During the last 65 years, I have learned how to do a wide variety of important things. I’ve learned how to follow instructions, take care of my belongings, work hard and play nice with others. 

Some adults still haven’t mastered those skills. 

As an adult, I’ve learned how to manage my time and set priorities. I’ve learned how to create and follow a budget, and do minor home and auto repairs. 

I’ve learned most of those things the hard way. 

There’s nothing very unusual, or special in that list. But there are some really outstanding things that I have also learned do.

Prepare to be amazed.

Recently when a Santa Fe passenger car was having problems with its interior lighting, I was called upon to resolve the problem. After making a number of electrical tests, I determined that a section of wiring in the car was bad, and replaced it. Getting to that area required extensive disassembly, but I am happy to say it is now back in operation.

When an Amtrak diesel locomotive developed mechanical problems, I was asked to diagnose the problem and make repairs. An extensive and complex teardown was required, but I eventually found the problem, made the repairs and today that locomotive is back in service. 

Pretty impressive, huh?

I think I might have forgotten to mention that the passenger car and locomotive were part of my son’s model train layout. I am the chief mechanic, electrician, and financier for a small railroad that runs around our basement. 

My son has a large collection of passenger cars, boxcars, and a number of steam and diesel locomotives. His trains are his pride and joy, and when one malfunctions, he gets pretty concerned. Being a big railroad mogul, he knows his line doesn’t make money if those trains aren’t running.

His trains are a far cry from the ones I used to play with. Like most kids my age, I had a Lionel train, but it was pretty basic. It didn’t produce smoke, and it didn’t have a whistle, but I had a lot of fun with it. 

My son’s trains are pretty amazing. His locomotives produce smoke, and the liquid smoke compounds they use can create the smell of burning wood, coal or even diesel. 

His newest diesel locomotive has full sound. You can hear the engine idling and all of the running lights are on even when it is sitting still. When he throttles it up, you hear the engine speed increase along with all of other sounds that those engines typically make. He can also blow the horn or ring the bell on the locomotive whenever he wants. 

The train can also play different announcements. The conductor will tell people to get on board, ask for tickets, and announce the departure. A station attendant will announce the train’s arrival. 

Compared to the trains of my youth, this is pretty high-tech. Even more amazing to me, he can control all of that by remote control. He even has an app on his phone that allows him to run the train from anywhere in the house. 

While he has some of the same locomotives that I once had, which he calls vintage, he also has his eye on some of the new steam locomotives Lionel has produced. Like the diesel units, they imitate all of the sounds a steam locomotive would make, even when sitting still. They put on quite a show when you throttle them up. You can hear the whistle blowing, bells ringing, and watch the smoke chuffing in perfect time to the engine sounds. 

It’s not an inexpensive hobby, but it’s a good one. I love to watch his imagination at work, and hear all of the things he dreams up. Of course, I get called upon to help work out the technical details, and his mom assists with the artistic endeavors. 

In our house, everything I try to throw away has to undergo a full examination. I’ll put something in the trash and he will grab it back out of the bag.  

“I can use this on my layout,” he announces. “I can paint this, add some parts and make it into a big fuel tank.” 

He has quite a collection of stuff he claims he can use on his layout. Empty boxes get turned into buildings, and other materials become loads for the train to carry. I am always amazed at the things he comes up with. Some of his ideas are far beyond my technical abilities. Currently I am trying to find an easy way to illuminate all of his buildings. 

As most model railroaders will tell you, their layouts are never completed. There is always one more thing they want to add. My son wants to double the size of the table his trains occupy, and he has an endless list of things he wants to do with that additional space. 

Due to the expense involved, he will have to complete his dreams a little at a time. The First National Bank of Dad can only finance so much.

Sometimes listening to his chatter about this engine or that train car or some new thing he wants to buy or build can drive me a little crazy. He gets pretty absorbed with his little railroad world. 

But I’m really not complaining.  After all, he lets me play with them too.


CourierTraveler reporter John Shelman can be contacted at (620) 442-4200 or reporter@ctnewsonline.com.

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