Model and toy trains have fascinated adults and children since the early 1900’s. While most of today’s kids spend much of their time playing videos games and with toys that have video screens, trains are still enjoyed and played with kids of all ages. I received my first Lionel train when I was 4 years old and it was always setup under the Christmas tree throughout my youth. Each year the train would stay up a few weeks longer and grow with the addition of more track, train cars, engines, model buildings, and tunnels made from blocks and boxes. Eventually the train was setup and played with nearly year-round.
As a kid trains provided many hours of entertainment and play time; some in an imaginary world of the town created on our living room floor, but most was in planning and building the set which included reading lots model railroad books and magazines. Little did I know that play time included a lot of learning; how mechanical machines and electricity works, how buildings are constructed, how to draw simple building plans, and the value of money. All these things are the foundation of what I now do at IDEAS.
My love of model trains has been passed on to each of my three children and now grandchildren. Over the years they all have their own collection of engines, cars and track. Our granddaughters were playing with trains before they had Barbie dolls. Setting up Lionel trains under our Christmas tree is one of the few things we still do together at Christmas. All this makes me wonder why model trains are considered old fashion.
I believe hands on tactile play with physical toys is making a comeback. As many children now spend much of their time playing on mobile devices or things with video screens they find playing with toys like model trains intriguing and interesting. Attendance at train shows is starting to pickup again. Model train manufactures like Lionel, MTH, LGB and Bachman are releasing wireless remote controls and mobile apps to operate trains and many accessories. For model railroading to grow manufactures will need to emphasize joys of play in the real world while enabling users to connect through the latest technologies.
At our house the model trains have moved from something that is played with on a table and the floor to the back yard with a garden railroad. For me it’s the excitement of being a kid again; learning, planning, building and playing with trains. But now the track base, tunnels and mountains are made with wood and cement instead of boxes and blocks. It’s a never-ending family project that we all enjoy working on and playing with together.
Video of our backyard garden railroad Link https://youtu.be/1T3PBkkrFQo