First Encounter of the Model Railroad Kind

First Encounter of the Model Railroad Kind

By Roger Heid

 

 

The following episodes took place not very long after VE Day on May 8, 1945. I was too little to recall the year and date. In my estimation, these events could have occurred sometime between 1946 and 1948. The place I do remember. It was in Stuttgart, West Germany. This is as far back as my memory reaches recalling railroad related issues and certain surrounding circumstances.

Things were different then. Being just a small boy, those differences I was unaware of. To me, everything was normal, at first. The ruins, the destruction and the crappy attitude of adult people simply were things I was born into; I knew no different. The concept of having two parents, a mother and a father, I could not really relate to. All I had was a mother. A few kids in the neighborhood also had a father. Usually, those kids had more things to wear and, most of all, to play with. I figured there must be a distinct advantage to also having a father.

There was something about people in general I had noticed early on. There were two kinds of people. One kind was everybody in the neighborhood and throughout the city. The other kind consisted of usually younger men, all of them wearing the same kind of clothes, and when they talked I could not understand them. At first, I could not make sense out of this phenomenon. It simply did not seem right.

My Mom and all other adults I asked about this were very evasive about answering my questions. The older boys in the neighborhood, however, had a way to explain it to me I could understand. One thing bothered me, though. Some boys said I should stay away from ‘them’, quoting reasons I could not perceive, including that they were enemies. Others boys advised me to try to make friends with them; they would not harm me. I preferred to follow their advice since there were a lot of these enemies around.

One of the first opportunities to make friends with an ‘enemy’, also called ‘Ami’, occurred during a ride in a street car, as I recall. My Mom and I managed to squeeze into a densely packed car. There were quite a few enemies on board. One of them forced some able bodied teenage boy out of his seat, inviting my Mom to sit down. I wound up sitting on the lap of an enemy. He was a very friendly young man. He had such an encouraging smile on his face. I admired his very deep sun tan. I had seen some of these very sun tanned men before, but only from some distance away. I had been told by some people that they were bad. When I asked why they were bad, I never got an answer. Even the older boys in the neighborhood were quite unsure about this issue.

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Downtown Stuttgart in 1949

The enemy reached into one of his shirt pockets and handed me something I had never seen before. He motioned I should unwrap it and put it in my mouth. Whatever it was, it tasted sweet and delicious; it definitely called for more. Mom and I had to get off before the enemy did. In parting, he transferred the contents from several of his pockets into my pockets. I also learned that his name was Abraham, but to call him Abe. All this was also my introduction to the enemy’s language, called English. He had taught me how to say: ‘How do you, Sir? My name is Roger. What is yours?’ Now I had become bilingual, and I had an Ami friend, on top of it.

On our way to wherever my Mom had to go, I promptly put my new knowledge to use. There was a small group of enemy friends walking toward us. I stepped up to them and quoted what I had learned. They all laughed, and I wound up with two packs of Wrigley’s in my possession.

During the days to follow, I practiced to make enemy friends whenever and wherever there was an opportunity. In most cases this worked just fine. Mom took some of the sweet stuff away from me, explaining that too much of it would make me sick. I found that very hard to believe. I figured she might want some of it herself. She could have simply asked me. I would have been more than happy to share. But then she tried to explain to me that she did not want me to give any of that stuff to neighbor kids. I told her that I had already given two boxes of Chiclets to my best friend. She said I should not have done this because this may be bad for her. To me this was totally enigmatic as I knew absolutely nothing about adult affairs. She made no further attempts to explain this in more detail.

In downtown Stuttgart, there was a big store the general population, the non-Amis, could not get in to; the Amis would not let us. My Mom had mentioned she was very curious as to what they had for sale. Someone had told her they had nylon stockings, whatever that was. I told her that I was almost sure we could get in.

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We did. As we approached the entrance, I looked the guard square in the face and said: ‘Good morning, Sir. How are you today?’ He just waved us through. Now we had penetrated into ‘enemy territory’, whereby all the enemies present in that store had a very high potential to become my friends, in my opinion.

Inside this huge store, I saw something I had never seen before. There was a toy train!  It did remind me of the one I had at home, but my train was crude, made of solid wood and did not look like a real train, at all. I also had no tracks for it. I usually dragged it across the floor, pulling it with a string. This here train did not only look like the real thing; it ran by itself, on tracks that were laid on a table much bigger than our table at home. I could hardly believe my eyes. Something like this would most certainly be out of my reach, forever. I was mesmerized, nevertheless.

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Lionel

Maybe, some day, Santa would bring me something like that. At that time, I did not put my hopes very high, by any scale. The price tags on some items were in US Dollars. I knew that in German Marks the prices would be even higher. The numbers were astronomical for me. At the time, before I could read, I knew how to read the numeric characters, because some of them were on coins. That’s how I could determine the massive amount of coins it would take to buy even the least expensive item. Dream on!

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I cannot recall for how long I stood there, staring my eyeballs out. My Mom had drifted somewhere else in the store. She had impressed on me not to move away from where I was. She would be back shortly to get me. I had an idea what ‘shortly’ meant. But by now, this waiting for her seemed to become quite ‘longly’. I started to run through the store, looking for my Mom. No matter where I looked, I could not find her.

Then some lady ushered me into an office. Shortly thereafter, a couple of Ami Enemies (MPs) hauled me away in a Jeep. Incredibly enough, one of them was my friend Abe. You can hardly imagine how relieved I was. At least I was taken prisoner by a friend. And yes, Abe recognized me.

I cannot remember clearly what happened next. But I do remember being in a restaurant my friends called ‘Snack Bar’. The food was delightful, especially the pie and the ice cream. That soda my friends called Coca Cola was not shabby either. I had never tasted anything like this before. I think I felt something like a pending addiction.

Now you know how I first got a taste of ‘Ami Ice Cream’ and Coca Cola. Abe and I became best friends. Later that day, I learned that my Mom, while wandering through the store, had somehow tripped and fallen, knocking herself unconscious. She was taken away by an ambulance. I spent the night on a cot in a backroom of an MP Station. That night, my knowledge of ‘Enemy English’ was expanded by about two dozen more words, maybe even more. I even learned to read a little. I also learned how to spell Ice Cream and Coca Cola.

During the years to come, the Ami Enemies all became my friends. Eventually, I would be an MP myself, stationed in Stuttgart, West Germany, for more than seven years.

In the course of some other subsequent events, my Mom eventually bumped into my future Dad. I can still see his handsome face, his short cropped blond hair and his steel blue eyes. When he stared at me, he did not need to say anything. I knew exactly where I stood, and I loved him. Unfortunately, another war took my second Dad away. The first one I had never seen, because of a war.

In 1974, I was spared by a 50% chance to be transferred to Vietnam. Yes, we were still at war, then. At least, I got lucky enough to stay out of that war. Good friends of mine were not that lucky; some of them never came back.

 

One Response to First Encounter of the Model Railroad Kind

  1. Preben Karlsmarkj says:

    Roger, this is so exciting reading for me living just north of Germany in Denmark. I was born in 1945 so have no recollection of anything before maybe 1950. My parents and grand parents told me a lot about being occupied by the Germans and the sacrifices that followed. I have been told that I may have been the first child in Denmark to have a banana after the war. My uncle sailed between New York and Copenhagen Denmark and had brought some back. I don’t even remember what they tasted like. Many items or necessities like clothing and coffee were in very scares supply years after the war. My parents often went to Sweden to get that kind of stuff. Lucky for my parents and me the lumber yard and milling business was a brisk business after the war so undoubtedly we were relatively well of. Maybe the reason my parents could buy a second hand train set for one Christmas for me. I believe it was in 1952. I got HR800 and SK800 and 6 passenger cars. I was just STUNNED. I vaguely remember that my father told me he bought it from a German guy. My first layout was on the dining room table .. maybe 5 x 4ft plywood with 2 ovals and one Marklin transformer and one Danish. I made tunnels with the boxes that the trains came in. When my dad came home from work he often sneaked a coin on the tracks and WOW a derailment.

    Believe it or not … I have all my first locomotives and cars and all the older locomotives I have now converted them to digital and they run beautifully on my layout. Think for a moment … 62 years later and still running! .. faboulus … and they have been RUN believe me.

    Best regards

    Preben

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