It’s funny how my memory plays tricks on me from time to time.
I remember things so very clearly and in such detail and then they turn out never to have happened. The other side of this coin is that things that did happen to me that I should never forget seem to slip into the mists of time and disappear in a haze of forgetfulness.
Such is the case with papier-mâché.
I am a frustrated craftsman. I have always had a love of wood working and model making but my hands never seem able to achieve what my mind envisions. This becomes particularly upsetting in view of the fact that my father, who had no formal training whatsoever in woodworking, is nonetheless able to turn an orange crate into a mahogany coffee table, seemingly without effort. I on the other hand am reasonably able to turn a mahogany coffee table into an orange crate without fail.
Periodically my fancy turns to model making and more often than not model trains. Ho gauge model trains to be specific. I suppose I have built, or at least started, at least a hundred such layouts in my life. The number I’ve finished is considerably fewer. One of the reasons for this low percentage of success is that my ability and my imagination always seem to part company at a crucial moment during construction.
One such occasion arose some years ago when I was living in Delaware Ohio. A small, friendly town just a little north of Columbus. I decided that since the huge old farmhouse we were living in had a large room that we were not using, it would be an ideal place to build the grand daddy of all ho train layouts.
I began with a five by ten foot frame and proceeded to lay a framework of track bed back and forth and around and around this frame. I raised the track where I wanted mountains to be and lowered it where I thought valleys would look good and even criss-crossed the tracks where I intended to place tunnels and bridges.
When the track bed was finished I carefully tacked chicken wire in place and using this as support began to lay plaster soaked paper towels on his wire framework to form the actual landscape.
By the time I was finished the whole project had begun to take on the look of something I might actually finish and be proud of. I used water diluted colors to tint the plaster to the proper earth colors and was especially pleased with the resulting effect.
Finally, I decided that the entire layout needed were several tunnels to finish it off in style. While the plaster / paper towel / chicken wire method of construction had worked quite well, I decided that the tunnels needed to be constructed of papier-mâché. Why .. I have no earthly idea. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.
This is where my memory began to sabotage me. I was sure that I remembered how to make papier-mâché from my kindergarten days. It was simple. All you needed was some newspaper, torn into thin strips, some water and some paste to hold it all together. I had all that stuff, except the paste and I remembered that flour and water made an excellent paste.
Thusly, I prepared the material. Since the only flour in the house was self rising, I saw no problem with using that. The conglomeration turned out beautifully and I fashioned several marvelous tunnels exactly in the size and shape I needed.
Several days later, the tunnels were still damp so I decided that placing them in a warm oven would hurry the drying process. It did. It also caused the self rising flour to swell . . . A lot.
I ended up with several huge loaves of bread with small holes through their centers.
Even though they no longer resembled model train tunnels, I doggedly placed them in position on the layout and proceeded to pretend they looked great. With a little paint and a bit of careful trimming they actually looked almost acceptable. Trouble is they looked very acceptable to the little worms that moved in and made their home.
My wife says I never finish anything I start to build. How could I? The worms wouldn’t move out.