Hello readers! I am realizing as I write this that while the Onondaga Cutoff itself has been operating for 10 years, that this blog is suddenly more than 10 years old too - another verification of the lasting power that this hobby has. I feel like we still have so much to do!
Some recent photo work for Lionel Strang's 'A Modelerslife' Podcast has helped me to take a pause this week and reflect over all that time gone by. The layout as regular readers know is based in 1994, a year full of wonder and yet at the same time full of pending darkness for me personally. Regulars also know that sometimes I'm a rather reflective person, and try to sit with memories and the feelings they evoke, whatever those may be. In 1994 I was 17 years of age and the world was all very much in front of me, but mom was very sick with cancer, and those two realities created a dichotomy for me and the whole family.
|My model of my 1989 Dodge Grand Caravan, the official railfanning vehicle of the Abeles, with a backdrop of the official local power for the Albany Division.|
For me in those days, railfanning and the small 4'x8' layout I had at home were an escape for me, a different world I could go to where there was much to learn and so much potential to share. For sure, many dark nights dreading mom's illness and the uncertainty were made easier by my love of trains and railroading. I found some peace in its consistency. I passed my driver's test on January 3, 1994, with a family friend taking me to my road test because Dad was with mom in the hospital. In March of 1994, my dad decided to upgrade to a new minivan with everything going on, and I offered to purchase the family van from him using my savings. It was a wisely spent $1400! My plates had the letters 'YIX' and so Yixter became my wheels. Of course I modeled him for the OC complete with 'woody' siding and a scanner antenna.
This back and forth of opposites is something I watch with curiosity. So much heartache is still fresh for me, running in parallel with so much joy. And I think that's the balance of it all: being grateful for both the joy AND the heartache, practicing gratitude for the gift of being here and of having made it this far, and for having a wonderful thoughtful wife who is full of grace herself, and for our three healthy, rambunctious and thoughtful kids. I think many can relate. So there is heartache and darkness, yes - but I feel compelled to focus on the wonder, while still acknowledging that darkness. Gratitude for joy and heartache - for being here, and alive, and able to see them both.
|Pete & Teddy running their layout - November 2020|
I modeled my first Conrail SD60 from a Rail Power Products plastic molded shell in 1993. I did it up as 6860, and it still runs in regular service on the Onondaga Cutoff today. Model technology has come a long way since 1993, and today Athearn makes a beautiful 'ready to roll' model of the SD60. Just as modeling brought me peace in my teen years, so it brings me peace in my 40's despite the chaos of a pandemic, toxic politics, life challenges, and indeed - despite so many blessings - some lonely nights. So, here's Conrail 6852 with last night's work completed, now awaiting several layers of weathering before entering service as part of the fleet on the Onondaga Cutoff.
I love the length, sleek lines and the massive presence of an SD60. At 71 feet long and 16 feet high, weighing nearly 200 tons, these are just incredible machines. Delivered new to Conrail in 1989, this guy will be lightly weathered as he was only 5 years old by 1994.
The model itself has a curious story too - designed in the US, this was made in China and shipped to the USA. I bought it in a lot from a fellow in Australia who was modifying the frames for upgrade motors but then changed focus in the hobby. So what came to me from Australia was what you see in several pieces with a modified frame and loose motor. What you see here has made no less than three trips across the Pacific Ocean, only to land on the OC, where it was superdetailed, with new sound, new controls, and now weathering to join the fleet. It's another little story that fills me with gratitude.
And so looking back on those days, my mind revisits the hopes and dreams of a 17-year-old kid who loved trains and who was damned lucky to have parents and a brother and sister and a greater family of middle-class roots. I was so lucky to be associated with all of that, to be taught to save money and work hard and appreciate and respect other people. Mistakes were common but they were learning opportunities - they themselves were a gift in a way, allowing growth by sitting with the darkness of bad choices. Gratitude for everything, including darkness, always ironically leads to peace.
May you and yours have a healthy, happy Thanksgiving, and while this time of year makes our hearts ache for those who have gone before us or who cannot be present because of the pandemic or other reasons, maybe it would be valuable to focus on being grateful for what we do have.