A Production of The Folk Life ( Inc. 1976)
John McLaughlin and Jamie Downs, Editors


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The Folk Life

JP Jones on Trains

Here's my say about the Big Boys:

When i was a kid with model trains in the basement, i'd read Model Railroader magazine and look at the pictures of the brass locomotives on the inside of the last page.

They were incredibly beautiful detailed models made in Asia somehwere-- and of course the prices were completely out of my range. The Big Boys had the big price tag, too.

i kept jars in an old cabinet down in the cellar where i would drop change from time to time. One of the jars was labeled "locos"-- i wanted one so bad.

i finally bought a tiny switcher made of cast white metal-- expensive for me and not even close to the brass ones, but cherished nevertheless.

John Allen's Gorre & Daphetid was the Holy Grail of model railroads for me. He had a couple, at least, of the huge articulated locos all painted and weathered to look like the real thing chugging around the impossibly vertical mountains of his model railroad empire. He spent his whole life constructing that miniature world, and i still am not able to put into words the longing i felt, and still feel, when looking at his photos. A lot of children feel that.

When i was about 5 or so i found a toy engine and some track in a garbage pail. i brought them home, set them on the floor of my room with some moss and rocks from the back yard, and would lie with my head on the floor to get the perspective right.

Even younger, i remember the Lionel trains my father would put in the window of his hardware store in Wakefield, RI, at Christmas. To this day the sight of the railroad lines running through a landscape can release tears.

So much has been written by railfans, not to mention foksingers, about the impact of the heritage and legacy of trains on the American psyche. The power, the melancholy, the damage they did. Stranded one time a long while ago in some little backwater town in Colorado during a snow blizzard, i sat in a coffee shop that was filling with the men of the local yard crew walking slowly up the street in their overalls and caps swinging a luinchpail, maybe a lantern no longer lit.

If i wasn't alive in another incarnation as one of them, i should be.


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