My forgotten wonderful world of model trains

Two of my first friends were a pair of retirees with Santa Claus-worthy beards who worked in a small model train shop. From the outside, the store didn’t appear to be much: It was on the second floor of a nondescript suburban building marked by a patched, half-illuminated sign. Yet, inside lay a marvellous world of hundreds of interwoven and interconnected model trains. 

My trips to the shop were frequent, as it was just down the road from my grandmother’s house. Every time I went, the retirees would teach me more about the intricacies of model railroading. I learned about scales, gauges, train maintenance, layout design, and countless other fundamentals. At the end of my lessons, my mom would allow me to pick one train car from the discount box. As my collection grew, so did my fascination with transportation. Unfortunately, my compact New York City bedroom was not spacious enough for my hobby, and it was quickly engulfed within a miniature world. 

To stop the overflow, my parents prohibited me from acquiring more trains; however, their plan was quickly foiled by my hobbyist retiree colleagues. To make the space issue worse, I started to collect tickets, timetables, MetroCards, train postcards, and baggage tags. For the tags, I often chased after the conductor to request extra hole punches to add to the rarity of the piece.

From trains, my fascination shifted to the sky. I started using paper towel rolls to build rockets, purchasing engines to add excitement. I spent my evenings drawing hundreds of sketches of my imaginary airlines, glued to YouTube videos for hours, tinkering to replicate various designs. 

Transportation dominated my childhood. It became part of my identity—yet, as I grew up, my hobby, like many childhood fascinations, started to fade. By the time I was in high school, I was no longer the eager kid standing on the platform, craning his neck to see what type of train was going to emerge. My obsession was buried in high school by all the different activities that defined those years. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I moved back into my childhood home. I was faced with more time in my old bedroom than I could have ever possibly desired. Yet as time passed and I grew restless, I started to go through old belongings stashed in my closet. As I dug deeper into the assortment of belongings, I dug deeper into my past. It was an archeological exploration into my own life, first unearthing science projects and later arriving at my miniature trains. 

I unpacked my hobby glue and soldering iron and got to work repairing my well-worn possessions. Each one brought up a memory: A steam engine reminding me of a dramatic family Christmas, a station platform ushering back the moment a raccoon attacked my neighbour’s dog. While a large, frightful hospital tent went up on my block, and my city became the nation’s coronavirus epicentre, I coped by emerging myself in my old hobby. My miniatures offered solace while the world outside my building grew more terrifying with every passing day.  

When summer rolled around, and I was able to start seeing my friends while socially distanced, we began to fly our model planes for the first time since middle school. In the fall, after returning to Canada, I began to explore various hobby shops around Montreal, a warm nostalgic feeling flowing through me as I wandered through aisles admiring the selections—a feeling that I had gotten a piece of myself back. 

Sometimes when you stop and spend time with yourself, whether you choose to or not, you rediscover parts of yourself you lost in the process of growing up. Reconnecting with these pieces of our younger selves can be an antidote to processing challenging times. Moments where you remember that you’re never too old to do something that makes you happy are truly wonderful and comforting. 

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