In 2011, I took one look at the 2-car garage of the single family house that was available for occupancy at Meadow Lake Senior Retirement Community in Tyler. “This will work,” I told Flo, my wife of then 58 years. Parking our vehicle in the extra large driveway would be no problem in the climate and weather of the piney woods of East Texas. This allowed our garage to become the flat land and small town scenes of Illinois and Iowa for my CB&Q (Chicago Burlington & Quincy) O gauge model train. I’m the only “railroader” here, but that’s OK. My garage is often the destination for my fellow Meadow Lake residents, bringing their grandchildren for a look.
From childhood to life in a retirement community —- that makes for a long journey. It’s one of love of model railroads for me and plenty of patience on the part of my wonderful wife. Since I’m now 82, it’s a nostalgic trip.
When I was quite small, my father bought my sister, four years older, a Lionel train. I suspect it was because he wanted it for himself, as she had no interest. But I sure did. … I ran June’s train around our Christmas tree. At Christmas, my parents would take me by a Chicago department store’s toy window to watch the trains run. As a boy, I saved money earned from doing odd jobs and paper deliveries to purchase my very own Lionel train. I set up the track all around our living and dining rooms, much to the frustration of my mother.
As a teenager, I worked after school as an office boy for Nutone Door Chimes located in Chicago’s huge Merchandise Mart. One of my duties was to take the mail to the post office, so every day I made sure I passed by the train display of the Lionel office, located on a different floor in the Mart.
My uncle Wolfred lived near us, and half his attic was outside 3rd rail CB&Q trains. I was allowed to watch, but not touch. That began my love of CB&Q. His son, my cousin Charles, has his own CB&Q layout in Michigan. Space at home became a problem, so I sold my Lionel trains and went into HO (Half O) gauge. I had no space so I just looked at them on top of a chest of drawers.
Everything went into storage when I went off to the University of Illinois, where I became an electrical engineer. College was followed by two years in the U.S. Army (1954 to 56), so no railroading in that era. I then went to work for General Motors in LaGrange, Illinois, where they built diesel electric locomotives. GM had an HO Club, so I helped with their layouts on Friday evenings after work. Since I was back in the railroad world, out came my own HO. I ran my trains on the club layout.
My “day job” had me looking toward outer space when I went to work for Martin Marietta. There, I worked on the Titan I and III missiles and the development of NASA Skylab’s multiple docking adaptor. I packed up my family and my trains as my employer relocated us three times. My HO setups went from ping pong tables in Colorado and Alabama to a bedroom setup in Louisiana. There always was a Christmas train around the tree. With HO inside the house, I eventually added an O gauge layout in our garage, elevating it above our vehicles. I used two step ladders to watch the trains.
In Louisiana, I decided on a major change in my professional life. I attended seminary and became a chaplain for a New Orleans hospital and a visitation pastor for a Methodist Church. I also had acquired HO Brass along the way.
In 2007, we moved to a house in Tyler, to be geographically closer to our daughter. We chose a house floor plan that offered an extra room, just right for my trains. I sold my HO at a Tyler train show, and eventually I sold my HO Brass. My train room soon became three levels of O gauge 3-rail and one level of On30 narrow gauge. As a side line, I started a collection of fire trucks that I display in a glass case.
After all my years of railroading, the previously mentioned 2011 move to Meadow Lake finally brought about a decision to create my first scene theme. My objective was to include a small railroad town in Illinois or Iowa on the CB & Q railroad, building an 18.5’ X 18.5’ layout that takes up the entire garage. Flo made the skirting. I am trying to keep everything no older than 1970 to be consistent with the Burlington merger into Burlington Northern. There is a post office, gas station, fire station, police station, stores, church, houses, a tractor store and a park with two World War II airplanes. On an extra 4’ X 5’ table I have a wire factory, a dairy, an ice house with a platform to load ice into the refrigerator cars, and a scratch built loading ramp to load automobiles into automobile box cars. On the other side of the layout, I scratch built a pen for loading cows into the cattle car.
The highlight of the layout is the turntable that weighs 40 pounds. I had to get four threaded rods and nuts to get the turntable up to my bench work. I raised one side and then the other a few inches at a time until I got it to bench height. I was very proud of myself for getting it installed by myself.
The passenger station for the town is away from the main street. You have to use your imagination to figure how to get from the main street to the Station. There is another house near the railroad station.
My trains are all pulled by CB&Q engines … an Army train from World War II, a refrigerator car train, a mixed freight train, an old time passenger train, a coal train, and two more mixed freight trains. Also, I have a 3-car Lionel CB&Q Zephyr train. Future plans are to add another platform for my Zephyr to pick up passengers.
And then I added S gauge. S gauge? At this time of my life? Yes, in my time here in this retirement community I developed an interest in S gauge. A widow gave me her deceased husband’s S gauge trains that I’ve been trying to sell for her. Intrigued, I have since purchased some S gauge for myself, building a second level in my home’s garage for it.
I have added a third loop with switches to cross over from loop to loop. I have just purchased more American model engines, cars and cabooses. I have the Milwaukee Road passenger set with five old time passenger cars and some freight cars.
You can understand … a railroader just never quits.
I belong to the CB&Q Historical Society and the NMRA (National Model Railroad Association). I guess I’m living proof that a railroading hobby can keep one engaged, interested, creative and into problem-solving — and thinking all the time. Plus, here’s proof that “downsizing” into a retirement community doesn’t mean giving up your trains. And get this —- what goes ‘round, comes ’round. … I’m even back to setting up a train at the base of the Christmas tree of our clubhouse lobby!
I guess you could call me the Meadow Lake “railroad man.”