November 15, 2009
I was born in 1949 so part of looking at the toys I played with is thinking a long way back in time. However, I am now a step-grandparent with grandsons aged 9 months, 11 months, 2.7 years and a granddaughter 3.5 years old. I have the kind of magical moment of remembering my own childhood as my wife and I take care of our grandchildren together. I remember toys I played with including things like a British made series called "Dinky Toys" which were really detailed cars and trucks made in exact detailed replicas of real cars and trucks. I was fascinated by cars and trucks. I see this same connection as my wife and I buy cars and trucks for my grandsons and granddaughter, as well as other toys. We get some cool ones at Cub Grocery store: PT Cruisers, pick up trucks, tractors, race cars and Hummers and so on that our grandsons play with. We also go to thrift stores where we live on the east side of St. Paul and have bought some Tonka trucks and tractors that the boys play outside with during summer. We get a bag of sand and let them load the dump trucks up, haul the sand and then dump a load, and haul some more. It helps me remember the wooden sand box my parents had for me, my sister and younger brother when we were growing up. Since their grandfather is a semi-retired farmer, we feel that it is in part learning about machines that are part of their family's world. My oldest step-grandson does ride on a real tractor with his grandfather and his Dad helping get the fall harvest in. This is an important part of my oldest grandson's world and indentity. My wife and I bought him a small John Deere tractor and trailer at Fleet Farm that runs on a 12 volt battery and he drives it and helps me pick up sticks and brush in our back yard and haul it out to our brush pile and composter. He takes this very seriously and is a hard worker. My granddaughter also enjoys driving this tractor.
When we are not doing lawn work, my wife gets my oldest grandson set up hauling sand, which we pretend is corn, to a large cardboard box out in the back yard which we have called a barn. My wife has a wooden doll her grandfather made her as a child which we put inside and tell my grandson that it is a cow and that we have to haul "corn" from the sandbox to feed the cow in the barn. He gets going with that for a while and then it is usually time to take him down the block to the elementary school play ground where he climbs the jungle jim, slides and we push him on the swing.
When I think more about my childhood and my toys I had I fondly remember my electric trains. First, I had a hand me down Lionell train set from an older cousin who was ten years older than me. I enoyed it a lot, and then 3 to 4 years later while spending part of a summer with my grandmother and step grandfather out on the east coast, they bought me a small HO gauge electric train which I really loved. It was a simple engine with three passenger cras and an oval track. Over the next 4 years or so, my grandparents and parents got me more track for this, more train cars and more locomotives. I loved these trains. Now that my grandchildren are getting older, I have begun to think about the next stage of toys. My own fascination with electric trains has recently got me into Hubbs Hobby Stores, where I was a kid all over again. The store had everything under the sun in the way of plastic models of ships, planes, cars, trucks, tanks, and I had a trip down memory lane.
I also found electric train sets, flying model airplanes, model ships, sailboats, and was mesmerized by it all. I had to pull back a bit and refrained from buying anything at the time. But I have been thinking about it ever since. I kind of thought I would buy a starter train set in the next year or so. Right now, my wife and I have bought some affordable Thomas the Train sets at Target and a lot of track so we can cover our living room floor area that is open, about 6 by 6 feet. Our two grandsons that we baby sit the most often are just a bit young to manage this responsibly alone without getting too rough with the trains. They are getting there gradually. We watch the Thomas the Train DVDs with them and they are engrossed in the stories. The engines and train cars in the sets we have got for them at this time are a little smaller than HO gauge. So much comes back to me in playing with them and it is an amazing experience for me as I play with and take care of them as a step grandparent. I never had children so it is an especially rewarding experience for me at this point in my life, one of my most joyful, especially as it is also a wonderful team effort with my wife.
So, I got thinking, what is it about toy trains that makes them so appealing? Part of it has to be the fun that Dads have getting to play with their childhood toys again and re-live part of their youth. For kids, it is a miniature world that I think is so appealing because they are in control of it, taking care of this little miniature world. Trains may be a phallic symbol as well, maybe that is a part of it, though I had not ever thought about it prior to this assignment. I lived as a child playing with electric trains in a small midwest town an hour south of Chicago. We could take the train from a couple of nearby towns, within 20 minutes driving time to Chicago and we did this, as well as drive by car, to visit my grandfather and my stepgrandmother and my great grandmother in Chicago. Several trains a day went through my home town. At night I could hear their low sounding horn and their rumbling along. The sounds were familiar and comforting. Today, living on the near East Side of St. Paul, I hear a couple of rail lines and the river front switch yard engines and trains at night. I have deep sense of comfort in hearing their sounds, it must go all the way back to times before I could talk as a child. I think trains, cars, trucks and other toys also represent travel and adventure for children, that it is a prelude to having the ability to one day travel to any place they would like, as they see their parents do with them as they grow up.
Can we have trains and cars of the future that don't emit greenhouse gases? Will our children have the mobility that we have? I hope to be able to play with my grandchildren at a future date with the solar hydrogen car that I bought on sale at Penny's two years ago. It runs on sunlight and water.
I hear the rumble of a distant diesel electric engine now, as our house is quiet and the hour is late. Soft comforting sounds, like each person, maybe, working hard to pull our weight and move along the paths of life that are openning before us. I look forward to the journey, and maybe some day a ride on the wonderful trains out west that run from Denver to Seattle winding through the Rockies and across the west.
Best to you and I look forward to reading your blog also,