What is it about model trains that can turn a grown man into a little boy? I have yet to put my finger on exactly that. Could it be the perfect world they exist in; a place without a care, a place far from the grind of daily life? It might just be the irresistible charm they exude – the soothing, rhythmic click-clack of wheels finding their way around the track. For me, I have loved trains ever since I was a boy, and I guess I have just never grown up.


Me at age 3 with Urgrosi’s Lego train.

My first train was a wooden Brio set, followed by a Lego train received as a gift from my great grandmother.  From about age seven, I was pining for a “real” train set, but was told I had to wait until my brother was old enough, or he might break it.

Three long years I had to wait, and finally, my wish came true.  The entire family had banded together to get me my trains: a locomotive from my godfather, a huge box of track and a transformer from my uncle, a few goods carriages from my parents, and a passenger train from Granny.  That was the best Christmas of my life – up until then at least.

 Ghostly double exposures showing the first Märklin layout up in the attic, ca. 1985

Having grown up in Switzerland, Märklin was the obvious choice. That brand is synonymous with model trains in much of the German-speaking world.  My grandfather had Märklin trains way back in the 60’s, and his layout, so I have been told, took over the entire attic, one room at a time.

Shortly after I was born, he had a tragic accident and lost his leg.  He spent years on end in hospital, and the last decade or so of his life must have been very difficult.  When I was about twelve, I suggested to him that we should build a layout together, which he thought was the best idea ever.  I distinctly remember a glimmer of joy in his otherwise weary eyes.

The only photos know to exist of this layout are blurred. This was before digital cameras, ca. 1987

A spare room was cleared out, and work on the sizeable baseboard began immediately. Soon after, he handed me a piece of paper and told me to go down to Mr Zuber’s train shop and get the items on the list. Well – that list was so long, that the proprietor promptly closed the shop to deliver the order in person!

All of it was Märklin K-track, and there was a transfer-table, a turn-able complete with roundhouse and a dock crane to boot. Everything was remote controlled, and my grandfather and I spent may hours tinkering. I was pretty much his little helper, because he was bound to his wheelchair. Sadly, my grandfather died about a year later, and I was left to carry on the unfinished work.

Mr Zuber and his train shop in Switzerland.  As a child, this was my favourite place.

In 1988, it was decided that the whole family, including the grandmother, would migrate to Australia.  I was promised a big room for me and my trains, but was disappointed to be assigned the smallest bedroom in the house! Within a year, the house was extended and I got what I had been waiting for; a huge room 4.5 x 7m all to myself!

 Three stages of layout construction with many a bag of plaster going into the landscape, ca. 1989-1991.

I think I must have started planning my layout long before the extention was even built, I was that excited.   Once I got started, very spare minute was spent working on the trains (and it seems not much has changed since).  There were mountains and tunnels and bridges galore – a real slice of Switzerland, the way you would see it in a picture book.


The proud station master at his post, ca 1992

Sadly, that layout met its end when I returned from a year away overseas – my priorities had changed.  Sometime during my teens, I decided to abandon Märkin and switch to 2-rail DC operation; the reason for doing so is now a mystery, and I wish I had not sold all of my old stuff…


Copyright © 2021 Rudolf Ramseyer