In yesterday’s post I mentioned about the layout LIRR on The Railwire is building, HO Somewhere in Appalachia. The photo above is a linked image from that thread of two cabooses being worked on for that layout.
Nostalgia is a thing that plays heavily into model railroading. Probably into most parts of our lives. When I think what nostalgia means, in model railroading, I had only really considered how we use model railroading as a tenon connecting our today with a place in our past. A place in real railroading that we experienced and can’t otherwise return to so we recreate it, in miniature in our basement so we can return to and continue on as if that timeline had never been interrupted. While reading LIRR’s thread I thought about nostalgia, since the cat was nearby, we talked about what nostalgia meant. Over first coffees I started to think there was another dimension to nostalgia that I hadn’t considered.
My first train set was in HO scale. It was from Life Like and had one of their CP F7’s pulling a Swift refrigerator car, a CN twin hopper, and one of those Life Like Reading style cabooses painted in yellow and decorated for CP. That’s more than forty years ago now. I still have the caboose and, of course, the memories of everything else. Life Like engines had a certain sound and smell when they operated (like Lionel engines do too) and I swear I can still remember those attributes too. This photo shows my HO scale model railroad from my early teenage years at about the apex of its development.
All things in life are more richer than they seem. More complex and more diverse and worth exploring as part of a contemplation on their alternative meanings. Nostalgia is no different. Reading LIRR’s thread again I pause a little longer when I see the F7’s leading those coal trains; coal trains made up of twin hoppers, and pictures of Reading-style cabooses being built to complete those trains. Nostalgia here isn’t just seeing a connection, via a third party medium like someone else’s model railroad to a place in our past but also to a vision of what could have been.
When I had my twin hoppers and cabooses they were favourites. I’d later buy more of the Life LIke twins and then the Athearn ones too. Discovering Bill Henderson’s Coal Belt was so exciting because his layout looked fantastic but, in it, I recognized things I had. That what he was doing was what I could be doing with the stuff I had. I was richer than I thought I was. That’s pretty exciting.
My imagination is always easily triggered. I love seeing all the places it takes me and how it helps me to see the world as it is and as it could be. In those F7 led, twin hopper filled, Reading-style caboose trailing trains I see a representation that feels familiar because it feels like what I dreamed I might make of the models I had maybe one day if I practiced this hobby and got really good at it. That, it’s like a new kind of nostalgia. Not just nostalgia as a place to remember but a place we haven’t been yet. That nostalgia can drive our work because it reminds us of things we wanted to do when we got older or that missing thing came into our lives. That I don’t need to know anything about coal railroads, that part of the country, or anything about the Southern Railroad at all to feel a real attraction to that model railroad because there’s a coincidence of connection that exists between the cool things being done with models that at least are like the ones I had and the dreams I had for them someday. Maybe it’s a bit too myopic to see nostalgia as an album of places we went and things we did and maybe it’s also a guide leftover from a journey started but not yet finished.
Coy’s run down track is an example, perhaps, of exploring nostalgia as a muse. That kind of track was the kind I’d always wanted to build and then I did. It didn’t need a connection to a real railroad because it was the result of a vision for track that I’d placed on reserve for someday. Maybe I’ve been thinking about ideas for future model railroads all wrong? Maybe they’re not the result of finding the right prototype but considering what other unresolved projects there are left in that back catalogue? Nostalgia is a drug to be managed so it doesn’t become a world on its own but it might be fun to start from a place with no destination beyond a series of wayward things that need a home. A twin hopper that just needs some weathering and maybe air hoses; a caboose that needs a train.
Like discovering the Coal Belt in the pages of RMC, discovering HO Somewhere in Appalachia is the same rush of emotions because of a connection. Once again seeing familiar looking models but cast in stunning roles. The layout looks simply spectacular and its made from things I know.
Categories: How I think