Tag: trains

Trains: My Touchstones

You can learn a lot about someone by cleaning out their house.  Anyone who has done this knows what I mean.  Of course you have to wade through all the humdrum stuff, like sheets and towels, paint and cleaning supplies, jars of stale spices, dishes, furniture and clothing.  But beneath this layer are windows into the souls of the people who lived there: matchbooks from restaurants visited long ago tucked inside a vanity drawer, used baby clothing saved for grandchildren who arrived too late, photos of relatives whose names no one knows, check stubs from jobs held before you were born, toys you played with as an infant, wrapped carefully in tissue paper and stored in shoe boxes.  To the casual observer these are things to discard; to the souls that held on to them, they are touchstones of memory.

To some, my father was disorganized, never finished anything he started, and couldn’t throw anything out.  Much of this is true.  For a good two years our family of seven lived without a dryer because he didn’t get around to fixing it.  Instead he installed yards of clothing line in the basement.  Maybe we didn’t have the money for a new dryer?  Maybe he didn’t know how to fix it?  I’ll never know.  Yet in the early 70s he bought a cement mixer and built a steel-reinforced foundation on top of which he laid a concrete patio with redwood inserts that hasn’t cracked yet and likely never will.  He also rebuilt two car engines himself, using the garage beam as a hoist to lift the blocks out.  Granted, it took him two years to complete each engine.  Oh and did I mention one was a Ford Pinto?

Pennsylvania RR K-4 Pacific Locomotive

Pennsylvania RR K-4 Pacific Locomotive

Lately, as I’ve combed through my Dad’s train collection for things to list on eBay, I find myself pushing aside certain items for “later”.  I’ve been ignoring this Pennsylvania Railroad K-4 Pacific Locomotive and Tender for a few months.  It’s sitting next to a pile of things “to be photographed” for listing.  There’s something about it that stops me; its flawless detailing and paint job and how it runs so smoothly and quietly it’s as if it were just out of the box.  This is his work, I know it.

Boston & Maine Snow Plow

Boston & Maine Snow Plow

A few weeks ago I found a Boston & Maine Snow Plow Car made from an Ambroid kit. Manufactured in the 1950’s these milled wood kits are today very much in demand.  Tissue paper and soft foam swaddled this car gingerly inside it’s box.  The paint job was immaculate and the details precise.  I knew he’d built it; it’s perfect. That’s just how he did things.  Turning it over, I was not surprised to find his initials scratched into the undercarriage.

My Dad’s trains are my talismans; they keep him alive in my memory and heart, softening my grief.  Working on his railroad reminds me that he and I, all of us really, can be both flawed and perfect.

There’s Nothing “Super” About Super Glue

Although claiming to bond “instantly”, all glues of the “super” variety (Krazy, Gorilla, Loctite, Super, etc.) fail to do so, at least in my experience.  I doubt that use of the word “instant” on packaging is required by law to mean something even vaguely expeditious.  Besides, when combined with the word “glue”, “instant” has about as much clarity of meaning as the packaged food phrase “all natural”.

Today I was preparing shipments for my eBay customers, which is a very time-consuming process, even when nothing goes wrong. First, I run a final test on anything I’ve claimed “runs well” to make sure it does, and then I carefully package each item to ensure it will survive being dropped, stepped on, thrown, beaten, battered, kicked and otherwise abused via the United States Postal Service shipping gauntlet.  After weighing each package, I purchase postage, print labels, and tape up all the boxes.  Finally, I drag the load to my car for the trip to the Post Office.

One item was a set of caboose kits, two of which were partially assembled; meaning somebody (probably my Dad) had started to put the kits together.  Model kits, such as freight and passenger cars, buildings and locomotives, have many parts, made of plastic, wood or die cast metal. Sometimes the kits include wheels or trucks, which are modular subassemblies of wheels and axles that attach to a rail car.  Packing these kits is somewhat labor intensive.  I gather up and seal the small parts in plastic bags, wrap larger parts in tissue paper, and make sure that once the kit box is closed it passes the “shake test” to make sure nothing rattles inside.

Model railroaders hate the sound of a rattling box because it usually means that something inside is broken.  And something always breaks.  While wrapping a nearly- assembled caboose in tissue paper, a plastic step broke clean off the bottom, right into my hand.  No customer appreciates receiving a damaged item if you’ve claimed in your listing that it’s in mint condition.  If you can’t fix what’s broken, you must inform the customer and find out if they want the damaged item or a discount/refund.  Regardless of the outcome, you risk flushing your auction winner’s victory thrills right down the Hopper Toilet (see my previous post).  So I got up and took the mess over to the workbench, grabbed my Super-Amazing-Fantastic Adhesive and got to work.

Round 1: The instructions were pretty clear: apply the glue to one of the two pieces, put them together and hold for 30 seconds, which is exactly what I did.  Upon lifting my finger off the step, it immediately fell to the floor.  After crawling around on my hands and knees for a while I found it on the carpet, under my chair.  I picked it up and looked it over.  The broken step had grown a beard; it was covered with cat hair, dust, and carpet threads.  I found a tweezer and picked off the debris.

You know, there is one circumstance where Super Glue lives up to its claims: if you get it on your skin, you will adhere to anything with amazing speed and incredible persistence. Fortunately I managed to detach the step from my fingers without removing a layer of skin.

Round 2:  Placing the step back onto the caboose, I waited 60 seconds (twice as long) and then lifted the tweezers…along with the step because it was stuck to the tweezers.  Placing the caboose on the table, I grabbed the step with another pair of tweezers, detaching the first pair of tweezers from the step.  The step then fell, landing on lap.  Now I had two pairs of glue-covered tweezers in my hands and a step about to be bonded for eternity to my pants.  With one set of tweezers I picked up the step, and with the other hand I tried wiping the glue off my pants with a paper towel (I know, stupid, but you have to use what’s within arm’s reach in such cases), which clung to the glue on my pants.   I was becoming unglued.

Note: “Super” Glue does not come out in the wash, even with “Amazing” detergent.

Round 3:  I had a clean pair of tweezers (I wiped them off with a cloth).  The glue was dry (Super!) on the caboose parts that remained as yet unglued.  After depositing a drop of glue on the caboose I carefully placed the step onto the glued area with tweezers.  I rested my elbows on the table to steady my hands.  Five minutes later, I lifted the tweezers off.  The step was there, in place…I exhaled.  Then I noticed a step on the other end was bent, sort of hanging there, just waiting to fall off.

If this is model railroading, I don’t think I have the strength…

I’ve been working on Dad’s railroad…

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.