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Mack Williams: O Gauge

Kids ride the Polar Express in pajamas, but the Polar Express’ conductor has never been confused with the Sandman.

There is a train with which I associate the wearing of pajamas, but I never rode a Pullman; and the only “movie train” of my familiarity as a child was “The Great Locomotive Chase,” (not “The Great Train Robbery,” I’m not that old).

My “pajama train” was made by Lionel, the manufacturer of a “classic.”

It was while wearing my pajamas that I received my Lionel train set for Christmas at age 6 or 7, in either 1957 or 58, so long ago that I’m not quite sure. I’m 65 now, but think “almost 66,” because at 66, one can work more hours without affecting Social Security). When I was young, I wanted to be older, so now 66 looks better than 65.

During the year following that ‘57 or ‘58 Christmas (making it ‘58 or ‘59), my father took me to a shop in Salisbury where he bought me a red and white Minneapolis &St. Louis (The Peoria Gateway) ALCO diesel.

I enjoyed my model train set, complete with “switching tracks” (recently seeing life-size ones transported by Norfolk-Southern) and “smoke pills” to make the steam engine belch smoke.

After years of its “boxing-up,” my late father-in-law got much Seasonal pleasure from running my train set alongside several of his own.

After his passing, my engines went into mothballs (boxes under a bed) until my son Jeremy (age 32) became interested.

When Jeremy took off the Minneapolis & St. Louis diesel’s top for repair, I imagined its dissasembly being full-size, sitting in Spencer’s great shop building.

A few weeks before Christmas, Jeremy cleaned the old tracks with steel wool (many degrees of difference from the “track polishing machine” I saw come through Danville the other day). He then “John Henry-ed” those rails together with his bare hands (of course).

Jeremy made an “on-board “ video of my old train set by attaching his camera to a flat car. Part of the track layout went under a sofa. The rail traveler sees things not seen from the highway, and the same here: scenes of “cryptic” inventory markings of the furniture store and “dust bunnies!”

Another video had the same angle as in “How the West Was Won”(1962) where George Peppard and Eli Wallach fought each other and “grappled” with a load of logs (perhaps their train wasn’t full scale either).

In something resembling You Tube videos made by railroad buffs, Jeremy videoed a “run-by.” When the sight and sound were slowed, the tinny clicketty-clack sound miraculously morphed into that made by a full-size Norfolk-Southern train. The carpet’s pile, a bit out of focus, became railroad roadbed.

When I saw “faux smoke” trailing from the smokestack, Jeremy said it was residue from years gone by (my residue, well, not exactly residue of me, but remnants of my youthful “smoke-pill-stoking” of that smokestack).

In another video, Jeremy’s cats sat “statuesquely” trackside on their haunches observing the train’s passing, their eyes glowing the same green as the engine’s light.

One boxcar had a couple of yarn balls in it when I was young, just why, I don’t remember. They went missing over the years, but if they had still been there and had fallen out rounding a curve, Jeremy’s cats would have had “a big time” (favorite phrase of late wife’s late grandmother).

It was wonderful seeing the old train set fired up (“transformer fire”) again. I thought about always wanting to ride a railroad observation car and watch the great granite sentinels of the Rocky Mountains roll past.

Asking Jeremy to play an encore, I imagined myself shrunken (not “Fantastic Voyage,” just “O gauge”) to fit his “on-board” video. Reaching the “Rocky Mountain” part of my imagined rail trip, my gaze met great “feline sentinels” gazing back.

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