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Slightly Corked

Model trains are the way to go

My best ideas occur around 2:30 am, usually in the environs of a toilet. For whatever reason, my brain is exceptionally lucid at that hour and in that venue. (The smell maybe?) And unlike many people, I remember these nocturnal gems, just in case you’re wondering where this idea came from

In my previous column I was a little hard on the “Save the Budd Car” crowd, the group that wants to lavish millions of dollars on the E&N railroad for a leisurely trip to Victoria, just in case anyone needs reminding why the automobile was invented.

You might have got the idea from reading that last article that I don’t like trains. Nothing could be farther from the truth, I love trains. Trains are good. And yes they can, if properly employed, be used to attract perceptive American visitors, who, resplendent in matching sun visors and fanny packs, will stare up at the Bastion, scratch their bald spots, and go, “That’s one humdinger of a porta potty you got there.”

Quite simply, the Island Corridor crew is backing the wrong train. Why use a real train to attract tourists, when a model train will suffice? Model trains are far more fun and way less hassle. Take derailments for example. A real train goes off the track and it’s national news. A model train suffers a derailment, it’s, “Oops!” And you reach over and fix it.

And cheaper. It’s way cheaper. A spectacular Lionel O gauge layout could be built for as little as half a million bucks, less if our steering committee doesn’t order the wine package at lunch. This is chump change for a railway magnate, a tune up for a Budd car.

First we need a location. What better than the newly renovated train station. As to their existing tenant, Fibber McGees, they’ll have to go. We’ll strike at the crack of dawn, when restaurateurs are at their lowest ebb, and cart them off North of town where they can better be appreciated. If a few kegs of beer go missing in the process, don’t be surprised. We turn the place into a train store with an immense Lionel layout where tourists can buy trains —and this is the important part– for a small fee, run the trains themselves.

Dumb idea? Not really. My dentist paid good money to push a pile of dirt around with a D9 Cat; another friend dropped significant coin to drive a Ferrari on a track. Ten or twenty bucks to run trains is nothing.

Plus there’s a celebrity aspect. When celebrities aren’t booking blueberry enemas, or naming their kid Sage Moonblood, they have hobbies. Frank Sinatra had a million dollar train collection, now owned by Jimmy Pattison. Rod Stewart’s layout measures 125 feet by 23 feet, and Neil Young actually owned part of the Lionel Company. He also helped them develop hand held controls and realistic train sounds, which are not only matched to the speed of the train but also include authentic communication between train and control tower.

Example follows:

TRAIN: This is outbound 561, call name Big Unit, still waiting on those donuts. Over.

CONTROL TOWER; Er, donuts?

But let’s back up a bit. This is a little embarrassing, but I’m 67 years old and still want a model train. I realize many men pass through the train stage before they reach my age, but they would be the guys who had a Lionel train as kids. I had a much cheaper brand X set, a cartoonish caricature made out of tin. Any more unrealistic and it could have been a burrito with windows painted on the side.

Not much is known about the model train bug, but it is believed to be like the cold sore virus. It can go dormant for years then unexpectedly, just when you think you’ve finally reached adulthood, pop up. The first time this happened I was 25 and it was Christmas. I bought a small train set for my 5 and 7 year- old nieces, justifying the purchase by thinking, “This is exactly what they need at this stage of development.” You see, up until then, they thought that a train was Barbie’s cape. It was around that time they started to associate the word weird with uncle.

The problem is space. Six Lionel cars and an engine run 8 to 10 feet. The only room long enough for that length of train would be the living room. How was I going to explain to the cat his new name would be Choo-choo, and he’d be losing his couch?

Then there’s the money issue. Who wants a cheesy starter set? I want the finely detailed stuff, where diesel engines start at $500 and steam engines can go up to $2400, and that’s just for the engine. Factor in the cars, tracks, transformer, switches, and it gets expensive. And that’s before the marriage counselor and psychiatrist bills start rolling in. But if we had a clubhouse…

This is why E&N supporters should scale back to O scale, Lionel size. If things work out there, we’ll get them a real size caboose to play with, see if you make a profit on that. In the mean time, rest assured that there are men out there standing in front of their toilets at 2:30 in the morning, lucid of mind, with seat in the up position, lending their support.

If you’re still unconvinced, think of the publicity. I can see the headlines now: COMMUNITY SPENDS 500 GRAND ON TOYS. MAYOR UNDER INVESTIGATION. I mean, this side of Rob Ford, you just can’t buy this kind of publicity. Some will come to see the trains; others to see the nutballs who funded it.

And speaking of trains, something you should order by the trainload is Pasqua Valpolicella Villa Borghetti. A regular $12 red, now on sale for $10, that drinks like $18. Available by the case only. Product number 131003.

Delbert Horrocks is a co-proprietor at Mahle House Restaurant. Follow him at


About the author: Angie