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
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?"
"Well, I collect toy trains and I like to set them up
and run them and I have a big layout up and running now and
I thought you might like to come over and see them."
"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
"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
"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!” --
“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!” --
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
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
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
“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.