Wanderings – Cashing in on nostalgia

Not long after our second oldest child was born, I decided to rid myself of this trunk of old toys. Most of it was Transformers from the 1980s. I had a number of these robots-in-disguise. Optimus Prime, Jetfire, Soundwave, Megatron, Hot Rod, and Starscream – just to name a few. These toys were responsible for many hours of adventures.

When I sold these just over two decades ago, I was surprised that I received a very tidy sum for them – even with some of the stickers faded. While travelling down an internet time-wasting rabbit hole recently, I looked up some of my old toys and was floored with the prices they were selling for.

I was more than happy with the price I got at the time. Had I held on to this large box, I would likely get about 10 times what I did. This is not a one-off.

Everywhere you turn, it feels like what was old is new again. In grocery stores, old food brands or packaging is back. Cartoons from 20, 30, and 40 years ago are back on the air – sometimes with new stories, often just back into syndication. TV streaming apps like Pluto TV have brought back interest in old shows like Murder She Wrote and Who’s the Boss. Even Chuck Norris’ Walker, Texas Ranger has its own channel. Nostalgia is everywhere, and we’re buying it.

Some of this happened during the height of the pandemic. People were at home long enough to pick up or rekindle their interests. Hockey card collecting, model train building, barbecue sauce making, sourdough bread baking, you name it – all these things and more increased.

I’ve often lamented that music and movies largely stopped being or original ideas after Y2K. Most new music created now is just re-sampled or covers from before the year 2000. A majority of the movies made now are reboots of old TV shows or “re-imagined” past hits. Companies have realized many of us are suckers for nostalgia – present company included.

Case in point – my model trains. Since getting that first train under the Christmas Tree 43 years ago, I’ve been interested in these detailed miniature things. For the last 16 years, I’ve had a defined focus and anything that did not specifically fit that focus I ignored. Easy to do, or so I thought.

Before focusing on a very specific era, location, and railroad, I tried to model Canadian trains. A difficult proposition because most companies that manufactured model trains didn’t care about this market.

Just as it takes 25 years for our politicians to figure out how to replace our navy fleet or air force fleet, Canadian railroads had very specific differences in equipment and details from their American cousins. We have to be different to not be American. American manufacturers slapped a Canadian paint job on their models and said “it’s good enough.” Canada has one-tenth the market of the USA – deal with it.

If you were interested in Canadian trains, and good enough wasn’t, you needed lots of time, skill, and patience to accurately model things. I switched interests instead. Then entered this guy from Toronto who started a company that specialized in Canadian trains.

I’ve resisted changing what I was interested in, as there is a lot of money tied up in engines, cars, vans (Canadian term for caboose) and so on. Then the nostalgia arrived.

Recently this company, named Rapido Trains after this owner’s nostalgia for certain blue and yellow trains, hit the nostalgia overload button. In very short order, all the things I tried to do unsuccessfully years ago in the hobby, were readily available at my semi-local hobby shops in Merrickville, Laval, or Tillsonburg. Oh no. Needless to say, I am in the process of selling that which I was doing, to buy the things I wanted to do years ago and now can easily.

I have tried to resist the nostalgia wave and been mostly successful. But when faced with being able to open a box, take out an item, and be transported back to my 13-year old self in 1989 – nostalgia won.

The moral of this story is, as much as we can resist a change we see coming, either to old ways or old things we do, some how, change will inevitably catch up with us. Don’t believe me? Just watch – if Chuck Norris can make a comeback on TV, then anything is possible.

This column was originally published in the November 22, 2023 print edition of the Morrisburg Leader.