The Significance of Trains

So last week I talked about the trains we got from my wife’s grandfather. I didn’t really get into why these trains are so important to us. It’s a long story and would have broken up the story of building the display case, which was the point of that blog post. The point of this blog post will actually be that long story. So, here’s the long story about why our new antique trains are important to our family:

It all starts back in 1991. It actually starts long before that, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Back in 1991 I was a Theatre Arts major attending Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania. I’d grown up all along the east coast, mostly in the suburbs of Philadelphia, but at that point in time I was pretty much living in State College.

Among the many things I discovered at college was the Society for Creative Anachronism or SCA. The SCA is an organization of people who think the middle ages are so cool that they re-enact them at every opportunity. We’ve all seen the civil war re-enactors; the SCA is like that, only re-enacting a time four to fourteen hundred years earlier. The people in the SCA do all kinds of fun stuff like make and wear Middle Ages clothing, sometimes using all middle ages techniques and materials. Or they do the same thing with food and other crafts. They also like to dance and sing and fight. The two things I did were dancing and fighting.

When talking about fighting in the SCA, we use real armor we swing with real force and we use fake swords. The swords are rattan and though they are as heavy as steel and hit with the same force, since they strike with a wide round surface rather than an edge, they do significantly less damage. The idea is that we get to play at fighting more than once. Fighting in the SCA is not scripted or choreographed. The goal of each combatant is to hit the other combatants until they think they’ve been hit hard enough. This is hard, but not all that hard. No one really wants to be hit hard enough to really damage them, so most fighters take a solid clean shot. 

When talking about dancing, while many of the folks in the SCA like to do all the ballroom-slash-medieval line dancing, I’m with the group that belly dances. Yes, I was a male-belly dancer. I got into it because a girl I’d met got me into it and when I danced I got a lot of attention from the women in the SCA. I was twenty-one. I liked the attention. I’m not going to say I was a good belly dancer – it’s an art that takes lifetimes to master and I only spent a year or so learning, so I was just okay. Just-okay as a male belly dancer goes a long way when there were maybe three other’s that I’d met around that time.

Did I mention this was a long story?

The SCA is not a small group. They have some pretty big events. One of the biggest is called the Pennsic War. It’s a war because its main activity is the fighting. They have battles with thousands of people fighting on each side. While there is fighting, there are lots of other activities going on since not everyone in the SCA fights. The Pennsic War occurs just north of Pittsburgh each year in August. It’s a large camp of tents divided by households and kingdoms and such.

I was twenty-one when I went to my first Pennsic. I had a girlfriend, but our relationship was in a questionable state. My girlfriend was there, but so was her mother and infant sister. I spent the days fighting and the nights dancing – usually alone. By alone I mean I didn’t take my girlfriend with me. There were thousands of people around. I wandered from camp to camp, wherever the dancing drums were beating.

It was at one of these camps that I met my wife. Tired of walking around alone, I opted to stick with a group of belly-dancers that I’d met at that one camp. The girl that paid the most attention to me from that group wasn’t one of the dancers, but a friend of one of the dancers.

Kama had spent the summer driving across the country from her home in Nebraska with her friend Erin who’d discovered the SCA while living in Boston and talked Kama into going to Pennsic with her. So Kama and I met and hung out for the rest of the war. She gave me her phone number which I promptly lost. When the war ended, I went back to Penn State and Kama went back to Nebraska.

Yes, this is still leading to the significance of the trains.

A few weeks later I got a call from Kama. She’d somehow tracked me down, which was a much more difficult thing to do before the internet. (Technically the internet existed in 1991, but the World Wide Web, what we think of as the internet today, was still a few years away.) A few months later I moved to Nebraska and a couple years after that we started planning the wedding.

To be clear, Kama and I had never met, never heard of each other, and had no idea the other even existed prior to meeting at Pennsic.

It was a discussion between Kama’s mother and grandfather that brought the heart of this tale to light. They were discussing family names. Kama’s mother told her grandfather that my grandfather had the same first two names as he did. Kama’s grandfather is Roy Scott, his full first and middle names are ‘Leroy Bertram’ and my grandfather is ‘Bertram Leroy’.

Then Kama’s grandfather mentions that he was named after a man named “Bertram Leroy Ogden.” He didn’t know my last name yet. He was as surprised as any of us to learn that the man he was named after was actually my grandfather.

Kama’s great-grandfather, Jay Scott, and my grandfather, Bert Ogden, were best friends in early twentieth-century Philadelphia. When Jay had a son, he named him after his best friend. Kama and I’s chance meeting reunited the Scott and Ogden families.

One of the things that Jay and Bert did, when they hung out, was play with the trains Jay had gotten his son. So 75 years ago those trains that are now on display in my living room, were running on a table somewhere on the outskirts of Philadelphia with Kama’s great-grandfather, her grandfather and my grandfather all standing by and running those trains.

I don’t know when the Scotts and Ogdens lost touch with each-other. Kama’s grandfather moved out on his own after returning from WWII and didn’t maintain the connection to my family. It took more than half a century, but once again the Ogdens and Scotts can stand around and admire the trains, only this time, in my children, they are the same people.


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