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I like jigsaw puzzles; they’re purposeless yet satisfying and meditative. When starting a new puzzle, I find and connect all the edge pieces and corners to make the outer frame. Then I’ll either randomly patch the rest together while checking the picture on the box or separate all the pieces into piles of like colors and patterns. I’m making order out of chaos using my senses rather than logic and analysis; it’s a respite for the mind. Once complete, I feel a sense of accomplishment tempered by a sense of loss at having to crumble it all up and put it back in the box.
Uncoupling someone else’s 75 year model railroad collection is a puzzle, indeed. There’s no picture on a box to match. Everything is piled, boxed, and clumped together randomly—at least this is the case with my Dad’s collection. So many mysteries to be solved, such as finding missing parts that may or may not exist, spending hours researching to identify the contents of mislabeled or unlabeled boxes, or simply recognizing that two things in opposite corners of the room actually belong together.
I miss my Dad. It will be almost a year since he’s gone, during which time I’ve driven a steam locomotive, attended model railroad “meets”, talked with modelers, and started a business along with this blog. Now I understand so much more, yet it’s too late to talk with him about it.
I’ve spent the last year collecting parts of my Dad I never knew, piecing him together with my memories. Moments spent with him in the nursing home where he spent his last year; watching him wake up in recovery after his first operation at the age of 91 (“Oh!” he said, “I’m still here!”); kneeling together on the driveway next to my Dodge Dart to yank out the right rear axle and falling over laughing as tiny metal balls pinged all over the ground from what remained of an inner wheel bearing; trailing behind as he dug furrows in the garden with his Rototiller, following him while concentrating on placing my size 4-year-old feet in his footprints.
Who was this person I called Dad? Who am I without him? I suppose this is one puzzle I’ll never finish. But he lives on in my memories, in my discoveries, and in the person I’ve become. I like to think that he lives on in every customer who buys a part of his collection, which is why I always include a handwritten thank you note in every box. After all, I’m sending each one a present; a part of my father.
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My Dad was a model railroader for over 70 years; he was also a hoarder. At age 95 he passed away, leaving me his massive collection of model trains, track, books, scenery, kits, magazines, locomotives, and parts, all dispersed randomly across the five-bedroom house he’d occupied for 55 years. It took me nearly three years of weekends and vacations to complete the excavation, during which time I organized, photographed and packed his collection into 55(!) moving boxes. Still, there was a catch; Dad secured my promise that I would not sell the entire lot to some scheming collector offering ten cents on the dollar in exchange for his prized possessions.
How do you sell stuff you know nothing about, to experts? This blog is about my experiences as a reluctant model railroader.
So far, I’ve learned the following:
- Unless you know what you are selling, you cannot describe it well enough to sound credible. I’ve had to crash-learn a highly technical hobby; painstaking research is required.
- Things will go wrong at the worst possible moment: For example, while packing a delicate item for shipment to a customer, it breaks apart in my hands.
- Model railroaders are (mostly) the kindest, gentlest people you will ever meet; I’ve befriended model railroaders all over the world; their stories are surprisingly sentimental and moving; it’s not just about the trains.
- As my husband pointed out, Model Railroading isn’t just a hobby; it’s a disease. God help me.
- Acceptance: By putting my hands inside the gloves of my father’s hobby, I have grown to understand him, and myself, in ways I’d never expected.