As I said in an earlier post, I've totally enjoyed reading everyone's stories. Here is mine:
For Christmas when I was two years old, I received a little tin train that ran on a piece of tin ... basically monolith graphics painted on a tin base. I still have a vague memory of this little wind up train. The following Christmas I received a wind up train, with an oval of two rail track, which I ran and ran until the little steam loco broke. At that point I pretended that the tank car was the locomotive as I pushed it, the gondola and caboose around the oval of track. At age 4 Santa brought me a Lionel electric train ... out of the 1957 catalogue ... the 2065 Hudson steamer with automatic milk car, NYC Pacemaker operating boxcar, operating log dump flat car, a Sunoco 3 dome tank car, and Lionel Lines porthole illuminated caboose . A Lionel 1033 transformer powered my little oval empire. I ran that train around the Christmas tree all day Christmas Day.... until the locomotive gave out. My father had to take the locomotive back to the dept store in Baltimore so they could send it off to Santa to be repaired ... luckily Santa had made sure that dept. store was well stocked with Lionel engines and the store gladly exchanged the broken with a new one.... that is the story that Dad told me anyway I still have this Lionel train set today in running condition! I do run it on occasion too
My Lionel train was to be put up at Christmas time only ( usually a couple weeks before Christmas to about 10 days after ) as we lived in a small house with no space for a permanent layout. Dad built a 4x8 train table so the layout could be expanded with additional track and switches for my 5th Christmas. My mom contributed her scenery talents and created a tunnel made out of painted grocery bags strewn over some chicken wire which looked way cool to me! She also had tiny cardboard houses and churches , found in five and dime stores, which she place on the layout and of course she covered the whole layout in snow. I thought this layout was delightful!
Each year I received add ons .... at age 6 Santa brought my first add on car, a N&W black 4 bay covered hopper. This is when I learned about the Norfolk and Western Railroad and that my grandma's cousin's husband Floyd, was a locomotive engineer on that railroad. That same Christmas I also received the operating newstand which was a huge hit with visitors!
Each year the rolling stock and accessories increased. I received the operating barrel car, a Pennsy porthole caboose with couplers at both ends, and an aircraft beacon ( all are part of my existing layout ) for Christmas at age 7. The barrel conveyor at age 8. When my brother turned 4 Santa brought him a Lionel train set as well. That same year my uncle Leon gave me an HO freight set with a Union Pacific SW1000 switcher. Uncle Leon was the traffic manager for Kennecott Copper Corp and he dealt with all modes of freight transportation so he knew all the railroads that existed from the east coast to Nevada and Montana. He gave me my first engineers cap too ... a real NYC engineers cap with the insignia The New York Central System.
With my brother and me involved in trains, my father built a second train table. The trains were moved to our bedroom for the Christmas season only. We had a 8x8 empire of trains in our room and nothing like waking up every morning and looking at those trains!!! I just absolutely loved it!! Eventually we had 3 loops of track with sidings/spurs and a loop up on an elevated section/plateau. With houses and streets lit up the layout was a sight to see in daylight or dark. I was grateful then and somehow even more grateful now, I guess better put, profoundly grateful now , for the trains my parents bought us kids. My brother was never into train as much as I was but he certainly totally enjoyed constructing the layout each year. Running trains was never his thing really but putti then together the train tables certainly was ... as a matter of fact he built the benchwork for my present layout and he did an exquisite job too!!
As a kid I was always satisfied with the trains I had.... the 2065 Hudson ... Santa Fe NW2 .... and the 216 Also FA twin AA diesels plus the rolling stock and accessories. I bought my first set of 3 passenger cars, Santa Fe streamliners, when I was in 6th grade with money I saved from cutting neighbors lawns. I still have all of these locos and original cars in operating order. Of course I had those Lionel catalogs and would certainly dream ... of one day having Super O track, a GG1, Santa Fe F3 diesels, a Virginian Trainmaster, RS3, GP7, and that glorious scale Hudson.... oh heck I wanted the entire Lionel catalogue! LOL!! I now pretty much now own all of these locomotive ( not the Santa Fe F3s but I do have the B&O F3s ).
The browsing of the Lionel catalogue, going to dept. stores and train shops and just starring at that wall of trains and locomotives, getting lost in the watching of trains speed around dealer layouts, intensely longing for those trains and to better improve my own layout , stimulated my imagination beyond belief! I had plenty of fuel for my imagination, upon coming home returning to our layout after every one of those dept store outings. I never felt let down or disappointed with our home layout because to me our layout was just fabulous and my imagination certainly filled in any blanks.
As I'm now realizing, my imagination is actually the gift I'm most grateful for. Imagination is the most important part of this hobby ... at least for me ... as I suppose it may be for others of you too. Of course my parents worked hard to put those trains on the table, if you will, and without those trains ( and the trains they said "no" to "because those trains are just too expensive" ... further stimulating my longing for and thus simultaneously my imagination   my imagination would probably not have been so greatly stimulated ... so most of all thanks Dad and Mom for the wonderful gift of imagination.