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Sunday, December 30, 2012

The basement train line

About the time my little brother, Mel, could put his finger tips over the edge of a table and pull himself up for a better look my dad started the freight business from the depot outside his shop, around the basement, through the steps.  The open topped fright car delivered a load of soap under the steps for mom to put in the washing machine and came back to the depot, to the utter delight of the little boy peering over the top of the plywood platform.

With a man and two boys for underwriters, the train business grew.  The square footage available at the large plywood station in the corner multiplied as the train tracks went up the hill against the shop wall, through a tunnel, stopped for crossings, went down a hill into the switching yard, to the round house.

The Lionel™ engine left the round house under a full head of steam, climbed the slight grade along the drive way wall, rounded a nice curve to the backyard wall, still climbing.  She headed straight through the open steps, stopped at the platform by the set tubs to off load mom’s scoop of soap and whistled along the down grade of the track on the next lower step, down, down, down, back to the yard.

I remember helping my mom with of loads of laundry while three guys whooped it up over their trains, which were a major source of entertainment for several years.  Then interest waned and the trains were boxed up on the shelf.  We kids still whiled away a rainy afternoon having marble races on the downhill track.  Two cat eye shooters can race side by side on O gage track!

Eventually all the rolling stock and equipment from the train yard in the basement was long donated to the train museum in Akron, and I thought no more about trains until my uncle was cleaning out his basement and gave me a Lionel™ locomotive he thought he’d borrowed from dad.  It had been run hard and put away wet, but I suppose that is the fate of steam train engines, the engineer and fireman’s combined ages not exceeding twenty one years.

I asked my brother Walt, the original engineer, to build a glass box to showcase the old war horse.  It was missing the cow catcher, saddest of all, and we had to buy a piece of O gauge track on line.  He built a wonderful glass box with walnut trim the glass panels slid into. I could interest none of my children or grandchildren in having the extremely heavy paper weight, so I took it to a nursing home.  It went on a ledge in the common room and had an audience of men in wheel chairs reminiscing, when I left.

With thanks to Bill Lisleman, who visited a train yard any engineer could love.


  1. those were wonderful donations.
    We had a set on plywood in the basement growing up. My brother has it now all boxed up. Very cool that your dad put the train to work with the soap.
    thanks for the shout out - always fun to inspire another post.

  2. Oh, I loved train sets!
    I remember making 'scenery' for the train's journeys.
    Jane x

  3. I'd love to have been a shareholder!
    I desperately wanted a train set, but had to make do with my big red locomotive...sans rails....and was heartbroken when, as usual in the family, it was taken away to be given to a younger cousin.

  4. It's a shame that those old train sets have been so neglected. Your donation to the nursing home was a wonderful idea. No one can appreciate it more than those who played with them as children.

  5. Those train sets must have been 'little boy's dreams. What a kind, thoughtful donation for the last 'Lionel' to go to the nursing home. I bet the old men there cherish it to some order.

  6. I wonder what ever happened to my old train set.

  7. What a great thought with where you donated it. I am sure it brings a smile to residents of the nursing home when they reiminsce of days long gone with adventures they must have had on trains or with trains.

    I remember one of my uncles and his boys getting into trains; having a room in their basement coverted into tracks and whatnot. Always fun to go and visit them and see the trains running.


  8. I imagine those two girls might enjoy that whole train set if you had it now. We go to sleep and wake to the sound of trains, at our old house, as it is near a switching station.

    1. The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad runs through the valley, less than three miles away. For a couple of weeks in the summer they host a real steam engine, bells, whistles and everything. Like my childhood all over again, we knew when the 515 came through.

  9. Those old train sets were really cool and quality made. Donating the engine was great and I'm sure brought much joy to many for such a simple toy!

  10. Enjoyed this! Such a good idea to donate where it will be appreciated by many.

  11. Joanne,
    You took me back to my childhood. Every year after our Thanksgiving meal, we'd take the kids downtown to watch the Lionel trains zip through villages created in store front windows. Donating that locomotive surley made a lot of old fellows happy.
    Happy New Year

  12. What a wonderful gift. Anything which can engage men is a boon - and this would surely have started the reminiscence train For hours.

  13. so cool--puts me in mind of one of my pastors---he had such a large train set-up!--happy new year :)

  14. what a great story. I guess every kid, well, boy kid, had a train at some time in his life. I remember my brother did. I have no idea whatever happened to it all.

  15. Great story, Joanne! I have always loved trains. Happy New Year!

  16. I love trains! I bought a small set for my Husby, hoping to get him interested, but it languished in it's box until I donated it. Sigh. I'd still love to have a train set in the house . . .

  17. Sigh... We used to have a train set when our son was younger. Sadly we had to donate it when we made our move to Hawaii. What wonderful memories you have, Joanne.