Toy Trains Go Serious

Many men have memories of a toy train set from childhood. Usually, the train was a gift from Santa or maybe even Dad and Mom. The train sets had names like Lionel, American Flyer, and Marx.

My own recollection is one of spending hours of great fun running the train around the Christmas tree imagining trips across country as the engineer. The set I ran was never really mine. It belonged to the family. In our house, Christmas was the only time the train came out. Our parents allowed us to set it up after decorating the tree. The track layout was an oval with an extension forming a second longer oval. Two switches allowed the engineer to take a shortcut across the short oval. We also had a steel-truss bridge, and a crossing gate.

My dad worked for the railroad and he encouraged us to be interested. In my case, the encouragement was minimal since the mere sight of the set coming out of the closet made my juices flow.

Yesterday, Grandma Peggy and I visited the Chicagoland Lionel Railroad Club open house in New Lenox, IL. The size of the layout is amazing. The club claims it is the largest 3-rail O-Gauge layout in the Midwest, and I believe it. I have seen one other layout that I think is more impressive, and it is at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The museum layout is different, in that the trains use only two rails.

"The Great Train Story" exhibit in t...

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The Chicagoland Lionel Railroad Club formed in the spring of 1994. The membership is over one hundred and fifty. They own a seven thousand square foot industrial condo clubhouse, and use every square foot effectively. Several new projects are in process as the members continue to build their railroad.

We spent two hours inspecting the details of the villages and watching one of the longest container trains I have ever seen give it a realistic experience. The container train was one of four to six trains running on different  rails all around the layout. They even had a short line trolley shuttling between two points. One very obvious omission was a passenger train, even though several vignettes were train stations with people waiting for trains to arrive. The club probably did that on purpose to remind us of the lack of passenger service available in America today.

The mezzanine level contained three traveling layouts which the club takes to  shows away from the clubhouse. These layouts really amused little kids. One was a carnival, with rides, another had a Thomas the Tank Engine train, and the third layout allowed the kids to play with wooden trains.

I got a valuable education in photography during my visit. It shocked me to learn that my point and shoot camera got what seemed like good photos with the available light. Near the end of the visit, I turned on the flash to photograph a very dark scene, and realized a huge difference in color. At home, I realized all the photos taken without the flash are blurry. It never occurred to me that the camera would keep the aperture open longer to gather light; an automatic time exposure. The blur happened because of my shaky one-handed reach toward the vignettes. All of the moving trains blurred because of the speed at which they were moving. I must get over my reluctance to switch to video mode. I’m just too old for video photography, even though I won awards for my home movies a very long time ago.

Follow this link to the Chicagoland Lionel Railroad Club website where they have lots more photos.

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