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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, quit my full-time corporate job and started this blog. Now I understand so much more, and 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. When he died in 2014 at the age of 95 he left me his collection of model trains, track, books, scenery, kits, magazines, locomotives, and parts, all of which I’d unearthed while cleaning out his house. 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 FIFTY-FIVE moving boxes. He told me that I should sell everything, but not in lots, as he feared I’d get ripped off by someone who would pay me ten cents on the dollar.
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. Painstaking research is required.
- Things will go wrong at the worst possible moment, like when I’m packing something for shipment to a customer and it breaks apart in my hands.
- Model railroaders are just about the kindest, gentlest people you will ever meet; I’ve befriended model railroaders all over North America (and elsewhere). Their stories about how they got into the hobby are surprisingly sentimental and moving; it’s not all about the trains.
- As my husband pointed out, Model Railroading isn’t just a hobby; it’s a disease. God help me.
- Biggest Lesson of All: Within those 55 boxes, inside hundreds of freight and passenger kits, brass locomotives, switch machines, transformers, couplers, trucks and decals, I’m discovering things about my father that I never knew or understood.