When he was just a few years old, my son would cock his head to the side and gaze off into the distance. He was listening for the sound of a train, far off in the distance. In just about two months, I will be the father of a ten-year old, a ten-year old train fanatic. There was some question, as the years began to pile up, just when he might grow out of this "phase." These days we aren't thinking about it as much as a phase but rather as a series of opportunities.
When I was a kid, there were some trains in the house: My older brother had an O gauge set that was put away before I got officially interested. My younger brother caught the HO gauge bug big time - for a couple of years. Eventually, all the Caven trains fell into disrepair and eventual storage in cardboard boxes. I didn't give them much of a thought. Not until I became the father of a GERF - a Glassy-Eyed Rail Freak.
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. My wife grew up learning the names of different engines and lines as her father poured out his obsession on his daughter. I blame DNA - and B&O. My son would spend hours creating freight yards with his Brio trains. This was age three. There were birthday cakes in the shape of trains, trips to the Sacramento Train Museum (more than I can count), and any location that offered a train ride as part of the experience was sought out by devoted parents.
We bought train t-shirts and hats. We own HO, O, Hot Wheel, Brio, Garden, and Lego gauge train sets. Our living room is regularly part of a vast switch yard with locomotives and dozens of cars of all sorts. I have had to do reading on the side to keep up with my son's encyclopedic knowledge of rolling stock. A few weeks back as we drove into the night toward Reno, my son announced that he saw two BR-54s (or something like that) on the tracks up the hill from us. I have no way of knowing if he knew what he was talking about, but I know from experience that it is useless to disagree with him. He knows his stuff.
It has been my great relief that over the past few years, toy trains have returned to vogue. "The Polar Express" and Harry Potter's Hogwarts Express have made it easier to find fuel to feed the beast. When I discovered that Neil Young had purchased a fifth of the Lionel Train Company, I felt a kindred spirit. After a photo shoot with Rolling Stone, Niel said, "I wish I was on the cover of Lionel Trains magazine. My kids would be so impressed if I showed them a copy of that." I know how he feels.