Tuesday, May 31, 2016


At about age four, Santa gave my brother and me trains for Christmas.  They were S-gauge Gilbert American Flyers: bigger than HO scale but smaller than the more popular Lionel, and with two rails instead of Lionel’s three, more realistic.

I distinctly remember my train coursing around the Christmas tree: a Union Pacific switcher followed by a brown box car, a flat car with stakes so that it could hold to-scale sections of pipe, and a little red caboose that my tonally challenged mother sang about.

Within a couple of years, we moved north from the LA suburb of Altadena to a five acre “spread” along a creek in Butte County that included a grove of almond trees.  Lost in that transition were some elements of the American Flyer train set including those replica pipes.

My flat car needed new cargo – you know – freight.

In those days, our little farmhouse’s laundry room contained a Kenmore washer, but for drying things, Mom relied on the old fashioned, tried-and-true, solar powered clothesline out back.  On laundry days when it rained or was foggy, she set up a drying rack back porch.  It was made of half-inch dowels and 1x2s and it opened sort of like an accordion. 

But it didn’t rain all that much, so for most of its life, the rack sat on its end collapsed next to the Kenmore.

Just short of the orchard, in a long, narrow structure behind the house, Dad had a shop, a tool shed and a vacant space he converted into a train room for his sons.  A twelve-inch wide shelf skirted the entire interior.  We laid S-gauge track and could spend hours watching our trains chug around the rectangle.  There was one problem, however.

My flat car still needed freight.

One sunny day, while Mom was off to Harvey’s Market, the neighborhood mom ‘n’ pop, or a PTA meeting or something, I had little else to do with my time but watch my train do its circuit with the flat car rolling around and around naked.  It occurred to a seven-year-old me that some half-inch dowels, cut to the correct length would make a dandy load for that empty freight car.  By this age, I could boost myself up onto Dad’s workbench and grab his prized Disston-Porter hand saw, and the drying rack proved not so cumbersome that I couldn’t haul it out to the shop.

Finally, and by my own hand, my flat car had its freight.

About a week-and-a-half later, it rained on laundry day.


Note:  Here’s the locomotive.

And for a view of some of the freight cars supplied by Gilbert for their American Flyer toy trains check out: http://www.thegilbertgallery.org/Freight%20Gallery/freight_gallery.html

© 2016
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. This made me chuckle. Did you really use the dowels from your mom's laundry rack? I guess if they weren't being used you wouldn't have known they might, just might, be off limits.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. My mother brung up a genius, I'll tell you what...