Making Tracks

January 1, 2005

For many American children, especially boys, the toys most cherished on Christmas morning were model trains. For Robert Laird, MD, Portland, OR, the love continued to flourish right into adulthood. His fascination with whistles, smoking engines, and painstaking detail continues.

"At 6 years old, the train I received for Christmas sparked something special inside of me," Dr. Laird said. "It was a standard pre- and post-war model made by Lionel. It was a great train for kids because it literally had lots of bells and whistles, but was assembled easily and very durable."

Dr. Laird's fascination with trains only increased as he grew older.

"I will never forget when I was invited to enter the cab of the steam locomotive by the engineer," Dr. Laird said. "The gauges, valves, and controls immediately enthralled me. The fireman was kind enough to open the door of the firebox-and my goodness, what a sight to behold! The huge fire was spectacular. That experience made such an impression on my mind."

Through his enthusiasm for trains, Dr. Laird became an active observer.

Throughout college and medical school, Dr. Laird's interest was put on hold for his studies. However, when he began his ophthalmic practice he started where he left off.

Building a civilization "With my wife Mary's kind approval, I decided to dedicate an entire 14- × 16-foot room in my home to a railroad, with a workshop in the adjacent room," he said.

"One of the reasons why I love model trains so much is that I enjoy creating a microcosm of civilization."

Many railroad enthusiasts are very strict about being historically accurate with their designs.

"I appreciate that, but I like to use my creativity to design something wonderful and imaginative," Dr. Laird said. "Working freelance suits my personality better. A model railroad can be a three-dimensional and functional art, as well as a depiction of reality."

Dr. Laird decided that a two-part railroad provided some fun contrast.

"I have both an American and European portion," he said. "They each have their own sections of the room, but there are a few places where they come together. I've certainly taken some historic and geographic liberties."

Dr. Laird's railroad continually requires planning and creating.