Community of Trains, vol. 1

I don't know why I like trains

I really don't know. It is just an interest that wells up from within.

And, I don't think that it is necessary to know why we participate in the hobby.  This blog isn't a call to circle the wagons and investigate inward, except that I have an observation:

I have noticed that my activity in model railroading looks similar to what friends articulate as their activity for participating in their hobbies--except that, their hobbies are not trains. They describe their interests in terms that apply to me ever so much as it applies to them--except for me its trains and for them its cars, or quilts, photography, or building furniture, or any number of other pastimes.     

It is as though the methods by which we express our interests are superficial (sanding, gluing, painting), but that thing to which our hobbies connect us to is something deep within us--an expression of our id. (Can I get a whoot, whoot from the Sigmund Freud fans out there!)

My point is not to try to make a serious connection with Freud, but rather to admit that it never felt like I chose my interest in trains. As though a part of my id, trains have always been there.  (As an aside, isn't Forbidden Planet, the 1956 sci-fi classic, a great movie!?) And, I don't know why trains are a part of this when there are dozens of other subjects that draw on similar sets of talents and skills, and they seem as though they could be a substitute for how some of those talents and skill are expressed. In other words, if it were about sanding, gluing and painting, then my father would have been more successful in his years long attempt to convert me to RC planes. But he wasn't, and I think that there is something interesting in this.

I recently started a book called The Knowledge Illusion. The authors, Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach, are cognitive scientists. They write about how cognitive science reveals that thought is not an exclusively an internal process in the way that we traditionally conceptualize it. We tend to think of thought as the machinations of our own mental labor, and that the ideas that result are exclusively our own. But, Sloman and Fernbach argue that cognitive science reveals that our minds are hardwired to mine for information outside of our own heads. We assess and evaluate in real time far more than we retain. And, our minds do this so efficiently that we are weak to understand (or attribute) the extent to which our thoughts and ideas are communal. The knowledge and ideas that we think reside within us are an extension of the information that buzzes about us. And, this has an upshot, they write,"Once we start appreciating that knowledge isn't all in the head, that it's shared within a community, our heroes change. Instead of focusing on the individual, we begin to focus on the larger group."

And this is the impetus of this blog series. I am interested to explore what community influences are in the air when new paradigms come about--either on the individual level or with the broader collective.

A word of caution for this blog, already there are words, like ontology, psychoanalysis, and cognition, that have never, or very likely never, been associated with model railroading conversation in times past. But as of this writing, its Thursday. And around here, Thursdays are for exploring deep shit. This might continue.

 

Blaine Hadfield 


13 Responses

George Ronn
George Ronn

May 23, 2017

It was a combination of American Flyer trains at Christmas in 1957 and trips trackside to Bridesburg station on the Pennsy main line in Philadelphia with my dad It was the GG1s, the freight motors, the groaning of the rattle trap MP54s, the local SW switcher servicing the SKF ball bearing plant. Later as a teen it was bike rides to the same spot to watch Silverliners and Metroliners and GP powered freights. In my 20s it was riding the EL to Upper Darby to see the Electroliners run on the Red Arrow Norristown line. As an adult it was HO trains and trips trackside as I moved around the country for work and a wife who really supports my “hobby”. I guess the most surprising thing is that I didn’t go to work for one of the railroads, but in the early mid 70s the RR were laying off not hiring.

Dick Farrow
Dick Farrow

May 23, 2017

In 1955 I was nine years old. My parents and I were traveling in the family car. We crossed the NYC and I started looking and commenting on everything I saw. My mother looked at my father and said " He has a one track mind ". I then spoke up from the back seat and said, " Yeah, and it’s a railroad track".

Mom was stunned. She talked about that for years.

Joe Feher
Joe Feher

May 23, 2017

When I was a very young boy I “ran away” from home and the cops found me sitting on a garbage can in downtown Seymour, Connecticut, by the train station, waiting for a train to come by. (the New Haven line). I can still picture the pedestrian walk over the track and the train station beneath, which is now long gone. I have very little recollection of this event. It is the story my parents told me. So, I guess with me the attraction is genetic. What little kid is not enamored of the power of the big locomotives? I think that is part of its origin: the powerless little boy is attracted to those things that are powerful. It’s why we want to be like our fathers when we’re little, and why we like trains. My three grandsons in NJ (5, 3 and 1) have a train table and adore Thomas the Tank Engine types of track and trains. So it starts early. The question is, why isn’t everybody like us? I agree with another blog here that the interest waxes and wanes. At the moment, I am hardly thinking of trains because I am building a couple of beds, and sometimes there is a problem that just frustrates me and I have to take some time off because my brain hurts thinking about it. But always in the back my mind I want to get back to playing with trains.

Marty Young
Marty Young

May 23, 2017

I had been building plastic models since I was a boy, ships, planes, tanks, etc. But every time I entered a hobby shop I always walked by the train counter and looked. When I went to the county fair I always stopped to watch the trains run on the layout in the fairgrounds. I married my wife in August 1971 and she had no idea what was coming (neither did I at the time). On October 25, 1971 I stopped at the train counter and bought my first train, it was an MRC boxed N Scale set with a Berkshire, some cars, track and transformer. I was permanently hooked. I still have the same wife and I still play with my N Scale trains. Though that first train set is long gone.

Rich Mathews
Rich Mathews

May 22, 2017

It’s about 1am, and I find your current blog. Wow! I have always wondered what causes me to feel passionate about trains. Before I was 5 years old I would ask my mom, if we could go watch trains. I asked her, “when did I start liking trains”. She replied, "you have always “.
Before I retired as a locomotive engineer, I would sometimes see parents or grandparents with mostly young boys, trackside. I would always wave and when I could, talk with them. Many of those people had a similar experience. They would say” He’s always liked trains" or “this is all he wants to do, watch trains”. I have seen people with some odd passions, like bus riding, or collecting balls of string. What is the common thread between us (me) and them? Is it primordial evolution, akin to the monoliths in the movie, 2001, A Space Odyssey. An advancement of higher functionality ( as in such things as Art) Or, is it a misfire of brain function. Perhaps the Mind’s attempt to find “safe harbor” from chaos? My interests are not the interests of other family members, but, they also have passions. So maybe, certain family traits play a role? What made someone a “Bus Nut”, did their mother see a bus at the start of her second trimester and it imprinted on her fetuses’ frontal lobe? Thankfully, in my ignorance, I found a career that paid the bills and allowed me to watch trains.

David North
David North

May 22, 2017

Like you, i have no idea why I like the hobbies I like, yet have less or no interest in other hobbies. Except to say I do like making things. My hobbies are model trains, model cars, cars, carpentry and metalwork. All of them consist of some form of constructing (re-constructing) things.

My Dad gave me a Fleischmann FA in SF Warbonnet and F7 in CB&Q, plus some European coaches and rolling stock when i was pre-teens – and a Flesichmann catalog. That FA clearly kick started my interest in the Santa Fe.

I read and re-read the section of the catalog covering US outline equipment – the European stuff was OK but didn’t grab me the way the US stuff did. So the visual appearance was a factor – I liked the ATSF paint scheme, I liked the cars equipped with 4 wheel trucks, and also the angular boxlike appearance versus the more rounded appearance and fixed 2 wheel axles of the Euro stuff. So the catalog photos I liked reflected my interest, but why one versus the other? I have NO idea.

And that also doesn’t explain my heightened interest in trains versus other hobbies.

I relate those specifics because those are the “external influences” that led to my lifelong love of the Santa Fe. I didn’t have a relative who worked for the Santa Fe (or any other railroad). I didn’t watch Santa Fe trains from trackside (well, not until 1998). I was born and have lived my whole life here in Australia, with my first US visit to the US as i mentioned above in 1998. So I can only conclude that the Xmas present I received from my Dad in the late 1950s/early 1960s was the “external influence” for me.

I remember on Xmas dad having 2-3 pieces of Peco flectrack joined together on the floor, with the controller clipped to the ends,running my new locos back and forth all afternoon (with a brief respite while Xmas dinner was devoured).

So the movement appears to have been important to me.

And part of my continuing active interest in model trains is that they move. Making model cars/aircraft (static models) is fun, but by their very nature they just sit on a shelf once built. Is that part of the selection process for some of us?

I want more that just to create the model – I also want to watch it move through a scene – control its movement through a scene.

For me, the operations aspect is a big part of the hobby. Not very deep or meaningful – just my recollections about what influenced me.

Blaine, I look forward to your future musings.

Walt Huston
Walt Huston

May 22, 2017

My passion for trains was born of my dislike of being forced into a hobby I didn’t particularly want anything to do with. My father would only accept flying models as an acceptable hobby. I wanted trains. At the time, I was a little bull headed so I went my way. I was solidly entrenched in trains by the time I reached my teen years and I have never wavered since. I am fully engrossed in trains and I’m not going anywhere. I enjoy my passions…trains, trains and more trains. Long live trains!

Bill Schaumburg
Bill Schaumburg

May 22, 2017

This is clear thinking and good writing. The hands-on/tactile aspects of this hobby, as well as the range of activities it can involve, are not unique to model railroading, though we often think they are. What seems to be happening is a synthesis of the best memories we ever had (there has to be some seed way back in our minds, and it need not be trains at all), and the best memories we never had. A paradox? No. The latter are created in scale and as a kinetic art based on a real industry with specific elements. And yes, it does go beyond the little trains. We interact with and absorb from an environment(s) and from various communities. We also have an opportunity to affect them, hopefully adding to the mix in a positive way. Onward!

Edward Sutorik
Edward Sutorik

May 22, 2017

What you are talking about is what I call “a passion”. I remember when I ran into an envelope collector. I thought “Wow, something surely goofier than trains”. But THAT was a passion. And so is wind surfing (my neighbors across the street). And so is cabinetmaking (my neighbor two houses down). Etc.

So there are people with passions concerning just about everything. Including politics. But there appear to also be people without them. If so, my wonderment is WHY there is this division. Why yes? Why no?

And then, of course, once you look at the first group, you wonder why they chose the one they did. Which is the subject, I think, of this writing.

Also, be reminded that there is no rule that limits passions to “one”. I have also been passionate about, motorcycles, photography, firearms. But, interestingly, rarely at the same time. At the moment, it’s trains. Model trains. Again. I do still get some monthly gun mags, and they’re interesting; but that’s about it.

I have “put down” the train passion at least twice. And picked up others, as noted. I have learned not to assume a passion won’t return. Might. Might not.

I’m not sure the cited book is related to the above discussion. I do see it remarks on “outside influences”. But that is pretty obvious already. From even before we are born, we have to deal with outside influences—integrate them, or reject them. It seems likely that choosing a passion is an integration of some outside influences plus our own internal genetic dispositions.

Buck Dean
Buck Dean

May 22, 2017

Ok, Blaine , you have my curiosity peaked. Carry on and, yes, Forbidden Planet is a great movie. Anne Francis in Forbidden Planet is even better!!!! A word of advice. You can use all those words that we learned in “30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary” as long as you include Bar-B-Que. Only then is all right with the world!

Al Prochnow
Al Prochnow

May 22, 2017

I like your comment “I don’t know why I like trains”. Perhaps in my case it’s because I visited my grandfather, who was a depot agent and telegrapher at Eden, Idaho when I was very young. Perhaps it’s because I still remember what it was to see a 2-8-0 Consolidation pulling a short freight train into the station.. Or maybe it was a 4-6-2 Pacific with a mixed passenger train with a 60’ mail baggage car. Maybe just maybe it was the small towns like Eden & Hazelton, Idaho who were dependent on the railroad and it’s people.

Chris Roehl
Chris Roehl

May 22, 2017

Hmmm…“cognitive science”, “machinations of our own mental labor”, “new paradigms”. Can we just play trains? I’m still looking for an ExactRail treatment of SP’s rebuilt 40’ boxcars with 10’-3" door with the diagonal yellow stripe. That’s something to think about.

Vincent Sanderd
Vincent Sanderd

May 22, 2017

Okay I will bite. I like the concept. More please. Vincent.

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