When I die, let the flames devour me/ When I die, set me free/ When I die, throw my ashes to the breeze/ When I die, scatter me.
—”Wolves,” by Peter Bradley Adams and Caitlin Canty, Down Like Silver
I have been thinking about this editorial for some time, and as an editor who really believes in positive thinking and actions, had steered clear because it may strike some of you as morbid. But, I am also a realist and this year’s loss of Jim Vail, combined with the passing of some other, perhaps lesser known, but still admired railroaders pushed me towards it, and after seeing a beautiful HOn3 layout given away to anyone willing to come pick it up because the owner had died last year, I knew it was time. So here is your truth bomb: I am going to die someday… and so will you.
I double checked with No. 2 Son, the insurance agent, and while the insurance companies may be willing to bet that it will be later rather than sooner, the tables indicate that the mortality rate in the U.S. (and presumably elsewhere) is very close to 100%. You and I, my friend, are going to run out of track at some point. If you are thinking, “Yes, I know that is true Mr. Sunshine, but so what? I’ll be dead and I won’t care,” to which I say, “Don’t be a selfish jerk!” You may be gone, but your spouse, your loved ones, your kids and your friends will still be here and somebody is going to have to deal with all the books and train crap you left behind.
Did I say train crap? How about “valuable collection” or “life-long work” or even “carefully constructed layout and accessories.” Call it whatever you like, but someone is going to have to deal with all that stuff and I am strongly suggesting that someone needs to be you. It is unfair to those you leave behind have to both mourn your loss and clean up the mess you left. So let’s discuss the pro-active steps we need to take now; before we get old, get sick, get dead, or some combination of those.
First, let’s get realistic about what our stuff is worth. Excluding guys with walls of brass, or libraries full of rare railroad books, our stuff just isn’t worth what we think it is, or maybe even what we’ve lead our family to believe. It is a buyer’s market and even the brass masters and rare book bibliophiles are not getting the prices they were a decade ago. Your collection was money well-spent, but move it on to someone without regard to how much money it cost. Your family will be much better taken care of by slightly increasing your life insurance rather than needing whatever cash your trains bring in, especially since they likely won’t know to who, and for how much, to sell them for. And no, I don’t get a kickback from my kid; having adequate insurance and death benefits is just the responsible thing for us to do. Right?
Second, have a will in place and spell out who gets what, and if outside folks are going to dispose of your trains for your heirs; who those folks are, and how they will do it. Also, discuss with your heirs your intent to not burden them with your trains, and make sure you have made any arrangements with book/brass dealers or your train buddies you need to, and get their contact info in the will. Do the same for your friends if they pass, including layout removal.
Let’s make the lasting memory of us to the ones we leave behind as a beloved spouse/parent/friend, and not the jerk that stuck them with a basement/attic/garage/storeroom full of junk.
With that, I return you to this year’s HOn3 Annual. As always, I hope you find the mix of articles useful, entertaining, and inspiring, and we thank you for your continued support of this publication.
—Chris Lane, Editor