A Journey into Model Railroading Part 1
By Cory Ramsey
Running a railroad is expensive. Most of the time they failed as soon as the freight was exhausted, such as a forest logged out or coal mine picked clean. That’s if they got up and hauling at all. Many a time a rolling stock and motive power was purchased and operating costs drained the operation before the first whistle blew. It’s hard to stop a train. Hard to get one started, too. The only thing more expensive than running a railroad? Running a model railroad. I have one. It has cost me nearly what a beater car does at a buy here, pay here a lot. Part toy. Part diorama. Part Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Heavy on the nostalgia from an earlier era. The L&N still runs on my line. So does steam. For all we know, passenger trains are still stopping in Bowling Green. Anything can be imagined on a model railroad, for a fee far from nominal.
My first model railroad was a Christmas gift in 1986. The Tyco Long Hauler 72-piece set, which included an Alco 430 diesel painted up in the Virginian Railway blue and yellow. The tank car, in a brilliant 80s marketing move, was painted in Coca-Cola logos. It came with telephone poles and plastic road signs and a loading dock and trestle bridge. Dad tacked it to a sheet of plywood that he had painted a green grass color and we plugged it in. I was 6 years old. A railroad man. But as it was a gift among gifts at the time, the train set lost its allure among Hot Wheels cars and Pound Puppies and before too long, the cumbersome and delicate features of running a model train at 6 and 7 and 8 years old was just too much. The cars and the locomotive found their way to the toy box or storage out in the shed.
The second train set happened about 1992. A Bachman Santa Fe locomotive in the streamlined style of the one sitting out next to our Bowling Green Depot. Didn’t everybody running a model railroad in the 1990s have a Santa Fe locomotive, though? Even today at model train shows, the Santa Fe locomotives are the most plentiful to pick up for cheap. For that set in 1992, I’d have my parents take me on an hour’s drive to Paducah and the nearest Toys R Us so I could add a new freight car now and then to the rolling stock. I even picked up a couple switcher locomotives. And a factory building the train could service. I was back in business as a railroad man at 11 years old. But, that too went the way of other interests. By the mid-1990s, NASCAR had boomed, and die-cast race cars, still in their blister packs for investment purposes, hung on my bedroom walls. I should have opened an IRA in the 90s rather than buying toys. I should have invested in Google and Amazon in the 90s. Instead, I have a trunk full of NASCAR stuff. And train stuff. At least it wasn’t Beanie Babies.
College happened and life and I left off playing with toys until I hit my mid-40s. All men do this. Some buy sports cars. And I did that, too. I figured I would become a six year old again and revisit some old, well, really old interests. I re-entered the world of the model (toy) railroad. And it is at once one of the coolest and most expensive endeavors I have ever done. I’ll tell you about the 2022-23 version of my railroading in my next blog. Until then, stop by our Historic Railpark in Bowling Green. The model train display there is world class and very inspiring for those wanting to start their own.