Essay: Steam Engine No. 3

Words by Sloane Citron

Photos by Annie Barnett

Words by Sloane Citron

Well, it all started when I was visiting my son Coby in Israel early last year, and my grandson Evan asked me to bring back a steam engine train for his gift (see PUNCH, March 2022). While I briefly looked for such a thing, I knew that there was little chance of finding one in the land of milk and honey (but evidently not of steam engines).

I did find an amazing little BRIO steam engine train on Amazon. The precisely made toy not only produces true steam but also travels forward and backward (with a fair degree of power) and has working front lights. I knew Evan would be thrilled and so I ordered it to arrive in tandem with my return home.

Thus, the lie was begot.

Evan is obsessed with trains and this one rose to the pinnacle of his passion, going everywhere with him from school to car trips to, unfortunately, the playground where, once buried in the sand a few times, the little engine finally died. Nonetheless, he still carried it with him everywhere.

Eventually, I bought another one from Amazon and presented it to Evan as a gift from Coby in Israel, still embracing the origin story. Evan was back on his game, using it on the extensive track that covers much of the family room of my son, Josh, and his wife, Adara. Once again, a steam engine blew steam and pulled up to a dozen train cars along the winding and climbing track.

For the past week, my wife and I had the pleasure of hosting Evan and his sister Mara while his parents were on a company-sponsored trip to Bali. I made sure to bring his entire collection of trains and track—three large containers—to our home. I cleared out our living room, and Evan and I busied ourselves building an enormous track that covered that room plus our front entry and into our dining room.

During their time with us, I decided to play hooky with them one Friday and we had a day of adventures. Early that morning, we went to my office (where they love to play), followed by the bagel shop and then Century 20 in Redwood City. (Hint: If you ever want the whole theater to yourself, try to catch a 9:50AM show.)

We were halfway to our next stop to visit our former Rebbetzin, Robin Teitelbaum, who now lives at the Moldow senior living facility in Palo Alto, when Evan realized that he didn’t have his steam engine. I stopped the car, and we drove back to Redwood City, where, after parking in the garage and getting out of the car seats, we made the long trek back to the theater. After asking around and searching for ourselves, the crushing verdict was no steam engine.

The next day, we revisited my office and the bagel shop with no success. We walked the streets of Menlo Park, searched our home and tore apart the car with no luck. Perhaps the little train had run off to join the circus.

Though I am no fan of Amazon, this day it was our hero. In the midafternoon, I ordered another steam engine, and it was delivered to our door the next day. Evan quickly named this one Black Steam Engine 3. From the second it arrived, my four-year-old grandson discovered the art of caring for something that you relish. He carefully took it out of the packaging, saving the box, plastic holder and instruction manuals. We called Coby in Israel and on Facetime, Evan profusely thanked his uncle for sending the train to him.

Evan carefully filled the small receptacle that held the water to power the steam and quickly put the train to the test. Though these little trains are all presumably the same, Steam Engine Number 3 seemed to be a good one, with more power and an especially large plume of steam pouring forth from its smokestack.

The new rule for this train is that it cannot leave Evan’s home, ever. We’ll see whether he is still captivated by trains when (and if) it’s time for number 4. Meanwhile, somewhere, someone is enjoying Steam Engine Number 2, and I hope they are liking it. But while they have No. 2, they have nothing on Steam Engine Number 3, the best steam engine of all.