Alas, it was not to be …
It was like when I heard about Tracy Morgan's car accident. I enjoy Tracy Morgan, and car wrecks suck equally for everybody, but day-to-day, I never really gave him much thought before that. I learned about the existence of Caboose Hobbies, the world’s largest model train store, the same way — when I found out it was closing.
To feel some sort of connection with the news, I began digging through my suppressed childhood memories until a box of jagged train tracks passed down to me from a second cousin was recovered. Most of all, I remember them smelling like burning acid. The locomotive engine made its own smoke, the whole kit was a fire hazard primed for an insurance scheme.
Nevertheless, I continue to insist the model train remains a symbol of childhood, innocence, and joy. These railway replicas were Mr. Roger’s messaging service and stood for all the hours I spent pouring over The Polar Express. To watch one of the last train stores close without shedding a tear would be akin to letting Alan Rickman die without IMDB-ing his career, or scrolling past photo-galleries depicting 90’s Nickelodeon Stars. I need to know: Where are they now!?
How could anyone be so heartless?
Like other great nostalgic movements, Caboose Hobbies struggled for years to compete against Amazonian discounts and Thomas the Tank Engine apps. And yet, owners Duane and Joanna Miller held on. The 78-year-old shop was an institution, frequented by loyal old-timers and toddlers alike.
Only a callous property-owner too illiterate to finish Atlas Shrugged could possibly see through the priceless haze of wistfulness and notice the bottom line wasn’t where it should be. Add in the rising value of property along the Green Mile, where second hand stores double retail prices and bars open for breakfast, that sale must have looked like an easy million.
And so, overcome by the feeling that this was the end of an era and I was missing out, I made it my personal mission to walk the aisles of the store and admire the last tiny towns before doors closed at the end of September.
I imagined myself buying a discount starter kit and laying a track through the living room for Rotary Sushi Night. I imagined running into an 80-year-old man who had been coming to Caboose Hobbies every payday since he was 16 who would impart upon me his life-changing wisdom. I just figured somehow this experience would change my life, inspire the opening to my Dickensian novel, and be something worth telling my grandchildren about.
Alas, it was not to be.
I arrived on the corner of South Broadway and East Virginia where it stands on one of summer’s last beautiful afternoons. What I found was the old gal had passed away while I was asleep. I watched a U-Haul idling in the empty parking lot, waiting to cart off the last of the belongings. A sign on the door thanked me for my patronage.
Dear Caboose Hobbies, I’m sorry I never got to know you better. I wish I had more time and money to spend on your wares and actually believed in the excuses I gave you instead. I wish the world had been kinder to you, and that more people came to know the particular kind of joy you brought. May you, and others like you, rest in pieces.