Model Train Sets for boys. Jersey Central Electric. Wind Ups. Toy train longevity....a 1958 Christmas recollection.
Copyright 2013 Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.
It is late December now and time for full-year recollections. Certain events of Christmas Day, though, compel my thoughts. There was a difference this year. For some reason, I was permitted the luxury of a detached observation. That, plus the rush of passing events encourage this note.
It had been a sunny, cool, snow-less Christmas in upstate New York. The Great Lakes had somehow forgotten to dump their load of holiday snow. My company arranged for us to be off the day before Christmas, and this had lightened Father's and Mother's last-minute burdens considerably. The three oldest boys (our fourth child is our only girl) had sung, while carrying candles at midnight Mass. Their longer morning sleep had maintained an unusual Christmas morning quiet that encouraged Missy and her three younger brothers to slumber on. At 7:15 a.m. I was congratulating myself on the morning's peacefulness. A glance at a weary and wary mother told me that another shared my thoughts.
I lost track of the next few minutes, but I'm sure that our Christmas Day excitement must have started just before eight o'clock. The first wave (third floor crew-all the candle-bearing choir boys) went by about that time. Missy, John, and Paul from the 2nd floor roared out about three minutes later. Mother, Dad, and infant Tom arrived on the scene shortly after to "take charge." Then, the little drama that still occupies my mind unfolded.
Frank, the oldest, had received an electric Jersey Central switch engine and accessory cars. Paul, the youngest ambulatory, had received a frantic little wind-up. Work crews were assembled and construction began immediately. Wind-up was ready first and the maiden run was a thing of excitement for everyone, even the hardened workers on the main line. She was bouncy, and plucky, and careened gloriously.
There was a temporary diversion while Electric was tooled out for the first time, with her measured acceleration, steady motion and orderly manners coming into the station. But the excitement just didn't seem to be there. Electric represented investment. She'd be around next year and the year after. Her slow measured cycle was a reflection of her life span. Little Wind-up seemed to sense a short existence with much to do in little time. How quickly she got to top speed, how recklessly she consumed her energy, how rapidly she died out. Every trip provided some satisfyingly distinctive incident. Electric's runs seemed always the same, monotonously predictable.
Now, electric trains are beautiful things, so steady and precise and so correct in visual detail. They are electrics though. The steam and diesel engine cabs are just facades. They somehow fail to capture the character of what they beautifully portray. They do everything so electrically and thus it is their burden to be almost without a character. Or so it seems to me.
Wind-ups, with their variances in run to run, have an essential character, all their own. They are not pre-occupied with being anything but wind-up trains. But probably there's another reason that even more endears Wind-up to me. She's quite dependent, you know. Electric has no need for Dad. Her Instructions warn that her Guarantee is void if she is not serviced by Authorized Dealer. Not so with Wind-up. I am her Authorized Dealer. She has no factory to go back to. By afternoon, I had re-built her twice and in each following run, she had tried to show gratitude for her reprieve by some extra bit of train derring-do.
Christmas is now yesterday. I am writing these lines in my 'study,' which is any place my desk can he shoved when everyone wants it out of the way. Little ones are again clamoring for attention. Do I hear Missy complaining that her leotard has no flared skirt? How thoughtless of you, leotard. Daddy has had privacy-15 minutes of it-he must be lonesome.
Goodbye for now, Electric. You are pretty sure to be around next year.
A more fervent goodbye to you, Wind-up. New Year's Day is an eternity beyond your life span. You have nearly played out your role. Master Paul's memory, too, is mercifully short. You and he have cooperated in a perfectly matched episode of existence. Little boys are much like Wind-ups. They operate on short supercharged cycles.