It just happens


Tim Mears photo

We were visiting at my parents house this afternoon. While Mom and I hung out in the living room, I’d not really noticed how Dad and Emi had wandered off in search of the train room. I don’t know how much time passed but I thought I’d check in to see what they were up to. I arrived to find Emi seated at the workbench and Dad, ever the enabler, watching and  coaxing her on. Emi had some chenille pieces and in those green bumps “seen” a wreath and a Christmas tree. Some gold thread “borrowed” from Mom’s sewing basket quickly became garland. When I arrived, Emi and Dad were immersed in trying to find a way to glue tiny red beads onto the tree as decorations. Comfortable in the knowledge that all was right in the world, I just left the talented makers in the world to their work and I retreated to get out of the way. A few minutes ago, Dad emailed me a photo from his model railway. The wreath they made hangs proudly on the front of the engine that will lead tomorrow morning’s, Christmas’s, service out of Thrush Green and the platform is decorated with their tree.

I’ve received so many gifts over the years but every year, I realise the greatest was among the first: My parents created an environment where we just made things and did so for no reason or in the shadow of any agenda – we just did. Not only did they make things they overtly did so in front of the kids. We do because they did. It warms my soul to see that this spirit remains as powerful and inviting as ever. Maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Merry Christmas

Thank you





  1. Chris,

    That is a fantastic story!! All the best to you and yours at Christmas!! I look forward to the day where my 3.5 year old nephew reaches the point where he wants to build trains instead of just being amazed at seeing Uncle Stephen’s trains go!!

    All is most definitely right in the world seeing a new generation introduced to our hobby in that time honoured way from our grandparents!



    1. I couldn’t agree more. It was beautiful to see and like anything so delicate, to not disturb.

      That need to create. It’s in all of us. To be reminded of that at Christmas seems about getting all I could ask for.


  2. As a grandfather, I can say that there is no greater joy than enabling the creativity of your grandchildren.

    I have a picture from last summer of me, Annabelle, and Adelaide switching cars on one of our microlayouts. Annabelle, 12, is the best at the back story, the Big Picture: what’s moving in those cars, where they come from, where they are going, and why. Adelaide, 8, is the master of switching moves, our footboard conductor and brakeman.

    Last week they visited again, and I turned them loose on a 4×6 mini-layout, an oval with a passing siding and a freight siding that can be operated as an Inglenook or a roundy round. Except for occasional calls for me to rerail cars, it was all theirs for an hour and a half of enjoyment, each using the qualities she has most developed. It made me pretty happy.

    1. That’s such a terrific memory. thank you for sharing that with me. I appreciate it.

      I hope you’ll forgive this observation but it “came to me” as I read your comment: “it was theirs for an hour and a half of enjoyment”. A passing siding and a freight siding on a loop of track. No literary baggage in the form of back story or pretense. No theme or era. Just enough model railroad to connect imagination to adventure. Sounds like, in that layout, you’ve created something really important and more than enough to keep you amused. Perfect.


  3. I find that the kids make up their own stories.

    A few days before the granddaughters arrived, my wife asked, “Haven’t you got _anywhere_ that the trains can go around in a circle?”

    As a matter of fact, the girls are perfectly happy running point to point on the Mid-sized and Unmanageable. They understand scale speeds, and they know to leave time for the brakeman to get down to throw the manual switches. The price for this may be carrying lots of passengers in open gowns and having a fairly heavy amount of closed-car traffic devoted to party dresses and refreshments, but the customers order the cars through the freight agent, and the brakeman/conductor tells the engineer what to do.

    But I like to make my wife happy, so I pulled all the junk off a former Christmas tree layout, popped on a couple of structures (freight house, gas station, general store), added some of my sturdier autos and trucks, and gave the girls a pile of figures. A three switch layout could be anywhere, the RS-1 is generic, and there are as many 40′ cars as they could manage. The story is up to their imaginations. It is the same imagination they have used with Lego friends but with trains that move on their own. Some fun!

    1. I’m just glad to read about a shortline that can earn a living on an income of party dress and refreshment services!

      Not that I’ve lost any appreciation for good modelmaking but regardless of what we use, a lot of it is just props to help reinforce our imagination so perhaps we need to extend more credit to how your grandkids are using the space than, in this hobby, we (the greater We) tend to?

      Such a terrific story Marshall.

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