What The Electric Train Under My Christmas Tree Means To Me

 - jim Young

"Old toy trains, little toy tracks,

Little toy drums, coming from a sack,

Carried by a man dressed in white and red.

Little one, don't you it's time you were in bed?" - Roger Miller

I was about 8 years old when I got my first electric train for Christmas. 

But I didn’t find it under the Christmas Tree. The layout for my electric train was too large to fit under the tree.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, my father had secretly built my train set in the basement under the watchful eyes of my two older sisters who had been sworn to secrecy.

Then, on Christmas morning I opened an empty box that had been wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper. Attached to the box was this little poem my mother had written that I remember to this day.

“Follow the ribbon, 

Follow the string.

And you’ll find something

To make you sing.”

The ribbon led me to a long piece of string which led me down the stairs to the basement and to the beginning of my fascination with trains.

No one seems to really know where the tradition of electric trains under the Christmas Tree came from. It seems to date back to the early 1900s when Lionel began to manufacture the first electric trains.

But I was unaware of this practice nor that it had been part of my father’s Christmas tradition in his youth until after my father had passed away when I was given some letters of his to read.

In 1942 my Grandfather was serving in England as a Sapper with the Royal Canadian Engineers. On December 13th he wrote a letter to his 17 year old son, my father George.

My grandfather closed his letter with the following.

“Well George I must close for this time. Now take care of yourself and look after the rest as I know you are and maybe next year around this time we will be able to go and get a Christmas tree and maybe fix up the train around it.”

My Grandfather didn’t make it back home for Christmas the following year as he had hoped, or even the year after. But he did make it home and presumably the train was set up under the tree in the Christmas of 1945.

I knew instantly what train my Grandfather was writing about as I had my father’s American Flyer train stored away in the attic.

That year was the first year I had an electric train under my tree. It was strictly symbolic however as it no longer ran. Still it served as a Christmas memory in honour of my Grandfather who was separated from his family all those years.

The American Flyer has since been replaced with working model trains under my tree, but they still invoke the same memories of the sacrifices my Grandfather made.

Yes, my friends… Those were the days.

- 30 -

Do you have some pictures or memories of the proverbial “good old days” that you would like to share? If so, please send them by clicking on this link, Those Were The Days, My Friend.


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