In Sweden riding the ghost train of Christmas past

Train set poster


Around the same time I moved to Sweden I discovered myself a late in life closeted model train lover.

As they say in Swedish, it’s a long saga. In Sweden model train starter set cost anywhere from 3000 to 5000 Kr. As man of moderate means I’m left to either go Breaking Bad or get a kick starter campaign in order to afford a simple electric train set.

Rather I’m left to accept my expat reality that there might never be a model train set running around our Christmas tree in our Swedish home.

But a guy can dream and remember and visit the ghosts of train sets of Christmas past. My only salvageable happy childhood Christmas memories center on the construction, enjoyment and sometimes the destruction of our model train set.

Every Christmas my brothers and I drug out the family train set which included Lionel 0 gauge trains, a 4 by 8 foot slab of plywood painted green with the track permanently attached and several plastic scale model buildings.

This process became affectionately known as ‘setting up the platform’.

When I began researching blogging the phrase ‘building your platform’ repeatedly popped up and led me to wonder what setting up a model train set during Christmas had to do with blogging.

For me assembling our Plasticville model buildings and arranged them on this platform creating our own miniature version of Brigadoon remained the favorite part.

My brother Kevin enjoyed firing the rockets from the 1950s era missile car at the Plasticville hospital.

Plasticville produced by Bachmann Bros., offered an assortment a snap-together model buildings ranging from a post office to an airport and everything in between. These snap-together buildings required no glue or skills for that matter. The ‘no skill required’ aspect worked to the strength of my weaknesses as most of my model building ended with tragically flawed results. If the American Army had fought the Nazis with the tanks I produced we’d all be speaking German now.

To her credit my mother purged 90% of my childhood stuff yet some unknown reason a box containing our Plasticville buildings was spared.

She proudly presented it to me as a ‘loan only’ during one of my Christmas visits with my family in Philadelphia.

The questions “ Loan? Why? Do they need to be returned to the Smithsonian Museum later?” didn’t occur until later as I was overjoyed to be reacquainted with my long lost treasures.

As I enthusiastically began to assemble them I noticed the grim reality that not one building was actually complete.

Each lacked crucial parts, a wall, a roof or even worse parts were broken in half, a result of overaggressive play by my brothers and myself. The hospital, demolished after years of being targeted by the military rocket freight car each year, was simply unsalvageable. In an attempt to reclaim my memories I began to cobbled together various hybrid buildings creating Frankenstein-like structures. The remaining buildings I simply staged with the missing or derelict parts facing the wall.

As I taped, glued and blue tacked together the buildings the fact that my mother never rented a storage space to house these antique treasures comforted me. Because they were in a word- CRAP- and a mint condition replacement could be easily purchased for about 25 USD at the local model train shop.

If my budget allowed I would have preferred to as the only display layouts these allowed one to possibly create were a rundown shantytown, an abandoned ghost town, a post-natural disaster area or the obvious zombie apocalypse village.

Now if Plasticville sold a FEMA camp set with National Guard units, tents, sandbags, emergency centers and looters then I might have been able to pull the whole thing together. But these toys, fragile and old like my memories, were ‘ruined’ due to my father’s permissive lackadaisical parenting style.

Years later he commented that he allowed us to so aggressively play with them because ‘you were having fun.’

As I searched the box for the hospital’s parts I recalled the insane joy my brother Kevin experienced firing the missile at it year after year. I also recalled my horror witnessing the destruction yet as I looked at the tired remains of buildings I realize the hospital can be replaced.

The memories, however, are forever.

Life is short, childhood even shorter; toys are meant to be played with.

Play hard.

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