Monday, December 17, 2012
Toy train time
For a child of my generation, there was no greater marvel than a model train rattling endlessly round and round a loop of track. In time with the clickety-clack of wheels over rail joints, our minds would project flickering dreams onto a screen of wonder that included Santas and candy canes and evergreen trees and fathers coming home from Manhattan behind a massive black Ten-Wheeler, chuffing coal smoke, on the Erie Railroad.
These became the elusive memories of Christmases past, the ones we try to rekindle in our old age and sometimes manage to recapture.
It has been a long time since the pastime of model trains captivated entire generations. Mighty locomotives gave way to mightier airliners and rockets, then Playstations and Wiis. Youthful obsessions change as technology advances. This is a kind of human progress, although nobody believes in the perfectibility of mankind anymore.
Yet I doubt that the latest clever electronic game can match toy trains for the thrilling sense of history they once instilled into children. They showed us how in the nineteenth century the young United States broad-shouldered its way on steel rails from Atlantic to Pacific, the grandest flowering of the Industrial Revolution. "Westward the course of empire takes its way," wrote the Irish poet George Berkeley in that simpler and more hopeful time.
Pardon me while I get down on the rug and govern my little empire.