I was an aficionado of HO model trains as a kid. I continued that horrendous fixation with 1/78th scale worlds long into my extended juvenile immaturity (I was an unmarried teacher of middle school students until 1995.) Even after I was married, my wife allowed me, to a very limited degree, to continue to be a train man.
I spent a good deal of time over the years building building plastic model kits of buildings, painting and repainting plaster model buildings, and collecting engines, rolling stock, and trackside details. Painting little 1/78th scale people is definitely an exercise for steady hands and a zen-like, highly focused mind.
But that all reached an impasse when we moved to the Dallas area. I had to tear down my train layout, box up my trains, and put everything on hold until I had another place to build and create my HO model-train world. So, while it was all boxed up and transported to first, a house that we rented from my brother-in-law, and then a house that we bought, it got shifted around and stacked inappropriately, and grandma put some really heavy items on top to crush and mangle my treasures. It also spent a night outside in the rain when my brother-in-law’s water heater had to be replaced in the garage where everything was stored. I was not a happy camper for a while.
Now, a decade later, I am still taking the tiny items and trying to glue the pieces back together. I have basically given up trying to get the trains to run again. But I can use the bits and pieces of Toonerville to make pictures like these. It makes the art-parts of my psyche and soul a little happier.
Old number 99 had to have the front part where the headlamp is located reattached and restored. It gave me something to do this weekend while I was down with a bad back and breathing difficulties. It would be neat to put the train table back together and get things set up once again, but there is no space, and no unlimited funds, and less and less time. So for now, the train man comes back to me to rebuild in photographs and in my imagination.
I have had a practically life-long fascination with trains. Where did that come from? It came from a Methodist minister who once upon a time saved my life.
Reverend Louis Aiken (in the cowboy hat) was a lover of HO model trains, as well as country music… and, of course, God.
My best friend growing up was a PK, a preacher’s kid. And as we hung out and played games and got into imaginatively horrible trouble, we invariably wound up in the basement of the parsonage where his father kept his HO train layout. I learned lessons of life in that basement in more than one way. I have to explain all of that somewhere down line. But for now, I have to limit the topic to what I learned about trains. They are a link to our past. They are everywhere. And they do far more for us than merely make us cuss while sitting and endlessly waiting at the railroad crossing.
When visiting Dows, we absolutely had to stop and take pictures at the train station.
This is, by my best guess, an SD40 locomotive parked at the restored train station in Dows, Iowa.
Spotting trains to take pictures of, gawk at, and totally make cow-eyes over has become a way of life to me. When visiting Iowa, especially Mason City, Iowa, we always have to stop at the engine on display in East Park.
When I was a kid, this old iron horse was not fenced in to protect it from kids, weather, and other destructive forces. Now, however, it is fully restored and given its own roof. This is a 2-8-2 steam engine with two little wheels in front, eight big wheels in the middle, and two little wheels at the back (not counting wheels on the coal tender). I have ridden on trains pulled by such a behemoth. I love to watch the monkey gears grind on the sides of the wheels forcing steam power into the surge down the tracks. And I can’t help being a total train nut. Of course I don’t deny being more than one kind of nut. But being a mixed nut is another post for another day.
The Toonerville Post Office and Bert Buchanan’s Toy Store.
Toonerville is not only a wonderful cartoon place created by Fontaine Fox in the 1930’s, but the name of the town that inhabited my HO Train Layout when I lived in South Texas and had the Trolley actually running nearly on time. The train layout has not been restored to working condition for over a decade now. The buildings which I mostly built from kits or bought as plaster or ceramic sculptures and repainted have been sitting on bookshelves in all that time. I still have delusions of rebuilding the train set in the garage, but it is becoming increasingly less and less likely as time goes on and my working parts continue to stiffen up and stop working. So, what will I do with Toonerville?
Wilma Wortle waits on the station platform for her train at the Toonerville Train station. I built this kit in the 1970’s, hence the accumulations of dust bunnies.
Loew’s Theater has been awaiting the start of The African Queen for more than twenty years.
Main Street Toonerville at 2:25 in the afternoon. Or is it three? The courthouse clock is often slow.
Grandma Wortle who controls all the money in the family likes to park her car near the eggplant house when she visit’s Al’s General Store.
But I may yet have found a way to put Toonerville back together through computer-assisted artsy craftsy endeavors.
A two-shot of Bill Freen’s house and Slappy Coogan’s place on the photo set to start production.
Bill Freen’s house lit up with newfangled electricical. (and I do believe that is the way Bill spells it all good and proper.)
Bill Freen’s house cut out in the paint program.
So I can make composite pictures of Toonerville with realistic photo-shopped backgrounds. Now, I know only goofy old artsy fartsy geeks like me get excited about doofy little things like this, but my flabber is completely gasted with the possibilities.
Bill Freen’s house at sunset… (but I don’t get why there’s snow on the roof when the grass is so green?)
Mm-hmm, Toonerville is a town I founded and built. I know that sounds strange, but I can explain. It used to be my HO model train layout. It used to be, when I owned a house in Cotulla, Texas, I had room for a four by twelve sheet of plywood on which to lay track, wire it up, build scenery, and run my model trains (and two different versions of the Toonerville Trolley).
Toonerville is named after Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Folks comic strip that appeared in newspapers from 1915 until the 1950’s. A book of Fox’s collected Toonerville cartoons became my most prized possession during my college days, the second half of the 1970’s. More than just a favorite book, it became my religion, my Bible, influencing not only my art style and my cartoon stories, but my very perception of small town life, the only life I knew from 1956 to 1975.
When we moved from South Texas to the Dallas area in 2004, my city of Toonerville had to be torn down, boxed up, and transported. Sadly, it never got set up as an HO train layout again. Now it is relegated to the tops of three bookcases. In addition to train engines that mostly still run (though I am guessing, not basing that on experiment), it includes model houses and city buildings that I put together myself and painted, plaster buildings that I have painted, and other nick-knack-shelf buildings of approximately the right size that I have re-painted (including re-painted Christmas, Easter, and Halloween ornaments, plus one house-shaped candle that my sister-in-law gave me). Oh, yes, you can plainly see the portions of my Pez dispenser collection that sit grumpily amid the streets of Toonerville.