Have you ever unexpectedly fallen in love with something? That was me with trains. However, there were some moments in my childhood that shaped it.
When I was nine years old, my family visited a local miniature railway, the Old Wakarusa Railroad. I was ecstatic to ride on the tiny train that was only slightly taller than me! The ride around the simple figure eight railway was one of the happiest moments of my childhood.
Sadly, the Old Wakarusa Railroad was sold in 2008, but one of the engines that used to work there, No. 98, has been preserved at the Riverside & Great Northern Railroad in the Dells, Wisconsin.
Another influence was a certain cheeky blue tank engine on TV. I’m sure plenty of parents are familiar with Thomas and Friends, whether watching it themselves or with their children.
Thomas the Tank Engine, Image Credit the Thomas Wiki.
For me, Thomas represented a form of escapism in my childhood from the struggles of daily life. Following the engines on the island of Sodor gave me a way to relax and inspiration for my own writing. My first attempt at telling a story was based on a PBS news challenge, (I naturally chose Thomas for the subject). While four-year-old me couldn’t figure out if “One day” was spelled with “one” or “won,” it sparked my creativity.
The more I learned online about “The Railway Series,” the books which inspired the show, the more inspired I became. The Reverend Wilbert Awdry spent a great deal of time working on the backstory of Sodor to make it seem like a real place. Worldbuilding for a series with talking engines may seem silly, but that’s part of what made Thomas work: Awdry treated it as stories of a real railway, with real engines who just so happen to talk.
As I grew older, my interest in trains shifted towards preservation. If you’ve ever seen or ridden behind a steam locomotive, you likely have the work of preservation to thank for them still being around.
Restoring steam locomotives can take years or even decades!
One of the longest restorations in my current memory is of the Flying Scotsman. Built in 1923, Flying Scotsman is the last locomotive of its class in existence. And what a life it’s lived. Flying Scotsman was one of the first steam locomotives bought for preservation in the United Kingdom. It has traveled to North America and Australia, holds two world records (first steam engine to officially reach 100 mph, and the longest nonstop run of a steam locomotive). Flying Scotsman is now owned by the National Railway Museum (UK). It’s arguably one of the most famous steam engines in the world.
Flying Scotsman on display after its newest restoration.
It took a decade for Flying Scotsman to get restored, appearing (controversy, depending on who you ask) in its 1960’s appearance before it was preserved. While it’s not her most famous livery of apple green, Flying Scotsman still looks smart. She’s still running today, providing people entertainment and a fun ride into history. Not a bad fate for a nearly 100-year-old engine.
Trains are a more niche interest. Sadly, the community is often seen as a hobby for old men. However, trains are for everyone.
An example is Jennifer Kirk, who reviews model trains and does livestreams on Monday for people to have a community space. You can check out one of her reviews here.
It’s hard to imagine me without liking trains. Had I never caught the train bug, I wouldn’t be the same person I am. And I’m certainly glad that my interest in trains has survived beyond my childhood.
My hope, once I graduate and the Pandemic ends, is to travel to various museums and excursion railways, to get up close and personal with the iron giants of the past. And you don’t have to know everything about trains to enjoy them. Look up your nearest excursion/heritage railway or museum and consider going for a ride back in history.
The Jacobite excursion train on a bridge made famous by the Harry Potter films. Image Credit: Unsplash