My LGB Train of Happiness

24 Dec

What is it about toy trains that triggers our smiling muscles? Is it their disarming little chug, chug, chug as they circle around the track beneath the Christmas tree? Or is it their tiny whistle (or not so tiny in some cases) that echoes the steam engines of the past? Or is it just that humans like anything in miniature?

I lived in West Berlin, Germany, for my last two years of high school and I came home from school one day to discover that my dad had bought a wonderful “Lehmann Gross Bahn” toy train! The “Lehmann Large Train” is the largest gauge toy train that I’ve ever seen, though admittedly I am no expert on such things. During their four years in Germany, Dad added to the train each year until he had six cars and many other add-ons such as a Gandy Dancer, gates that rise and fall when the train approaches and passes by, street lights, a signal bridge, people, trees, and even a typical notice pillar (which I can’t remember the German name of) – a common sight around Berlin which lends a small-town atmosphere to the sprawling city.
In the 25 years since I graduated and moved back to the states, the train stayed with my parents for a few years and with my sister (who had young boys) for quite a few more. But now it has come home to me! In three large “Max Marotzke” boxes (and one smaller one holding nothing but track), the train arrived. Max Marotzke was the name of the moving company that moved Mom and Dad from Berlin to Connecticut…well, Pan Am shipped them – in their own sweet time – but that’s another story!


My sister sent the first box way back in March and my kids very much enjoyed discovering all the hidden treasures beneath all those Styrofoam peanuts! Then, this past summer, when we were out in Washington, my husband packed the rest of the train stuff and the day after we arrived home the US postal service delivered it to our door.

Now, finally, after all that waiting, the boxes are open and we’re setting up the train! It is easy enough to put together the track and set the train on top of it – even I can do that – but woe betide my children if they didn’t have their dad to make it go, light up the lights and make the engine steam. I am no engineer, but he, thankfully, is. For real. (Yet another reason this English major married a mechanically-minded man.)

The train station needs a little model glue...

The train station needs a little model glue…

And so, thanks to my husband, my father, my sister, and Max Marotzke, the train circles our tree as well as the entire living room here in Southwest Minnesota – thousands of miles and 25 years after it first circled our tree in West Berlin.

(Talk about the passage of time and miles – what about the passage of political tyrannies? I returned to a united Berlin a few years ago – what a joy it was to see the unified city as it was meant to be!)

Yes, there are many reasons that this toy train makes me smile. But the best reason of all is the newest reason – my three kids, engrossed by the circling engine as it chugs into their lives as it once chug, chug, chugged into mine.



13 Responses to “My LGB Train of Happiness”

  1. Minnesota Prairie Roots December 24, 2013 at 9:05 am #

    What a great and joyful part of your family’s history. Think of the stories this train could tell. I expect this will continue to be passed on from generation to generation which much love and fanfare.

  2. treadlemusic December 24, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    That train is awesome!!! I had a Lionel train growing up and, also, have it now. Our boys were more interested in the smaller gauge trains so the larger one didn’t get used much. I had 2 brothers and we went through a few transformers growing up. Boys tend to be a tad hard on such. Your photos bring back super sweet memories for me. I’m so thankful that your trip back to your “hometown” was to experience a ‘united’ town (something that I never conceived would happen!) Lovely post!!!! Hugs……..

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

      Yes, it was amazing to return and to even stay in a hotel on the East side! Lovely. Perfect. Merry Christmas! Enjoy your train and family!

  3. Jackie December 24, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    Loved hearing the story of your train, how wonderful that it has made its way to your home for your children to enjoy. Merry Christmas to you and your family,
    blessings, Jackie

  4. hotlyspiced December 25, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

    My husband loves toy trains. We have one and I think it’s German but sadly, we have no room to set it up and it’s currently in boxes. How lovely for your girls to enjoy the train set you had all those years ago. Excellent that it’s so well preserved and in great working order xx

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 26, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

      Yes, we were so glad that it was working so well! I hope you’ve had a great Christmas even without your train running!

  5. Barbara Bamber | justasmidgen December 29, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    There is something so enchanting about a toy train. My brothers collected a train set (Gauge?? Not sure) and had it set up in the basement. I loved when they changed the track and we’d all watch to see if the train would stay on the rails as it whistled around! Wishing you the happiest of Christmas seasons, for you and all your loved ones!! xx

    • Gretchen O'Donnell December 29, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

      Yes, they are magical, aren’t they? I love the sound. I hope you’re having a marvelous Christmas season as well! I sure am, though it will be good to get back to normal life in January, too!

  6. Jonathan Caswell January 2, 2014 at 2:55 pm #

    Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

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