Wednesday, October 19, 2005

All Aboard

Some of my earliest memories are of trains. When I was five years old I got my first electric train set for Christmas. It was a Tyco H.O. scale Santa Fe freight train. From that my dad and I began model railroading. Diesel was a “sin” to my father, so we turned half of our basement into a replica of a New York Central steam era layout. Several Hudson locomotives were featured on our design along with Pullman cars, hoppers, coal tenders. My dad, a master hobbyist, built most of the buildings and scenery from scratch. Even the couplers on the cars were changed from the stock issue to the spring loaded replicas of actual train couplers.

As a kid I remember my dad and I spending hours in the basement with my … his … OUR toy. In fact, on one family vacation we got my mother and sister to pit stop with us at Steam Town USA. They never quite shared our enthusiasm.

As I got older, I too, began modeling. I stuck to kits but became fairly proficient at it. My crowning achievement was when I finally convinced my dad to go diesel when I built a late 40’s reproduction of the New York Central 20th Century Limited with streamlined passenger cars and a shark nose diesel engine at the helm. But then it was off to college. Eventually, my dad packed up our layout into dozens of carefully protected boxes and put into storage.

After college I took a job as on a Christian radio station and eventually became the Program and Music Director. One of my duties was to host a 90 minute format on Saturday mornings that featured programs for children like Adventures in Odyssey , Children’s Bible Hour, and Your Story Hour.

They called it the Sonshine Express. After a few weeks I decided to really have some fun with the whole concept. I became Conductor Marty. The format was extended to three hours and I even had my own thirty minute program called Conductor Marty’s Clubhouse. It featured a cast of characters who introduced the lesson for the week in a 3 to 5 minute sketch and then Conductor Marty taught the lesson using 5 to 6 appropriate songs. I also read kid’s letters, did live give-a-ways, and even hosted area events at shopping malls and etc.

Well, when I became a full time pastor, Conductor Marty retired. When my son Ira turned 4 years old I bought him a train set for Christmas. It was a Tyco H.O. Santa Fe freight train set. Now, I had it mounted to a quarter inch piece of ply wood and permanently mounted the track, trestle, and bridge along with a couple of buildings and some artificial trees. My wife asked, “Where are we going to put that?” I explained how it was designed to slide under his bed. There. I had passed on model railroading to my son and my involvement was done or so I thought.

One afternoon I was pawing around a junk shop and found a box of old H.O. scale model buildings and other assorted goodies. All of a sudden I was 8 years old again in the family basement. I offered the guy $50 for the entire box and took my treasures home. I explained to my wife what an awesome deal I got but she just kept repeating, “$50? You spent $50 on that???” Women just don’t appreciate the finer things in life.

Soon I emptied my home office and turned into the train room. I told the boys “we” are going to build a model railroad layout. Ira later told my wife, “Dad took my train set.”

After a difficult period in my ministry I became totally absorbed that winter in late night model railroading. Long after the family went to bed I went to work building stores, factories, and everything my early circa early 60’s layout needed from the local movie house and corner drug store to a drive in hamburger joint. I spent hundreds of hours and money to build this little world. My wife didn’t seem to mind, though. I took my boys to hole in the wall hobby shops all over Albany and Schenectady. I was reliving one of my happiest childhood memories with my own sons. I've always been fascinated by trains and even portrayed a character involved with trains but I never had any real experience with trains.

When I travel I usually go by jet but recently I rode the rails of the American rail road. I was scheduled to speak at the East Coast Baptist Conference in Brooklyn, New York. I was not looking forward to NYC traffic and the four hour drive each way. Then lightning struck… Take A Train!

I booked a round trip ticket on Amtrak for less then the price of a tank of gas. Albany to Manhattan.

I arrived at the station just as my train was leaving! The next train was scheduled to leave within an hour so I wasn’t too panicked. Then it happened… DELAYS. The Conference began that night and I was the first speaker. I needed to be in Manhattan before rush hour to ensure that I could into Brooklyn on time. Well, Amtrak had other ideas. We finally left Albany four hours later. I was scheduled now to arrive in NYC at 6:05PM and the conference started at 7:00PM. It took me nearly six hours to go two hours. That’s what happens when the government takes over a business. If they can’t keep trains on schedule do we really want to trust them with health care?

At 6:03PM I jumped off the train and up the stairs into Penn Station. WOW! It was a whole universe unto itself. Since Penn Station is also attached to Madison Square Garden. The Rangers were in town for a hockey game. Without exaggerating there must have been 20,000 people moving through that station at that time! Everyone from commuters on their way home to hockey fans to people like me wandering around thinking, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!

The conference was being held at the International Baptist Church where Dr John Morgan is the pastor. IBC is also the home of International Bible College on Long Island. He sent two college young men to retrieve me from the station. There was one problem… how to find them. A game of cell phone scavenger hunt began and I was the prize. Jose asked me for a land mark to which I responded, “I’m standing next to a Hudson News Stand.” He said he saw it and was on his way. Several minutes later he called back and asked where I was. I told him I hadn’t moved. Turns out there are 400 HUDSON NEWS STANDS in Penn Station. Finally, after 15 minutes of “Can you see me now” we met up. Out to the street and in the car.

We had 30 minutes to make the 45 minute run into Brooklyn and they had just closed the Holland Tunnel on a Home Land Security warning. Every 10 minutes one of the associate pastors called to check on our progress. In between conversing with these college chauffeurs and praying for my life to be sparred as we raced cabs, dodged pedestrians, and took short cuts known only to true New Yorkers I did get to see Ground Zero. Unbelievable. Well, we made it to the church in 27 minutes flat! I had three minutes to catch my breath, meet Dr Morgan, and thank God for keeping safe before I had to speak. The meeting was packed and God met with us in a wonderful way.

The trip back to Manhattan was a bit calmer. One of the staff members took me across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. It was breath taking to see that city all lit up. We drove by the Empire State Building and Macy’s on 34th Street where Miracle on 34th Street was filmed. Then it was on to Times Square. It was 10PM but there were thousands of people everywhere. Finally, I arrived back at the Garden as the Rangers game was letting out. Now that I had time to get my bearings I made my way to the Amtrak section of Penn Station and went for the 10:45PM Empire Express back to Albany.

As I stated I’m used to airports and flying. I’m used to people of middle eastern descent sailing through security check points while I and elderly women get frisked and checked terrorist devices. Oh, well. But I was absolutely shocked that Amtrak does absolutely NO security checks whatsoever. Apparently they think terrorists aren’t interested in flying. As I thought about that while waiting for my train it hit me. What better attack then Penn Station especially on a night when the Knicks are in the Garden. That’s over 50,000 potential casualties. Maybe HLS should enact some security measures at America’s train stations.

You can imagine my general concern when two guys got on our train at 10:45PM with no tickets and no ID after we were underway! Finally they bought tickets over the phone but that still didn’t make me feel any safer.

I arrived in Albany at 1:50AM and home by dark thirty. All in all it was a long but very productive day. I guess Conductor Marty will stick to model railroading. Riding the rails may make wonderful and nostalgic lyrics to great Americana songs but flying is definitely for me.


Blogger Justin said...

I like trains too!

I used to take the Amtrak from Forth Worth to Gainesville TX on the weekends, when I was a youth pastor. As much as I enjoyed riding Amtrak, it always seemed so wasteful and inefficient.

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