Passing it On

Arthur when he was almost two

I don’t remember the first time I let my 2.5-year-old run trains on our N scale layout, but it was definitely before he could stand on his own. I’d hold him up and let him turn the throttle up and down. Once he realized exactly what was going on, he was hooked. Eventually he got to the point where he could stand in a chair and watch as his train speed around the track. Within a few months’ time, it got to the point where I’d come home from work and he’d motion for me to come with him as he ran over to the basement door to play “choo-choo”. Now we are at the point where if he wants to play with the “cool big black choo-choo”, I give the go ahead, and he races downstairs, turns the power on, and begins running trains. He’s mastered the throttle, he can start, stop, and change direction with ease. Honking the horn, ringing the bell, and turning the lights on and off adds to his enjoyment. He is content to just drive around in circles, ringing the bell.
Occasionally, he stops and tells me that he wants to attach cars to the engine, and I show him which switches to throw to get the cars he wants. He hasn’t mastered which knobs move which switches on his own, but he knows that to pick up cars, he needs to do some switching. His tiny fingers struggle with getting cars and engines on the track at times, but he knows I’ll be there to help when he asks.
He and I play trains most days after work. It gives me an opportunity to do some work on a car or structure and lets him run trains for a few minutes. I often just stand there with him, lending a hand when needed, watching as he enjoys the hobby.
Sooner or later, the current layout will come down as I make room for the proposed PVC RR. I don’t want us to be without a railroad to play with during this time, and while I like the idea of keeping the current layout while the new one is being built, I don’t know how realistic that would be given the size of the train room.
Rather than lose this special time with him, I made him his own railroad, or a “big cool ding-ding (trolley) town.” His words, not mine.

His new railroad is approx. 32" x 30"

I put this together during one of his naps. A piece of scrap plywood, trimmed with 1” oak, and some ½” pink insulation foam, make up the base. A grass mat provides the surface, and some blue craft foam was used for the river. While the layout downstairs is DCC, this one uses an old Bachmann DC throttle and EZ-Track I had on hand. The track isn’t attached, so we can change it if we’d like. The buildings were from prior layouts and currently unused, as were most of the trains he runs. Because we already owned the trains and structures, I think I spent less than $50 on materials.
Of course, these aren’t his only trains. He has some Brio, some Thomas Trains, some battery powered plastic ones, and all of the train magazines and books he could ever need. But this little railroad is different. 
More than simply sharing my hobby with him, I’m letting him experience it himself. It isn’t some off-limits thing for him to look at. It’s his world to play with. A simple oval like this might not satisfy all of our wants and needs in the hobby and he may very well outgrow it, but in the meantime, he is learning how to work his tiny fingers, and exercise his imagination. More important than that, we are spending quality time together laying on the floor with some dinosaurs watching his “cool blue yellow choo-choo” zoom around the track. 
One day I'll find the picture of a two-day old me laying in front of a Christmas tree with my dad's Lionel trains running behind me, that seems like an appropriate addition to the collection.  


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