Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Display To Remember Dad

Up until recently they'd been in a closet wrapped up in newspaper; pages of the Express Times. They've been stowed away there since spring of 2004; that's when I brought them back from New Jersey. 

Now, ten years later, thanks to the skills of a very talented friend of mine, they are ready to one day be displayed on the wall of my den. I say "one day" because that room is not yet set up the way I want it to be. But I digress. 

The things I'm anticipating hanging on my wall are representative of my father's favorite hobby. I mentioned them in my January 25, 2014 post, "The Railroad Across The Street."

Back on June 10 of this year I wrote a post about my dad's tastes and enjoyment of music that's part of his legacy to me. That is evident in my collecting music, singing in church, writing parodies, and playing 3 instruments. 

But the hobby that I'm writing about today was something that my dad pursued alone, at least in our house.

When I say "in our house" I mean that literally. Model trains and the hobby of building layouts on which to run them were his thing in our house. No one else in his family was the least bit interested. I only paid attention to model trains because it helped create a bond with my dad. 

Before I picked up a book with pictures of Dick and Jane throwing a ball so they could "See Spot run" I sat on the couch next to my dad as he paged through Model Railroader magazine. He would point out some of the interesting things in the pictures of the layouts featured in each issue.  

Unlike those issues pictured above Dad's MR collection was kept in boxes with each issue in it's own protective plastic jacket. Filed in chronological order. (see I get it honestly). 

Because he was a fan of trains in general and always wanted to make sure that his models emulated the real thing, my dad used to go wherever he could find a railroad or a railroad yard. He was drawn to them.  

Some of my first memories of spending time with my dad was walking along railroad tracks behind our house in the Heckman Terrace Annex housing project in my hometown of Phillipsburg.  

As I grew up we'd go on many railroad sightseeing trips together. The most memorable one being a day trip to see the section of track known as, Horseshoe Curve just outside of Altoona, PA. It's a very unusual track design that fascinated my dad. Here's an aerial view of it. 

In 1977 when we moved to into a house that was less than a football field away from a set of railroad tracks, my dad was in his element. I wish I had a dollar for every time he hurried to the door to watch a train going by our house. 

Dad also gave me an appreciation and enjoyment of model railroad layouts. We went to see them quite often. The excursions ranged from the short trip to downtown Easton to visit the displays of the Black Diamond Society to driving an hour to visit Roadside America in Sharletsville, PA. (pictured below) 

Going to see model railroad displays was the "father and son" thing my dad and I did all the time. 

Now I know that it's not unusual for a young child to be fascinated with trains (Aria loves her Chuggington train set we got her for Christmas last year) but Dad loved model railroading so me he took the time to give me "behind the scenes" education on just how much planning and work goes into creating a working model railroad exhibit. He taught me that a model railroad is not only a conglomeration of electric, wood, plaster and plastic; it also has to tell a story. 

With that knowledge, every time we went to see a display I would try and discover it's story. That's something that's stuck with me even to this day. Only now the main place I look for stories is in the attractions at Walt Disney World.   

Watching my dad's pursuit and effort to make his own working model railroad over the years helped me understand the passion and dedication that goes into any that I see. That's why to this day I'm still drawn to them.  

But when it came to being interested in model railroading as a "sit down and work on it" hobby I just couldn't do it. I was always interested in what my dad was doing because he was so devoted to it. 

So now you know the connection model trains created between my father and me. Hopefully I have conveyed the sentimental value represented by my new display. 

Now let me put into context the items that are in the shadow box you'll see later in the post. 

My dad's dream of creating and running his own model railroad took a long time to become reality. As I said he was into the hobby for as long as I could remember. 

He would get ideas and inspiration from the Model Railroader magazine and the layouts we'd visit, draw up blue prints, make electric schematics, and assemble cars from Athern kits. He would paint those cars and the engines he purchased with his own chosen color scheme and decals.  

He did all this either while sitting in our living room, at the kitchen table. But unfortunately, because of where we lived over the years he had no where to set up his platform on which he could build his railroad. 

When we moved on to 67 Brainard Street, next to the train tracks, Dad had a basement to use for his hobby. I remember the first few years we lived there he was down there working on it anytime he had free time. But for some reason, which I cannot remember or never knew, after those initial years he stopped working on it. 

It wasn't until the mid 1990's, several years after my parents had become "empty nesters" that my dad found himself with a little extra free time. So he moved up his efforts to build his long time dream project. The 2nd floor bedroom at the front of the house, next to the bathroom became his hobby hangout. 

At one point he had wired enough track to actually run an engine and tender car around a small oval. He was very proud. He continued working on his railroad right up until the time he got sick in 1998. But once he started his battle with cancer the railroad room was all but forgotten. 

Now fast forward to 2004. I've lived in South Central Kentucky for 5 years and been married to Paula for almost a year and a half. It's only been seven months since my mother suddenly passed away but its time to clean out my parents' house to get it ready to be sold. 

Of course, I traveled back to my home town to help with the clean up. For me coming back to my parents' house was kind of like stepping into a time capsule. Although a lot about the house had changed since I lived there, the shadows and memories of the past remained.

I found my father's pride and joy, his train room, a bit dusty but otherwise, just the way he left it. 

Of all the places in the house this was where I felt the spirit of my dad the most. The room was a direct reflection of his life long love for model trains. But unfortunately the entire platform had to be disassembled and the trains packed away. 
If I had had my way the entire platform would have come back to Kentucky with me. But of course, that was not possible. Ten years later it's still in storage in the basement of my sister, Shari's house. 

All I could take with me was a couple of cars and an engine. They are the items that I was referring to as having been sitting in my closet for 10 years. Now they are in this display. 

Now that you know what having these cars in this display means to me, let me tell you about how they got there. 

That talented friend I mentioned is the cousin of Brandi, my daughter-in-law. Her name is "Jackie" and she has more creativity, skill, and talent than I can ever hope to have. 

I supplied the shadow box, the model trains, the HO track and Jackie put them together. She did an excellent job; but then again she always does.

You may remember the last thing she made for me; my giant Lego brick storage box. 

She is as good with a sewing machine as she is with a jigsaw; maybe better. 

If you want to see more of what she does and offers for purchase check out her Facebook page. 
"Jack Of All Trades" On Facebook

There you have the story behind the meaning and appreciation of my newest wall display for my den. I will hang it next to the other special display that honors my father. 

Although I've had this other display for a couple of years. I am surprised that I haven't written a blog post about it or even mentioned it until now. 

You can find out the story behind it's contents in my September 22, 2008-Another Last Game At Baseball's Cathedral.

The story behind this display starts with the billing statement at it's upper right corner. But enough about that I'll let you read for yourself about it in the 2008 post. 

I've saved a lot of personal memorabilia over the years. Most of it is stored away in plastic bins because I don't have room to put it all on display. But let me assure you, each has it's own story. 

And as I've explained, I have strong emotional ties to the items I've most recently gotten out of storage and placed in a shadow box display. More than just about anything I own they remind me of my dad. Now you know why. 

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