At the top is a copy of the very first track planning book I ever got. Unfortunately, the original was "weeded out" at some point over the last 40 years. But through the wonders of eBay (and a link sent by a friend - Bruce Wilson, I'm lookin' at you...), I was able to acquire as close to my original as possible - and even the correct printing - May 1982! This would definitely have been the same version I had all those years ago. And it just arrived 2 days after Christmas!
I pored over my first copy of that book for hours/days/weeks - and eventually, with the help of my dad, we built the Super Pretzel (Layout No. 110). No "Junior Pretzel" for us! (Layout No. 109). Mountains-in-Minutes "scenery" (essentially repackaged expand-a-foam) followed shortly thereafter and its oozing over the track - and everything else - gave me my first cold slap of reality in scenery making. But that didn't dampen my enthusiasm - especially when I could see a lowly local way freight shuffling cars into and out of sidings, going from town to town. At least in my mind's eye - imagination is as vivid as reality itself.
Unlike the "Blueprints" book, the Model Railroader is the 100% original real deal - January 1983 - the actual first model railroad magazine I ever bought, and which almost-single-handedly set the hook hard and turned me from a toy train runner into a model railroader. As you may be able to see from the worn pages and tattered binding, this magazine has been a faithful companion for going on four decades.
But enough about Christmas Past... As you can see from the pic above, Christmas Present brought me quite a haul. I doubt I was close enough to the top of the "Nice" list to justify such bounty, so Santa must've been especially understanding this year . . .
My level of sophistication may have increased and my focus may have narrowed in the years since I got my first Model Railroader magazine and track planning book, but I can attest to the fact that I'm just as excited about the hobby as I was back then - perhaps even more so. Unlike back then, I have space and resources to realize some of those long-ago dreams (though, alas!, lots less time it seems), and my skills continue to improve.
I still dream of local freight trains plying their trade of "retail railroading" - but these days I can actually see some of that dream become reality. And that's a pretty wonderful gift all by itself.