My First Toys

“My First Toys”

I pushed the little car forward and the mechanism inside activated and it continued driving on its own. And came to a stop under the coffee table. I screamed with delight.

That is my first childhood memory. And it was my entry into childhood toys.

Next on my wish list, at age eight, was an electric train set. The Eaton’s Catalogue was opened to the train page every day for weeks, while knowing that in Depression Saskatchewan, there was no hope that Christmas would surprise me with my impossible dream. I kept on gazing at the pictures of the four sets on display on the two facing pages. They were shown in full color with the face of a happy boy touching the steam engine. I was addicted to the pictures, to the dream of the steam train riding on the miniature rails.

We lived a quarter of a mile from the CPR mainline and we often ran to the tracks to wave to the engineers and the man in the red caboose at the end of the long train that carried oil in huge round cars, farm equipment on flat cars and coal in open box cars. And then there were the mystery box cars with lettering of Canadian railway companies, and foreign, American names. We imagined where the trains were coming from and where they were headed, but we could only picture as far as the next town in either direction. It was only when the whole family moved to Vancouver that the horizons grew to uncounted miles.

By prearrangement with my mother, I visited a grade three classmate after school. It was late Autumn and he lived south of the tracks. When his mother lit the kerosene oil lamp it became clear that evening was approaching quickly. By the time I got to the CPR tracks it was pitch dark. I stopped at the edge of the gravel ballast, looked both ways very carefully, saw no light. Listened for a whistle and the sound of a train and heard nothing. I quickly felt my way across the track, and just as I sensed the grass on the other side of the ballast, the steam engine rushed by. I felt the wind of it. Paralyzed by fear, I was able to turn around, saw nothing but inky blackness. When the noise of the train had passed, I found my way home by looking for the light of kerosine lamps at the Thiessen house, then at our welcoming dining room windows. Dreams and nightmares followed, only to be startled awake just before the train hit.

That year, at age eight, Christmas brought an exciting surprize. I unwrapped a train set. It was spring driven, but it was a train, and it rode on tracks. It made no difference. The joy was boundless.

Many years later when our children were almost grown up, Lillian gave me an electric train set for Christmas. It took only a few months for me to find George’s, a local model train store within walking distance of the office, and the rail line grew to fill a ping pong table with trees, and hills, a tunnel and towns. New trains were added with separate switches for each one.

My childhood dream came true.

Later, with my five-year-old grandson showing interest, I moved the train set to Whitepines of Northumberland Tree Farm, and it entertained the next generation.

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