A Model Father – How Model Toy Trains Keep Neil Young and Son Ben on Track

No one would claim that model railroading is an easy hobby.

Creative, artistic, and a lot of fun, but certainly not easy. Assembling model toy trains by hand takes hours of pain-staking labour and a sharp attention to detail. Designing, building, and painting backgrounds demands not only good artistic focus but plenty of ingenuity; many model railroaders build their scenery from scrap material found in the garage or the basement. Add to that the challenges faced by anyone suffering with cerebral palsy, and you begin to understand what Neil Young was up against when he decided to share his love of model trains with his son, Ben.  

The setup that Neil enjoys with Ben is incredible to see: a living system of moss and ferns, with stumps taken from the surrounding property acting as backdrop. A misting system waters the entire area in about 45 seconds, keeping the “hills” green and lush. Together, Ben and Neil keep the nearly 700 feet of track in good working order, making sure the trains always run on time. The complex is housed in a barn, nearly 2800 square feet dedicated to the love one man has for his hobby and his son. That love inspired Neil to create a special control that Ben can use, a paddle that responds to pressure, so that they can truly share in the trains that have fascinated Neil since he was a child.  

Living with cerebral palsy isn’t easy, and raising a son with the disorder would be hard on anybody. The illness, caused by a lack of oxygen or damage to the brain early in life, interferes with muscle control and motor skills, making it difficult for Ben to do many of the things that you or I take for granted. But Neil has made a commitment to his son, to keep him happy, engaged and achieving his full potential. Trains are a language by which two men can express their joy in each other’s company, and two people can explore a little piece of paradise they’ve created together.

Model toy trains have provided people like Neil and Ben with memories they will have forever, building relationships along with railroads.   

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