As I was moving some books around today, a business card dropped out of one of them and fluttered to the floor.
Ken Healy has been gone for some years, and I don’t think I ever saw him after I moved away from Ottawa over twenty five years ago. Yet, his card clicking softly to the floor brought back a flood of memories. For Ken, probably unknown to himself, was central to my growth as a model railroader and as a young man.
I met Ken through Bob Craig, who deserves his own blog post, even though I know there are no business cards of his waiting to spring back into my life. Ken was one of the leaders of the group of modellers who kept Dave Thomas’s Rideau Valley and Finch going for years after its owner had passed. Indeed, I never met Mr Thomas, or even his wife who was to me no more than mysterious foot falls on the ceiling above the railroad. Through my teens, I joined the group most Tuesday evenings to spend an hour on maintenance, then a couple of hours operating the railroad, and finally a further hour of slides, pop and chips.
These were the first men (there were no women among us) whom I came to call friends, and that is a keen thing to remember as we pass through life. I suppose I could have as easily fallen in with a group of gangsters, gamblers or squash players. Instead, I had the great fortune to find a group of model railroaders.
As I say, Ken was one of the leaders, and it usually fell to him to assign the jobs on the RV&F. I don’t know what maintenance task I was working on one Tuesday, near the beginning of my time with the railroad, but I was joking around with one of my new friends, feeling awfully grown-up, and I let an expletive fly. I swore. Ken heard, and looked over his glasses, across his clipboard, above the railroad to fix me with a stare. He didn’t say anything, but I understood immediately that if I wanted to be invited back, I must behave as a gentleman.
If there was a day when I grew up, that may have been it.
My second abiding memory of Ken was a trip to the Toronto train show. I was perhaps 18 at the time, and Ken asked if I would like to go to the show with him. He was heading down and back in the same day. That’s about a four and a half hour trip in each direction in good weather.
In good weather. But the Toronto train show was in March, and the weather that Sunday was Marchish. The four of us set out at the appointed dark hour, and enjoyed a full day at the show. By the time we turned for home, snow had become freezing rain, and the bad roads had turned to skating rinks.
For hours we edged our way along the 401 past a parade of ditched vehicles. We all offered to take a turn at the wheel, but Ken stuck resolutely to his task. By the time we berthed his Renault, it was past midnight. Ken should have been exhausted, but he was as affable as ever all the way home.
And that was Ken. He spent his retirement years promoting and presiding over the C Robert Craig Memorial Library. This trove of Ottawa-focused railway books and materials is a true marvel, and it is ever fitting that Ken named it for his good friend, Bob.
Those who do not model trains would be forgiven for believing that it is a solitary endeavour. For me, the friendships I have formed and nurtured through our common interest are key to my enjoyment of the hobby, and indeed to life.