Model Railroading Reflections
Asa Sparks

When I was a boy, my Dad bought an American Flyer train set. For some reason that did not take. Probably because it was really "his'n". But, I do remember a Pacific Locomotive, freight cars, and, I think, operating log and milk car accessories. Could be wrong on the cars. It only came out of the tunnel under his bed at Christmas.

I grew up in a Kentucky blue-grass town of 10,000. Around 1950, the local hardware store added the Strombecker line of wooden kits and my first model was their submarine. Then, Revell brought out the old-timers car series and I built every one of them. Aurora marketed the Birds-of-the-World series and we displayed all of them in our picture window.

In 1952, I went with my parents to a church conference in Kansas City. They paid me to baby sit my younger siblings while they went to business sessions. My afternoons were free. Somewhere near the Muehlebach (?) Hotel there was a basement level hobby shop. Went there every day. Discovered HO trains and Model Railroader.

The KC Streetcar line ran in front of the hotel and I fell in love. (Also, fell in love with a little redhead from Oklahoma City, but that is another story.) Rode the streetcar to the end of the line and back. Rode it again. I was 15 and had never seen streetcars before. My, my, my.

Cannot remember if I bought the Mantua 0-4-0 tank engine ($9.95) or the yellow streetcar ($8.95) first, but I took my baby-sitting money and purchased both, a three-foot strip of Atlas flextrack ($.75), and an MRC Primer pack (11.95).

Dad was really angry. Part of his argument was that I changed hobbies all the time and that I would forget all about this new one as soon we got home. That was enough to keep this teenager on track through those adolescent years.

The tank engine, track, power pack, and redhead are long gone. My little streetcar has cloned many times and they still rumble along.

Took my treasures back to Richmond, KY, when I ran my loco and streetcar back and forth on my three foot empire. Using ideas from an article in HO Model Trains, I glued two plastic parts boxes together, covered it with balsa strips, card stock shingles, added a porch and the Weston Smoking Man figure. Still have that little house.

One of the cereal companies printed towns on their boxes much like the Dover cardboard cutout books of today. I built all of them and eventually filled them with vacation bible school plaster. Made them quite solid even if the walls were all convex. My favorite was a grain elevator.

Eventually, I had a 4x8 plywood sheet supported by saw horses. Since it was not framed, my little streetcar got to follow natural grades from the middle to each end.

When I went off to college, I framed a small piece of plywood, put gliders on it and "slud" it under my military style metal dorm bunk bed. It served well until I wandered off into matrimony, where it became a scenic layout in our spare bedroom.

Since that time I have built at least a thousand mental layouts in boring meetings, in church, while driving and dreaming.

In fact, at this point in time, I am probably the #1 MMRR in the country. That is, Mental Model RailRoader. There is no way I can master the master model building skills, so I build my imaginary layouts in imaginary worlds. (As a licensed counselor, I occasionally collect rent from other people's imaginary air castles.)

There is enough "stuff" from 46 years of collecting to build many of them.

Also, I am the publisher of the Toonerville Trolley Times for fans of Fontaine Fox and his Toonerville Folks cartoon series (1915-1955). BTW, there is an unofficial web site for Toonerville sponsored by Scott McDonald. Toonerville info at

At present I have:
- a BrightLines Christmas Train in the living room for the grand kids. - an O gauge Toonerville Trolley layout display - a small HO layout featuring Hallmark Nostalgia Houses. (and wish I had the Christmas Candy Shoppe)

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Submitted 6/13/99