A mostly unused railroad right-of-way ran right past our house in Pennsylvania, when dad briefly worked for Dupont. The old man at the end of our cul-de-sac, Mr. Pete, was an old Locomotive Engineer. He had never graduated from high school. Instead, he ran away from home when he was 16 and signed on to shovel coal on a steam engine. He was a big man, who looked like he could shovel some coal. He was a smart man, and worked his way up to chief locomotive engineer. He and my father, a mechanical engineer and something of a polymath of the physical sciences, would have long conversations about steam power

He had bought his house because the lot backed up to the tracks. His entire basement was a giant electric train set. It was so big he had these trapdoors in the middle of the town that he could open and poke his head out of, so that he could add and change things. Anytime we wanted, we could come over and run the trains. It has a switching yard and everything.

Mr. Pete and his old rail buddies had bought an old steam engine and several cars, then restored all of it. He would have them bring the train around and PARK IT IN HIS BACKYARD! right on the tracks. Then he'd give us run of the train. We could hang out in the engine car, eat lunch in the dining car. Once, we got to sleepover in the caboose car. A couple of times, I got to watch my Dad help Mr. Pete get up stream in the boiler and boot up the train.

What a super old guy. I was really lucky to have him next door.