Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hope in Destruction

For the past 7 years I have lived, worked, loved, laughed, cried, made friends, lost friends and basically poured my heart and soul into my work at the Children's Museum of Virginia as the Train Technician for the Lancaster Antique Train and Toy Collection. My office was my cave, my shelter, my safe harbor for any and all storms Life and Work have been able to throw at me.
Now, it is non existent. Gone. Poof. Past Tense. The place where I was most comfortable and knew that only a handful of people in the World would be able to come in and make me feel like an imbecile when it comes to my knowledge of the job I was lucky enough to get is about as real as a four-toed-one-eyed-french fry stealing-cow eating-gun toting-3 horned-red and blue striped-flying-land locked-Norwegian Ridge Backed Dragon.
I have a lot of great memories there. I met some of the greatest kids in the Tidewater area, I gave lectures to classes, I learned from not just my peers in the model train industry but from almost every child who walked into my train room with wide-eyed wonder and amazement. I was put in the position to host one of the largest train meetings of a National Toy Train Collectors Society. Congressional Senators and NFL Superstars came to see me, yes, they called me and requested to meet ME. Insanity. It was a heady time filled with rowdy and rambunctious behavior by grown men reliving their childhood dreams by proxy through my job. But you know what? While all that was amazing and almost unbelievable those memories pale in comparison to four kids that were called "Skips' Train Kids".
I am not going to go give their names here in a public forum such as this but these four little guys meant more to me than anything else. Every time I saw one of them enter the Trainroom I would stop whatever it was I was doing and give them my complete and undivided attention. Every one of them still can't understand why we are closed even temporarily for the expansion and improvement of the new Museum. Every one of them felt as if they would one day replace me as the "Trainman". That is what they call me...Trainman. That is what is on my license plate too. It is not a name I gave myself it is how those four kids saw me. It is for them and others like them out in the world today and in the future that I try to do my best everyday. They see the trains as an amazing technological and magical mode of transportation through space, time and life. Two of these little gurus of a simpler bygone era don't really have the capacity to talk but we were still able to communicate through the interaction of toy trains. One of the boys would only be still when he was watching the trains move and screamed at the top of his lungs when it was time to shut the museum down for the day. The last one, he knows more about trains than I probably ever will.
Today I stood in the empty space that once was my office and my train room. Over 5,000 square feet of trains display cases and shelves, four operational train layouts with fourteen separate operation tracks in three different gauges...GONE. Dust. I felt sadness deep in my soul for what the room once represented but that sorrow did not even come near the weight of responsibility that I have when I once again have to explain to these Train Savants why they can't see the trains for another year. Why "their" Trainman is now sequestered to a 20 square foot cubicle with no trains or toys on display. With no trains to run. No toys to play with. No Hudson's, Big Boy's, Shay's, GG-1's, SW-1500's, Prairie's, 10 Wheelers, J-class Northerns, Little Joe's, EP-5's....but I digress, I am sure that extremely few of you even know what I just said or even care. They knew, those four little guys knew...They knew and they cared. They loved that room and it was their Safe Harbor as well.
I have experienced a lot in the Trainroom but nothing has been as worthwhile as those golden moments that I was able to spend with them. I was reminded of that today too. As I was walking to my car I saw one of my "Train Kids". He was with his grandmother and she was trying to explain why the trains were not on display and why there where giant holes in the walls of where the museum is. Why there were no trains anywhere for the public to see. Why he could not turn on the trains and watch them run and cry out in amazement and wonder when the horns and bells started to ring and clang. They called out to me. I smiled at them as they approached me. I knelt down and talked to him. I told him everything his grandmother had been trying to tell him. I explained that in just a few short months there would be something NEW and SHINY for him to play with. I told them both we were going to set up a temporary train exhibit at another museum. And all he wanted to know was if the Orient Express was ok. Was it safe? Where is it? Can he see it? Will it be back in the new museum. He was worried. He needed assurance. He needed the safety of the Trainroom. He needed his magic. I tried my best to give it to him.
After 10 minutes of answering all his questions and those of his grandmother, he calmed down. Grandma thanked me, he hugged me. He said he would see me soon and I felt a lump grow in my throat. We said our goodbyes quickly. Grandma knew by looking at me I was having a tough time. She knew I was on the verge of a breakdown right there on Middle Street. She knew just by looking into my eyes as they started to cloud up that her grandson was as just as important to me as the trains. We said our goodbyes quickly and went in opposite directions.
I am sure we will see each other too. I am sure that all four of the "Train Kids" will be around for a long time and they will always go to the top of my Importance List every day. I can't wait for that day too.


  1. It's only 6:30 in the morning and now I'm bawling my eyes out! -Tanya

  2. That was great, Skip... it really got to me. I can't wait for my nephew Peter to meet you! He may not be able to tell you how he feels about the trains in words, but believe me, you'll know. (:

  3. Thanks guys I always love feeback. I did not intend to make anyone cry but I suppose it is ok. I will try to find something funny to write about. hmmmm....thinking....