Monday 24 Oct 2016

The Old Train
AJ Robinson

When you're the fifth of five boys, you get used to hand-me-downs. I had them for clothes, toys, shoes, sneakers you name it I think I must have been about seven before I saw my first pair of new sneakers.

Among the used toys I got was a tinker toy set with most of the pieces missing, an Erector Set with many broken parts and an old Lionel train set. The last one was a toy I truly enjoyed playing with!

For many kids, an attic is a scary place. I remember recently seeing an episode of the animated TV show Jacob Two-Two where he decides to make a room out of the attic, and is scared about it. While he longs for a room of his own, hes not too sure about being in such a bleak, dark and sinister place. Looking back, I realize that a lot of my friends were like that they never wanted to go into their attics.

For me, I loved our attic; it was where that old train set was set up. I don't know who it was, but one or more of my brothers had built a little town on a series of low tables up in this big open room of the attic. It had the little trees, cows in a pasture, a water tower, and some houses and shops. As they grew up and out of the house by the time I was old enough to play with the trains I had the place to myself, which included a few friends.

The train wasn't like the new ones you see today, tiny little tracks, itty-bitty locomotive and cars; no, the tracks were big, the engine was massive, and the cars huge. The control box was equally big, and the engine and circuits were so old that it was often hard to get the engine to go. I usually had to turn the speed all the way up full, to get the engine to start, and then quickly turn it down to keep it from racing off the track on the first turn. Over time, I got good at it.

Wed race that train around the town, blow the whistle and watch as the smoke billowed out of the smokestack. Sometimes just moving people and produce wasn't enough, and as we were ah imaginative little boys, we sometimes came up with different kinds of games to play with the train.

We did damsel in distress, right out of the old silent movies; wed tie one of the female figures across the railroad tracks, and then the hero would have to rescue her. Unfortunately, he wasn't always successful. Yet, we didn't mind. Oh, over time those poor lady figures got awfully beat up! Wed also play great train robbery and bridge washed out. and several others. Looking back, I realize that we seemed to take far more delight in things going bad for the train as opposed to right crashes, wrecks, jumping the tracks, and so on.

How that poor old train set managed to keep running, Ill never know. I guess it was good, old fashion durable workmanship. I have to wonder, would the toy trains of today stand up as well?

Over the years, we enjoyed many hours of fun with that train set; until the cars were beaten and broken, the control panel was practically short-circuited and the little town was a virtual wasteland. I wanted so such to get a replacement set, but came to find out that they weren't made any more; not the BIG trains like I was used to. No, the newer ones were tiny little things that ran on a tiny (short) tracks; a train just as I wanted was either impossible to get or outrageously expensive.

So often, kids complain about getting old toys from an older sibling. In the case of my old train set, it was just about the best toy I ever got.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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