winn would be visiting us for a MONTH, it was a shock. (As a child, I remember visiting both sets of grandparents AND cousins all in one WEEK.)

The panic arose not because I didn’t know quite how I was to entertain him (HINT: we both love TRAINS) but rather how I would fit in my “day job,” all the ongoing WTTC responsibilities and projects, and have much time left over for him.

I realized a valuable lesson in coping with this dilemma: Promoting our hobby all comes down to how passionately you want to do it on your personal level—just how much time and effort you’re willing to put in. (It’s why I don’t have a garden, or a “Turf-Builder”- perfect yard.

The tiny “Windows of Opportunity” we have to profoundly influence young children’s lives for good, open, and then close quickly.

Most kids these days are attracted to trains at a MUCH EARLIER AGE than we seemed to be. But there are countless competing activities, toys and games that we older folks didn’t have to sort out. We can’t rely on waiting to a “more responsible” age of 8 or 9 for that gift of the first electric train set. By then, it’s often too late. Do we put off that TV show or round of golf when your “Riley” comes to visit?

It’s all about priorities.

The assumption here is that the Toy Train Hobby is worth preserving. If you haven’t signed on to that yet, you’re probably in the wrong hobby. (There are plenty of car clubs, garden clubs, gun clubs, etc.) Secondly, the FOCUS needs to be directed to children, not the parents. We’ve talked about this before: The original McDonalds restaurants didn’t offer “Play Places.” I wonder why so many of them do now? It’s very shrewd marketing.

You certainly can’t rely on retailers exposing kids to the Toy Train hobby, either, as was done decades ago. (Apologies to our S-Gaugers reading this, but at least in this town you can’t walk in and see much “Toy Train” product on the shelves anymore. What little remains is all “O”.) What’s a person to do? Let’s take a look at how I “entertained” Riley using local resources:

We twice attended a breakfast group of old-timers where prototypical trains were the main topic.

Son Daniel and I designed a new layout for him on the computer.

We watched train videos at home—especially popular were “I Love Toy Trains” and the “KC Frog” series.

Obviously multiple visits to “Train-Mania II” were in order, where he was always allowed to run SOMETHING.

He created several track plans on the floor of my office with “leftover” track. At home, he did the same with wooden railways.

We drove to several small-town depots where we saw proto freights “whipping by” every so often.

On one of our outings, we spotted a U.P. signal maintainer testing a crossing signal. Stopping to chat, the worker allowed Riley to sit in the cab of his hi-rail pickup truck (which Riley has termed “pickup railers.”) Talk about cheap thrills!

I taught him about steam engine wheel arrangements: a 4-6-4 is a Hudson ; a 4-8-4 is a Northern, etc. We quizzed and quizzed on it until he remembered.

The new Lionel catalog arrived, and we poured over it together. I then gave him one, HIS OWN copy, to have fun with.

We watched a proto yard switcher make up trains.

We visited my Augusta office’s layout, other WTTC members’ layouts, and traveled to two nearby museums which have operating O-gauge layouts.

He enjoyed the WTTC “Old Cowtown” events and our layouts there.

I think you get the picture. You don’t have to live in or near a major metro area to “do” the Toy Train Hobby. All you need is a little time, right priorities, and a lot of love.