My earliest memory of trains is a Lionel Scout set on a piece of plywood. I would have been three or four. The set had a 2-4-2 diecast locomotive with smoke. The tender was stamped metal. A Baby Ruth reefer, a Lionel gondola, and a Lionel caboose made the consist. The Scout set had couplers which were different from other Lionel equipment, making it difficult through the years to add on.
The train board was suspended from the rafters in the garage on four perfectly spaced hooks. I remember my father getting it down when he was home, and my mother and a neighbor getting it down when all the husbands were at sea. In the house it laid on the floor between a rocking chair and the dining room table, creating a shaded nook perfect for hours of privacy shrouded journeys.
In the same time frame, my father took me to see the Wasp, CV-18, when she was home at Mayport Naval Station. As we walked along the pier, I saw the first switch I can recall. I couldn't stop gazing at the gracefully sweeping lines of gleaming steel. I looked at the convergence of the frog and the tapered angles of the points, and was fascinated. I wanted to linger, but we were there on some mission aboard the ship, and so hurried on.
I had the Golden Book in which Donald Duck built a railroad in his yard, and it was plagued by problems with Chip 'n Dale. The cover leafs were overhead drawings of the track plan, which I traced for hours as I explored different routes again and again.
In grade school I read and reread The Big Book of Trains. The diagram of a freight yard was to good to be true.
The Lionel layout grew to a four by eight empire, still housed in the rafters. It then resided on saw horses in the garage when it was down.
At the beginning of the seventh grade I got my first HO, a Rivarossi set. The 0-4-0 dockside was a jewel. It had full valve gear, and a smooth running motor with five ball bearings on each end of the shaft. Again, a reefer, a gondola, and a caboose. This time, a four by four board under my bed. I experimented with scratch building, a railroad car, a building, and an LCI.
At this point I began to encounter mild disapproval from adults and peers. My parents were not critical, but other adults started the "I thought you would outgrow that" line of conversation. My peer group rode me about "playing with trains". I learned to shut up about it, but continued my pursuit.
In my junior year of high school, the JAX NAVY model railroad club at NAS Jacksonville moved into building 504 where my Civil Air Patrol squadron met weekly. Holy crap!! Adults do this too? I enjoyed two happy years, then left home for college.
After graduation I resumed my hobby. I joined the Columbus Model Railroad Club in Ohio, and for several years belonged to the NMRA.
A signature event after my return to Florida was meeting Len Zitnik at a train show. After speaking to him at several shows, the subject of the Tampa Bay Model Railroad club came up, and the rest, as they say, is history. It is a privilege to belong to a talented cast of characters such as we have here.
Which brings me to the point of this ramble (Were you beginning to wonder?). How many people are out there on their own trying to move ahead into the hobby? How many have not looked into clubs because they have heard of high initiation fees? Most importantly, how many young people are avoiding scorn by keeping their mouth shut about their interest in trains, and model trains. How can we gather in the strays and help them enjoy the same grand dream we all have experienced?