By: Chris Warren.
Last Saturday evening I stopped by my brother’s house to see his kids, and as luck would have it, my young nephew was away at a sleepover and my niece was with one of her girlfriends busy doing…whatever junior high age girls do. So I thought to myself, uhhmm, well, I guess I can stay a while and actually spend some time with my brother. What I thought was kind of bummer because I didn’t get to see my niece and nephew turned into a fun and insightful evening playing with a train set.
My brother is big into model trains and has a large O-gauge layout in his basement. So like two little kids we descended the stairs into his electrified rail-realm. All males, and I do mean all of them, no matter how old they get, like to play with toy trains. A guy who does not like toy trains needs psychiatric intervention.
To call it a “toy” is factually accurate but a little misleading. A lot of adults, maybe too many, take the hobby very seriously. They spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars constructing very realistic looking layouts. My brother is not so much of a purist. His train set is realistic enough, but he does not sweat the details. He’d rather spend time running his trains than fuss over whether the rivets on the locomotive are historically accurate.
He flipped a series of switches, turned a few dials, and his little world came to life. One steam engine chugging the main line, one diesel hauling freight, and a streetcar shuttling back and forth across town. A train set is quite noisy when everything is running, yet the rhythmic sound is alluring and has a soothing quality to it. If that noise came from anything else it would be annoying as hell. But trains have a certain something that calms your nerves.
I was quickly absorbed into the make believe. Job and family stresses, world events, and political vitriol all seem to melt away in train land. It puts one in a much better frame of mind to face the real world when it’s time to come up from the basement. My brother has a tendency to freak out over any little thing and I think his train set, whether he realizes it or not, is his therapy.
And effective therapy it is! I don’t have my own train set so it was a real treat to run the engines around, work the horns and bells, relishing in what I have to admit is pointless as a practical activity but amazingly beneficial as a visceral escape. There is no bad day that cannot be made better by playing with a train set.
We cracked a few profoundly offensive & tasteless jokes (sorry, mom!), talked about our lives, and discussed ideas for expanding the layout. We would have kept going much longer but for a call from upstairs that dinner was ready. The hour or so we were down there seemed like mere moments. That was probably the longest time I’ve spent alone with my bother in decades.
There are certainly other pastimes that give their practitioners a lifetime of stress relief and fun, yet few hobbies are as universally appealing as train set and have an efficacy equal to or better than antidepressant medication. Both my brother and I were big into trains as kids but along the way to growing up it drifted away from me. I’m glad he stuck with it, for his own benefit and mine. I know I can’t always live in the idyllic world of a train set, but for a while it sure was nice to pretend.