Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 20, 2021
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Locum motive

Locum motive:

Every Wednesday evening after work, I retreat into a fantasy world where spruce trees stem from blueberry shrubs and people stand less than two centimetres tall. Fishermen wait in perpetuity, casting fine lines into the river under the Sunshine Bridge. Tiny moose venture onto the side of the highway, while freight trains clamber by, carrying goods from Montreal to the West Coast.

This world, the equivalent of 1400 kilometres of track from Kenora to Schreiber, Ontario, fits compactly into a nine- by nine-metre room on the third floor of the old Railway Building. This is the home of the Thunder Bay Model Rail Association (or the Choo Choo Club, as my friends endearingly call it), where miniature replicas of major railway stations in Northwestern Ontario lie in perfect detail.

I have always been drawn to scale models and miniatures. Standing only 152 centimetres high myself and having an avid interest in theatre and the make-believe, I tend to gravitate to such fantastical scenes. Train travel has been a life-long passion of mine, and it is by far my preferred form of transportation.

But my greatest influence was my grandfather who, when I was 10, built his very own model railroad track in his dining room, complete with trains, animals, scenery and cargo. Together, we spent many happy hours operating the tracks. My interest in model trains never waned, but over the years it gave way to other commitments.

I promised myself that, after my residency, I would resume some of my previous passions and hobbies. My first job was as a locum in Thunder Bay. My partner and I had been drawn to the area because of our love for the outdoors. One evening while biking around the marina park, I caught sight of a sign that read: "Are you interested in trains? How would you like to build a layout of your own? Come on down to the Thunder Bay Model Rail Association, Wednesday nights at 7:30."

I was extremely excited to discover a model railway club in town. When I arrived at the meeting the following week, there were several older men chatting amongst themselves as they worked on scenery and track repair. Eventually, one of them noticed me and politely informed me that the train layout wasn't currently open for public viewing.

I'm not sure who was more surprised, they or I, when I enquired about the Wed-nesday evening train club and saw the looks on all of their faces. In an instant, I realized that, up until now, this club had been comprised solely of older men. As a relatively young wo-man, I felt like an intruder and wondered if I would not be welcome.

After a few long moments and awkward introductions, I was shown around. The main "operator" suggested that I attend for a couple of weeks and see if I liked it. On that very first evening, I was assigned to making trees and planting them in the forest. I was abuzz when I returned home later and recounted the events in detail to my partner. The following week was even better, and I was graciously accepted into the club.

The members showed me around, began teaching me correct terminology and involved me in the construction of scenery. One of my most outstanding memories of these meetings was when a real train passed by on the CP tracks behind the building. Everyone spontaneously rose and went to the window to observe the train. A retired engineer said the train was late, as he had worked that very route. He even knew the engine number. Viewing the passing trains became a regular part of our meetings.

As the month of May approached, we worked in eager anticipation of opening our doors to the public over the summer. When summer arrived, our meetings gave way to tours of the railway club. We were open seven days a week, and took shifts as "operators."

I found showing people around the layout equally rewarding. I loved the look on visitors' faces when they walked in for the very first time. They traversed the tracks of Northwestern Ontario and recognized places and sights, in perfect HO gauge (87.5 times smaller than life size). Visitors marvelled at details depicting everything from a beaver dam to a traffic accident, a solitary black bear, a helicopter crash, a bingo hall and paper mill.

Mostly, the place was busy, and many young children -- professing that they'd be engineers when they grew up -- spent hours of their summer on that third floor. Even when there was a lull and I was alone, I found the space tranquil and serene. As I walked around, I always discovered new details, and I continued to be amazed at the results of thousands of hours of work that had gone into this very special place.

It's not only the thrill of working in the creative world of miniature trains that I enjoy so much. As I get to know the other members, I feel privileged to work alongside such an interesting group of individuals. Rarely do we discuss our outside lives and jobs. We create a truly separate environment on that third floor, a magical escape from the stresses of the world outside.

Having volunteered at the Thunder Bay Model Rail Association for almost a year now, I know how much time, effort, money and patience goes into building a model layout. I expect that building my own layout will be a long-term project, as I have many competing interests. For now, I am the proud owner of my first engine (a CN), 2.5 metres of track, 3 cars and a train station -- although I prefer to run my trains on the club's more elaborate system.

My next dream is to move upscale (no pun intended) and renovate an old caboose to use as a studio for my own layout. On a recent visit back home, I shared some of my ideas for my layout with my grandfather. He put his own track away many years ago, but he was thrilled that his love of miniature trains has been passed on down the line. He reminisced about his layout and spoke fondly of his long-necked giraffe figurine, whose head would bow down just in time to avoid an unfortunate collision with a bridge.

He gave me several ideas for my future layout, and our conversation brought back great memories of time gone by. Despite being called a train nerd by some of my friends, I am thrilled to be fulfilling a childhood dream after all these years.


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