On Christmas morning, Samantha and I were awoken at sunrise. Not by a child jumping on the bed or excited shouts coming from downstairs (the only other person in the house being Samantha’s visiting mother down the hall) but by Sam’s iPhone. When she answered it, the darkened bedroom was greeted with a bright Merry Christmas and the aforementioned excited shouting children 1,300 miles away.
I made coffee while Sam and her Mom sat on the couch, enjoying Christmas with their family back in New York with the help of FaceTime. It was a somewhat surreal but altogether lovely way to bring everyone together. Our local Christmas celebration wouldn’t take place until evening, as my brother Tyler had to work. My mom arrived at noon and we watched old family movies together. By the time my brother arrived at 5:00 PM, we were all chomping at the bit to eat and exchange presents.
Our celebration was wonderful. Though it lacked the kinetic energy we’d witnessed on the east coast, it was full of thoughtfulness and kindness. I’m not writing here to talk about any new gifts, though, but to talk about an old gift that was had been unopened for nearly three decades.
In 1990, Tyler and I received a train set for Christmas. It had been given to Dad by Procter & Gamble, the consumer goods company. That year they’d offered the set as a premium for buying their various products for grocery stores, which is exactly what Dad did as the head buyer for local chain Price Mart. In fact, here’s a little bit about the specific limited edition train set we set up that morning twenty-seven years ago:
“In September of 1989…Procter & Gamble (P&G), one of the biggest and most successful consumer goods companies in the world, opened a new era of business for K-Line. […] P&G approached K-Line with the idea for an innovative, premium incentive to reward grocery stores who purchased a certain amount of P&G products. P&G commissioned K-Line to produce a train set decorated with the names and logos of certain P&G products. In order to produce all the K-2090 sets, the K-line facility at Chapel Hill operated 3-shifts per day, six days a week and rented even more production space in nearby warehouses.”
Dad was actually given TWO sets that year; one we set up immediately (Dad seemed to enjoy it more than we did) and the other we Put Up For Good. The set we played with diminished over the years for all the reasons you’d expect with two young boys & so many life changes. The only evidence I’ve had that it ever existed in the first place is an old home movie and a Jif Peanut Butter car that sits in my bookshelf, a discovery from Dad’s apartment after he died in 2011.
I certainly thought the second, whole set was long gone. That is, until last week. I learned that Tyler still had the second train set, still unopened. He’d carted from place to place for years and was considering selling it. With great care, I urged him to do no such thing…in fact, he could bring it over on Christmas and we could set it up together. Which is exactly what we did.
After dinner and gifts, Tyler and I sat on the floor in my den and assembled the track. I wired the transformer while he carefully took the cars out of their boxes. Sam, our mothers, Tyler, and I all held our breath when I finally flipped the switch. After 27 years of troubled storage, the O-Gauge train set came to life. I couldn’t have stopped smiling if I’d tried.
The train consists of seven cars: the locomotive branded for Associated Wholesale Grocers, a boxcar branded for Duncan Hines Cake Mix, a Sunny Delight tanker, two hopper cars (branded for Folgers Coffee & Jif Peanut Butter), a flat car for hauling a trailer, and a Crisco Shortening caboose.
The Puritan Oil trailer, which sat on the flat car, was damaged. The metal roof was oddly warped and the bit that fastens to the flat car was broken. I’m going to have to find a local hobby shop and see if anything can be done to save it. For now, though, this irreplaceable piece of family history is in safe hands. It will be part of a new Martin tradition: next year, I hope to have a few buildings to go along with it.