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No One Signed Up For My Model Train Exco So Now I Build a Model Train Set on My Own for 2 Hours/Week

by Flip Ptarmigan

Model Train Enthusiast

Illustration by Molly Chapin

It was a glorious idea: a collaborative model train set built over the course of one semester, with each of the participants earning legitimate college credit for their role in its construction. Each week, we would investigate, design, and build a different element of the model train set: the train, the tracks, the flora and fauna, the buildings, the inhabitants. Each participant would make imaginative and substantive contributions, all led by me, a wizened—and yet still dauntless—model train enthusiast. We would emerge on the other side of the semester with a miniature lush wonderland—a playground any motorized train would be lucky to have.

Things have not gone exactly to plan. I watched my course’s Google Form application like a hawk all throughout Add-Drop, and yet not a single application graced my screen.

The average ExCo instructor—the easily cowed, the timid, the weak-willed—would have called it there. Maybe reality television can wait, they might have said. Maybe fiber arts, or the circus, or contact improvisation can wait. Model trains wait for no man. They will grind your bones to powder under their tiny battery-powered wheels.

So I pressed on. Every week, for two hours, I go to King 101 and continue building a model train set. I’ve laid the tracks, molded the landscape by hand, hot-glued artificial vegetation with care. But I’ve noticed some deviations from my original plan; deviations that have occurred by my hand, and yet without my knowledge or consent.

The lush wonderland I envisioned has become a barren wasteland, dotted only by the occasional desert shrubbery. The businesses along the tracks are shuttered, their awnings tattered and their facades faded. The inhabitants, each of them isolated from the others by a vast swath of desert and ruin, lay prone under the unrelenting sun—the fluorescent lights of the King Building—in a cradle of hot glue.

They say that nothing can last forever. But as long as I keep diligently replacing its batteries, my model train will run indefinitely. Far longer, I’ve learned, than any optimism, joy, or companionship I could hope to experience. I’ve run out of love to give her, and her me. Yet I remain.

Just keep chugging. Just keep chugging. Just keep chugging.

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