When we were kids our parents used to tell us that when they were kids they had to make their own fun. These days there’s no need. We’re months, at most a couple of years, away from affordable quality virtual reality. There are videogames that simulated galaxies that are literally bigger than our own galaxy. Kids are growing up in an age when they have access to every single book, comic, song movie, and TV show ever made, plus all of YouTube (well all of YouTube we haven’t slapped a parental lock, but it’s only a matter of time until they crack that).
There are hoverboards now. No, not the daft segways with no handles, I mean actually float above the ground hoverboards.
Our children are blasé about all that. But if you want to see them truly amazed, simply put them in front of a simple electric motor on some wheels moving around an electrified track. They will have their mouths hanging open in perfect “O” shapes in no seconds flat.
But why is that?
The Power is All Mine
Kids don’t get to control much – even the super tech savvy generation of six year olds we’re raising now might be able to tell their mums and dads a couple of things about programming, but they very rarely get to control something outside of the virtual realm.
Model trains give them a chance to control something real. They can lay the track out, control the speed, tell the train to go and stop. There are not many places small kids get that level of control.
Indistinguishable from Magic
Even when we were kids, trains were a technological phenomenon. If you were interested in trains you knew all about the inner workings, the motors and the wires, how the current moved through the tracks, and even how real steam engines worked.
But that has gradually changed as time as gone on. The technology we use has become more mysterious. Seriously, how many items of technology do you have that you can only describe as “A rectangle with a screen on it that does the things I tell it to somehow”? Meanwhile, older, more easily decipherable machinery has become archaic and mysterious in different ways. Tapping a piece of glass and making your weekly shopping appear at the door is commonplace. Shovelling coal into a fire to make a train go?
Well let’s just say there’s a reason why the Hogwarts Express is a train and not, say, a magical Uber driver.
But perhaps the best thing about model trains is that they’re an activity families can work on together. Sure, you can get hours of fun out of making model train tracks yourself. And despite the worries of older and more serious grownups, videogames are far more social an activity than they are often given credit for. But there’s something special about crafting real world miniatures and models, and mapping out your little model town and how the train travels through it.
Maybe it’ll even go all the way to Hogwarts.