Our Santa Fe Alco Train Set

Before my brother and I moved into it sometime in 1994, the downstairs bedroom was called "the playroom." It had tastelessly primary-colored wall-papered walls (with cartoony dinosaurs), a spherical light fixture with a tiny "basketball hoop" around it (it was there when we moved), and a lush blue shag carpet good for losing Legos in. And there were plenty of Legos there, piled into draws--a garbage heap and grave site for every set we'd ever built, demolished, and obliterated until it became nothing but "unorganized grabasstic pieces of ABS-plastic you-know-what."

But at some point the room went from being 50% hideous color scheme and 50% Lego bricks (which formed much the foundation, believe it or not), to 50% hideous color scheme (that didn't change) and 50% Big Honkin' Train Set. This train set was propped up on a table--a piece comprised of pure, quality, Home Depot plywood and 2X4's constructed by dad so we could work it at eye-level. I don't remember, we must have got the train for Christmas or something, but it was... the... absolute... sweetest thing a 7-year-old boy could ever dream of owning, even if they're not dreaming of it.

My brother and I were huge train freaks at that age, thanks to years of watching Thomas and Shining Time Station every morning. We had the novelty wooden "train whistle" thing and the conductor's hats (I had the blue one, he had the red one), and if there was a wooden train set in a store at the mall, that was the end of any hope our parents had of getting some shopping done. Everything with us was about trains, trains, and more trains--probably moreso for my brother than me (I was also into boats), but this one was the epitome of all that relentless adoration for all things that ran on tracks.

It was Lionel's Santa Fe Alco Diesel Freight--one of their classiest-ever electric modern trains. It had a batch of boxcars, an oil tank car, a flatbed car, and a caboose--everything you'd want. The track was one big oval, which included a shorter line you could switch it onto, and one whole side was a ramp with a bridge. Within this oval, we of course built our own Lego city, which was mainly my doing. It's not good enough to just have a nice model train set, it has to have a small village within it too, so all the little Lego people who were hopelessly outsized for the train anyway could stand back and watch it as it went around in circles with no real destination. I remember it came with little plastic people too.

Of course we crashed that thing a hundred times. We'd set the thing up to go on a certain track, and then switch the lines with the little lever thing before it made it there, just to watch it go off the rail. Dad was never happy about us doing that, but then again, it stands to reason seeing that he probably paid for it. As to what happened to it? Well, perhaps we crashed it a few too many times. Eventually we had to pack up the playroom because my sister was born and she got our room. The two of us moved in downstairs, but by then I think our whole train fandom had given way to something else entirely. To what? I don't know. The train set was just more memorable.

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