When I was a kid, I had a Lionel electric train set. It was made of hard, brittle plastic and ridged aluminum. There was a hole in the smoke stack of the locomotive. You could drop in a little of some unknown chemical and the train would smoke as it ran around the track. The current to power the train was carried by copper contacts that fit between each section of track and would give you a sharp jolt if you handled them while electricity was still on to the train set.
It was a toy of the 70’s— sharp edges, exposed electrical components and noxious vapors. My train set may have been some elaborate, Darwinian scheme to weed out reckless children but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Helpless, little green army men were placed in the way of the speeding train. The whole thing would derail when it hit them, sending a shower of his olive-drab compatriots into the air as they tumbled witlessly from a flat bed car at its rear. The locomotive, unpowered and inert, leaking that mysterious liquid, next to the sparking track. What fun!
Train sets have come a long way since my first set. Today, it is nearly impossible to injure yourself with one, much less directly channel 120 volts from a wall outlet into your tiny hands. Gone too is the sticky white cloud of faux engine exhaust. Quinn’s train doesn’t carry a battalion of fixed-leg army men; it carries a bale of hay to feed the elephant at the attached zoo.
In this considerably less dangerous world (both literally and metaphorically) the elephant, lion and zookeeper all ride the train together in perfect harmony. They visit the train station for Cokes rather than jump an incomplete trestle at high speed. But, this may speak more to the differences between my youthful mind and Quinn’s present interests than to the nature of the toys.
I suspect a little girl will never have the fascination I did with orchestrating 1/30th scale, mass-transit disasters. This is probably for the best. At the least, her proclivities may save her from a misspent childhood performing ghoulish experiments on pill bugs and enduring what is known around my family as my “camouflage” phase.
All this is a long way of saying that Quinn has an interest in trains and I am more than happy to indulge it. Saturday night was spent at Anna’s apartment, connecting track and taking the aforementioned elephant and tiger for imaginary Cokes at the central depot. Even at 37, I still enjoy toys like a train set for the complete, scaled down world that they create. Disaster may not be waiting around every bend of un-electrified track, but I am pretty sure that just indicates that Quinn is a more gentle-minded child than I ever was and that perhaps I have grown up a little.