For the record, the caboose in the photo is not the American Flyer 806 I received as part of my first train set, fifty years ago today. I still have that one, but after a series of accidents, crude repairs, and ill-considered modifications, it’s not something I care to show to people. I picked up this one at a show some years ago, and it’s identical to what the original one looked like back then.
I’m not sure if that first train set was wrapped; it just went under the tree, as trains are supposed to on Christmas morning. The entire set was second-hand, which didn’t matter. It wasn’t even really a set—just a collection of low-end American Flyer rolling stock that Dad already had on hand. The caboose was the only piece from the earlier, 3-digit era, and it’s the “economy” model. The locomotive and the two freight cars were 5-digit items, produced during American Flyer’s downward spiral into oblivion.
You could argue that Dad was fobbing the cheap stuff on me. By then he had a sizeable AF collection, which included some of their best products. Bear in mind, this was back in the days when toy-train collecting was a niche activity. The collector community was small and informal. There were no internet forums. There wasn’t even a price guide. Dad collected this stuff just because he loved it. He wanted to make sure, before gifting better items, that I loved it too.
I did. And I still do.