Of Sangamo specials and model trains

Rev. Dr. Peter Keith

(6/1/2009) My neighbor has the finest collection of model trains Iíve ever seen. When he and his wife designed their house, he made sure the back part of the second floor would include a house length room for his hobby. Where there could be two rooms, there is a large one, dedicated to a magnificent scale model railroad. Along the walls are display cases filled with his collection of locomotives, rail cars, and railroad memorabilia. There is so much he could open a shop. When leaving from my first visit to see it, his wife said, "So, youíve seen the collection. Sinful, isnít it?"

She was both joking and getting in a bit of a dig. Perhaps she did not approve of the vastness of the collection Ė and the money spent acquiring it. My neighbor smiled with a look of having heard it before. Still, I knew two things. The collection wasnít going anywhere. And that he loved it.

I once knew two people who seemed concerned somehow about their earned affluence and a possible conflict with their level of faithfulness. "Are we truly called to sell all we have and give it to the poor?" I answered, "No, then you would be poor too." Their question came from an understanding some have that to love God means that we must choose absolutely between the material and spiritual things of life. There is the story of Jesus telling the rich man that if he wanted to know God he must first go and sell all that he had. He went away unhappy. The point, of course, was that the man was tied closely to his wealth. Jesus did not mean that he should become poor, but rather that he evaluate his set of values.

My friends know that I am interested in watches. Actually, they know that I am more than interested. The Internet web sites for people like me. We are called WISís (watch idiot savants). It is a term given to those who have a peculiar fascination with watches. Wristwatches and pocket watches. Not clocks. Watches. Iím a watch nut. So, with that clear, itís not so hard to imagine that I collect them. I restore, overhaul, and repair watches. When someone sees my collection, or I bore him or her explaining the significance of one I may be wearing that day, they will sometimes ask as to its value. Like many things collected, the value is based on original cost, condition, rarity, desirability, complexity, and beauty (which is subjective).

I have watches made by Omega, Rolex, Eterna, Seiko (yes, they make mechanical watches), Longines, Bulova, Hamilton, Benrus, Breitling, Oris, IWC, and on and on and on. But if you want to get me started, ask me about pocket watches. Well, you probably shouldnít, because I will tell you more than you may want to know.

There were once many companies making pocket watches in America. The Illinois Watch Company was one of them. They were in existence from around 1869 Ė 1927. They are considered by many to be the most finely made American pocket watches. They made a variety of "calibers" but their best would be their railroad grade versions. (Ask me, Iíll tell you all about it). And, I have some doozies.

But, you know, Iíve thought about my watches. I could sell them. I could give the money to the poor. I could give the money to someone who needs it. They just sit there. Either on my watch bench, or in the bunch needing certain parts, or in display cases. They are worth money, and they just sit there. I only wear one watch at a time, and I could look almost anywhere and see a digital display of the time, but I have them. Couldnít I sell them and help someone who needs money? Yes. But I wonít.

We are material by nature. We cannot entirely divest ourselves of material things. (To get into the issue of material need versus want takes another article). The issue is not the quality or amount of material things we may have, but how they are ranked in our sense of what we value. Itís a question of whatís important. We must be generous. We must be charitable. We must contribute. We must share. And we must always give priority to these things over any material acquisition.

You may collect something Ė or have material objects that serve no purpose other than to bring you pleasure. We understand, all of us, that we would sacrifice any material thing for the well being of another. So it is true that one can have material objects and still love your neighbor. If we have "nice" things we may keep them as long as we know that they cannot, cannot be the most important part in our lives. We just have to remember that there is an inherent higher value on the non-material things of life.

In a million years Iíd rather have a heartfelt embrace from one of my children than any watch in the world. I mean it. Iíd rather give than receive. Iíd rather spend money feeding someone who is hungry. I have, and I will again. And Iím sure guys like my neighbor are the same way.

I will try to keep the lesson of priorities and "where my heart should be" and try to remember what is truly valuable in this world. In the mean time, Iíll keep the 1915 Illinois Watch Company Sangamo Special 23 ruby jewel with raised gold settings and gold running train, motor barreled, number three pattern damanskeened plate, model 3, 14 carat gold plated factory cased, adjusted to 6 positions and for temperature and isochronism, size 17s railroad grade pocket watch. And Iíll enjoy it.

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