The Wife of a Model Railroader

The Wife of a Model Railroader

 By Sally Karlsmark

When I met my husband, we were both incredibly lonely after life had dealt both of us a terrible blow. We both had a past that we could not ignore but a future that seemed lonely alone. As a couple, life seemed hopeful once again as the need for love and companionship was something that only after the experience of loneliness one could fully understand. We loved each other, and our journey began on April 3, 2010, a small wedding with family and friends.

Preben was retired; I was still a working gal. I had a business doing industrial embroidery.  I worked out of our new home in the basement sharing the space with one half for my embroidery shop and the other half occupied by his train display in the planning. I worked at my business while Preben worked at his train display like someone going to a job. But now he enjoyed his job even though the pay checks were negative the reward was ransom. We were together in the basement, each doing our own thing, but together just the same.

I fully admit that I had no knowledge of trains except the ones that you have to stop for at the railroad crossings when you are driving, or the train that runs around a Christmas Tree.  Little did I know that my husband’s idea about trains was a lot more substantial than what I had anticipated.

He began his project by tearing down the drinking bar we had in the basement, built by the previous owners. From there Preben went to purchase all kinds of lumber at Home Depot. In the backyard, he started up the miter saw, plywood lying across wooden horses; the saw dust started to fly.

Before I knew it, I had a new part time job, with no benefits, carrying plywood, holding this and that and being his personal gopher when he was under the layout.

“Dear, I am under the layout! Can you get me my pliers, my screw driver, and can you get me that wire, too?”

Can you get me this can you get me that? Honestly, at times I had my fill, but I did it always with love and good will, day after day, week after week. He continued to make progress, I helping whenever and wherever needed.

I learned what turnouts were. I had to tell my husband if they were turned right or left, him under the layout, moving the switch. Left, right, left, right or was it straight? Was I in the Army? Thank God we are thru all of that! Are we? Now he is expanding the layout.  Here we go again!

I also learned to paint clouds on the wall for backdrop, and I did enjoy it. I had taken some Donna Dewberry one stroke painting lessons in my day. I helped my husband with a technique to paint plastered rocks, using dry brushing, color blends and more. Jake, his son, made him as a birthday gift one year, a whole bunch of trees just for the layout.   Trees were everywhere; their hands were full of spray glue that they had taken from my business supplies. Imagine that! What were these two doing?

But then, after a day of working on the display, it was time for them to run the trains and have some fun together. I was sleeping on the couch upstairs when I heard the holler, “Whoa!” Then a big crash! I am not sure who mixed up the sequence of eight digital trains running at one time. Father or Son, it didn’t matter. The locomotives were down but they loved it. They started photographing the crashes; that made some great pictures. I did what any good wife would do. I went to bed. I think it was about 3 am when I felt my husband come into our bed, after quite a few rounds of Guinness.

Often I had to make deliveries for my embroidery business. If I was going past the hobby store where they sold local supplies for hobbyists, I was often asked to stop for glue and other materials. This was not always convenient or on my daily agenda. I was still a working girl. Pressured by my business, this was one more thing for me to do. But, I did it anyway. Luckily, my husband ordered from eBay, Reynaulds and Walther’s. The trips to the hobby store did exist, but fortunately he had other methods to get the needed supplies.  Whew!

As the train display became more of a reality, I began to realize that this was not an easy project. It took incredible fortitude and knowledge in electronics, math, and artistry. I decided to use my talents as an embroiderer and began embroidering shirts and hats with steam locomotives on them, my husband being the first recipient. He wore his ‘Marc Us Monogramming S & P Railroad’ shirt at a train party that I threw for him to celebrate the initial phase of completion. We had many in attendance, celebrating his achievement, observing the layout and toasting him with fine food of eggplant parmigiana and linguine with clam sauce. You see, I am the daughter of an Italian family.

Him having been born and raised in Denmark, we took a second trip to that country for vacation since we had been together. My husband planning the whole trip had us traveling to Hamburg, Germany by rail which was, my first experience traveling on a railroad. Imagine that! It was in Hamburg, Germany where Miniature Wunderland was on display, the largest Model Train Display in the world. I had the privilege of visiting it with my husband and I have to say I really did enjoy it. My husband enjoyed that train display for two days straight and even had to borrow my cell phone because he took more pictures than his phone could hold. I was very privileged to see that train display and I was happy for him that he was able to go. However, I admit, I was more privileged that there was shopping and a Swarovski store to bide my time. I left Hamburg with some real treasures of my own passion.

It’s been five years being married and five years building his layout. Now we no longer share the basement evenly. The ‘S&P Railroad’ has expanded and has acquired 3/4 of the basement. It is my sincere hope that I get pushed out altogether. I need an excuse to retire but, it won’t be to change jobs and work on the railroad. I do think I should collect my pension, however. Am I on the right track?

As in all things there has to be a balance in life and never did Preben put his trains ahead of the important things in life. In fact, within his own frustrations from technical issues, I needed to remind him that model railroading was truly a hobby and he needed to keep that in mind. I told him to walk away and get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, when we both go down to work, he would solve the problem. He always did solve it as I knew he would.

Did I have my moments of frustration? Of course, I did. I am only a human. Model Railroads are not my passion. But, never did it occur to me to stand in his way. Deep in my heart, I know that I supported his dream all the way around and then some. I made a lot of contributions to his layout that made it possible for him as well and I am proud of them. In all of this model railroading over the last five years, I learned things I never knew thus gaining a new and true respect for trains. Most importantly, I realized what an incredible husband I truly had and how lucky I was to love him and have him in my life.

When you build layouts for model trains, from what I can see, you are never done. The possibilities are endless. Preben does realize that he is most fortunate to have been able to spend his retirement building his dream layout along with the means and a supportive wife. I know he has appreciated me for this and much more.

Why do I support my husband in his passion?   That’s an easy answer: I love the Train Conductor.


10 Responses to The Wife of a Model Railroader

  1. Preben Karlsmarkj says:

    Dear Sally …. Again you supersede in your writing skills and portrait excellently, how the last 5 years have been. Yes, you got me this and than when I was under the layout, you did not hesitate to get my “missing” stuff, but sometimes you eyes told me … think twice about what you need under the layout” and I have gotten better about it.

    Thanks again for all your support and help!! Supporting each other just make life so wonderful.

    Your husband


  2. rose bridgman says:

    send us some pictures of the expanded layout of his trains as we were fortunate enough as your next door neighbors to see the begining of S and P railroad and it was truly amazing then as we watched it grow and grow even more extravagent with p”s talents, knowledge, and love of trains, your help and encouragement to your remarkable husband. Can’t wait to see it take over the whole basement you know it probably will lol. you have always been there for him and your input as well. you yourself are a talented remarkable generous woman and we miss you both a lot. My goal will be to visit you someday and see S and P railroad for ourselves in person. to P coninued success in making it the railroad of your dreams i know it will. Love to both Rose

  3. Jane Kirschberg says:

    What a marvelous writeup Sally. The two of you have really worked together so beautifully over the years.
    I am looking forward to seeing it once again one day.

    Love to both of you,

  4. Janice Pederson says:

    Wow, has it been 5 years already. You are a fantastic wife to pit up with trains. My husband tries to do Legos. I had the big mess. You and Preben are do good for each other and I am happy you ate so happy. Great writing. Keep it up.

  5. Roger Heid says:

    This reminds me of my own wife. She carried plywood and particle board up and down some steps. She also handed me things when I was under the platform. She has put building kits together; she has installed a number of turnout motors; she takes turns cleaning the tracks; she keeps motive and rolling stock clean. She chooses her own locomotives and rolling stock as she runs her own railroads.

  6. Sally Karlsmark says:

    Thanks so much to my husband and good friends for your responses. you have always supported me and Preben and it means alot. i appreciated your comments true as they may be. i do hope Rose you will make it back to pennsylvania soon. roger, your wife and i surely must have alot in common. i told Preben i would like to have a little christmas village train layout of my own. not sure when it will materialize. nothing big just one that i could have and then use at christmas also. perhaps once he finishes the expansion a small project we could start. writing these blogs has been enjoyable. thanks so much!.

  7. Janice Pederson says:

    Well I am going to say it again, you are an extra special wife and you put up with alot!! Not only trains. Preben is crazy lucky to have you and have someone who takes care of him like you do. I am proud of both of you and how you have handled the last 5 years and how you have stuck together. You two deserve each other!! Lots of love.

  8. Jake Karlsmark says:

    Reading this brought back some great memories of nights gone by running and working on the layout. I laughed out loud at the ‘part time job with no benefits.” I used to be Dad’s gopher when I was a kid so I know how that goes. ;)

    Sally, I think your biggest contribution has probably been patience as the layout has taken up more time and room. I am glad that he is able to do it and you are a big part of that.

    It’s been a pretty incredible journey for Dad and his layout. Looking forward to more.

  9. Sally Karlsmark says:

    Awe Janice, thank you for your extra special words. You said it right. It is hard to believe it is 5 years but it is. Time sure does fly when your having fun.

    P is really doing great on the new extension and, guess what, I was helping him with a turn out today. He asked me if I could and I said how lucky he was to have an experienced wife in the world of model railroads. Left, right and then straight. I did not even need instruction. We both laughed.

    Thanks again to everyone who took the time to post on my behalf. I do recognize all who did and appreciate it. That’s what true friends are for.

  10. Sally Karlsmark says:

    jake……. I wrote the blogs for your Dad and ultimately, for you, as his journey in life and in model railroading are incredible and to be acknowledged. You are just so lucky to have this man as your Father. No parent is perfect as there is no instruction book on how to be one, one can only do their best.

    I am so glad you commented, as it means a great deal not just to me but to P.

    I can remember in the early days you asked me if your Dad was going to work for me or do his trains when he retired?. remember? I just looked at you puzzled and said to myself what in the world is he talking about. I didnt know trains first off nor the depth to which he wanted to aspire. As you can now see, his heart and retirement belonged to the railroad and it was I who ultimately worked for him…..and its been five great years!

    For any contributions I have made to making the layout possible, it was always from my heart and always putting your Dad first. It is a legacy, however, to be captured and one you will always have of your “Dad”. I think this in itself is the bigger over all picture and I have had everything to do with that.

    sally ann

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