my crafty friends: papa’s train set


Today is my grandfather’s 84th birthday! I took these photos over the summer, but thought it would be a good time to post them because when I was younger, he would put a train around the Christmas tree. Slowly it began to evolve and would stay out long after Christmas was over. Eventually, my dad built him a table that allowed him to get up off the ground and have a more permanent installation. It has been slowly growing over time, and I am always excited when I go back home to see what has changed since I was last there. In my grandfather’s own words:



My love of trains started when my Grandmother and I walked a block from her house to the Burlington Railroad tracks, 3 mainline tracks ran parallel in Berwyn, Illinois. We watched the inaugural run of the Denver Zephyr and the Twin City (Minneapolis/StPaul) Zephyr with added cars, racing side by side through town at more than 90 miles an hour. It was late afternoon in 1936 and as they disappeared to the west, I was hooked. That Christmas under the tree was an O gauge American Flyer train, the exact copy of the Burlington Zephyrs.




Can you imagine getting on the Zephyr, sitting in the club car enjoying a drink in relaxing chairs the swiveled so that you could chat in groups with snacks as the train departed Union Station in Chicago at 5 p.m., and later being called to your reservation in the dining car with white table cloths, a bud vase with a rose, waited on by highly trained staff in white jackets, black trousers and white shirts with black bow ties. Elegant dinners individually prepared with 4 and 5 star ratings. Returning to the club car for that after dinner drink and lively conversation. Then going to the sleeping car and your compartment where your bed had been turned down for the night. Great breakfast in the morning and arriving in Denver at 10:45 a.m. their time, fresh and ready for the day.




I worked in Chicago summers for my last year of high school and three years while in college. The Zephyrs were always on the track adjacent to the commuter train that I took and I would see the people in the windows of those trains dressed in beautiful dresses and suits as they waited to depart. In college, I quite often took the 5 o’clock Rock Island Rocket back to Grinnell from another station in Chicago. While there was a club car, dining car, etc. not the same. Nice but plain by comparison and though my trip was only  5 hours on the train, it was fun to talk and be with folks going across country.



20 years ago, my wife and daughter gave me a vintage Lionel freight train set for Xmas. For the next 16 years it came out every Christmas and the track laid on the carpet, expanded each year. Then my son-in-law made a train table that got me off the floor, and made this a year round hobby. It continues to be fun to be able to pursue a lifetime of interest in trains.


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