I recently attended a family get together in Vermont to celebrate my niece’s First Communion. Having 4 nieces and 2 nephews between the ages of 4 and 11, I decided I would bring some turnouts, curves, flextrack, and some equipment just in case there was time to fiddle around.
When I arrived at my brother’s, I immediately started poking around, and found a painted piece of 1/2″ plywood in the garage that was perfect in size. Much of what I brought was new…previously purchased, unopened code 80 that was never going to make it to my code 55 layout. So I started opening turnouts and began laying out a simple oval, with an emphasis on switching. In addition to 4 trailing point spurs, I worked a passing siding and a facing point spur into the design.
Since this layout was only for a weekend’s time, everything was dabbed lightly, and caulked in place. The turnouts were Atlas Custom #4s, and I needed a way to throw and hold the points from the operator’s side of the layout. After all, when your nieces’ and nephews’ arms are only 16″ long, you need to help them a bit with the reach, don’t you? The local hardware store carried a spool of 20 gauge (.88 mm) wire, and some pushpins. I taped down some straws from the kitchen to act as sleeves for the 2 wires that needed guidance to reach the far side of the layout. Initially I used only caulk to temp everything in place, but I eventually needed to anchor the turnouts with Elmer’s Glue near the throw bars. That secured them for good operation.
The pushpins, combined with the V bends in the wire, worked surprisingly well. For each turnout, I made 2 holes in the plywood to accept the pushpin. I needed to poke deep holes, though, because their arms were not strong enough to set the pin otherwise. We forget sometimes how difficult it is to be little!
The whole set up took 3-4 hours to get up and running, and we had a blast. Each child had different abilities and tendencies. Some ran prototypical starts and stops right from the beginning without my suggestion. Others plowed onward at full speed, trying to see if any of it would topple over at full throttle. (Uncle Genady had the good sense to use 11″ minimum, so they failed miserably in this regard.) I did all the uncoupling for them. They did everything else, including throwing the points, starting and stopping, switching directions, and setting out/picking up cars. They also learned how to perform a run around movement to service the facing point spur.
My youngest niece, 4 years old, was able to start and stop the train, and that was plenty of entertainment for her. The biggest challenge was staying on top of keeping her hands clean before she touched anything, but if I insisted she wash up with soap, off she went, only to return 2 minutes later with squeaky clean hands. My 2nd youngest niece, who’s First Communion was being celebrated, was a natural. With the tiniest of hands, she was able to place the trucks on the rails with no problem, and operated with precision and care. At one point she ran to the kitchen to get a small cardboard box, which we cut up to make a shipping warehouse, and a tunnel. My youngest nephew, who’s imagination is notably vivid, was avoiding the passing siding for a long stretch of time, and when I asked him about it, he calmly said “We can’t go there because they are fixing it. There was an accident on that side, and the track is damaged.” I couldn’t believe my ears. This was me 40 years ago!
And so, a fun model railroading weekend worth sharing, all because of a whimsical thought I had 30 minutes before leaving, when I looked at my packed bag and saw room for a few more items. If you have a chance to do something similar, whether it be with family or others, please do. It was a very rewarding experience.