Running Trains at Twilight, in My Driveway, During a Pandemic, With Neighbors Watching

It’s been a weird summer. Society has been gradually opening back up, but large gatherings are still taboo, we’re all wearing masks when we’re out in public, and train-club meetings remain on Zoom. I’m starting to miss those things we used to call “events.” Because the recession came knocking at our shop, and slashed our workload, I now have four-day weekends to fill. The COVID-19 Emergency Railroad has been coming out a lot lately.

Immediately after the first session, I milled up a few more straight roadbed panels to lengthen the railroad. I glued backing paper—the heavy brown stuff you find on the underside of a laminated table top—across the ends of all the panels. My boss suggested the idea during lunchtime. It does seem to help prevent the pocket screws from splitting the MDF. To fill the extra length, I added a V15 station-track set and additional straight track. This gives the passenger trains more room to stretch their legs. It’s always passenger trains now. I ran a freight train once, but it didn’t look nearly as good in the dark as the Zephyr does. The run is long enough to put a third train on one of the loops, so long as I monitor the speeds. Trains need social distancing, too.

The underside of a roadbed panel, showing the coffee-can groove and the backing paper laminated to the end.

I share a double-width driveway with my neighbor. He was about to light up his backyard fire pit one night, but saw me setting up the railroad, and instead dragged a lawn chair to his side of the driveway. We watched trains and chatted through the evening. The next time, he invited a friend of his, grilled up some hot dogs, and offered me a hard cider. On the most recent occasion, I baked some hot-dog buns, he grilled brats and corn-on-the-cob. Somebody brought a garden-fresh tomato and basil salad, and a homegrown watermelon. We sat around the railroad in widely-spaced chairs until 10 o’clock. It’s become a socially-responsible mini block party.

Sure, we could do this without a pandemic raging, but will we? I’d like to think that when the crisis is finally over, I’ll keep setting up the railroad on clear summer evenings, and share it with people around me. When that day comes, though, there will be other things once again competing for my attention. We’ll have to see.