“Well my rig’s a little old, but that don’t mean she’s slow; there’s a flame from the stack and the smoke’s blowin’ black as coal; well my hometown is comin’ in sight, if you think I’m happy you’re right. Six days on the road and I’m gonna make it home tonight.” — “Six Days on the Road,” by Dave Dudley
GREENVILLE — There’s a hard-edged romance that rides shotgun with drivers of the big rigs rolling across the ribbons of concrete that make up America’s highway system. The open road, the freedom, a life unchained from the desk, the cubicle, the office; it’s a dream only a few ever realize.
Of course, those who actually pilot an 18-wheeler will no doubt tell you it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, that every job has its downside.
But that hasn’t stopped generations of boys and men from dreaming. From Tonka trucks and electric trains to Ravell plastic models to Fords and Chevys, most boys grow up dreaming of wheels. The more passionate among us never stop.
It is exactly that sort of passion that has driven retired Pastor Paul Dickson — who received his first set of “wheels” in 1945, a Christmas gift from his father — to stick with the hobby right through to the present.
Dickson’s collection of vintage model cars and trains easily tops 540 pieces, most in mint condition.
“I got my first train when I was just a kid living in Toronto,” Dickson says. “This was in 1945 and there weren’t that many around at the time. I slowly got more interested in trains and that led to an interest in cars.
“We didn’t have a car when we lived in Canada, but when we moved to the States, dad bought a Packard,” he said.
A model of that ’48 Packard is still Dickson’s favorite, he adds.
But it wasn’t until a trip to the 1948 Indy 500 that Dickson’s interest in cars really took hold.
Soon enough Dickson began saving his pennies to purchase build-it-yourself model cars and later, collector quality die cast scale replicas. Most of his car collection are of the 1/18 and 1/32 scale variety, and they do take up a bit of room in his finished basement; several rooms, in fact.
Dickson’s network of like-minded collectors included his father, and more recently, friends and one of his sons. Many automobiles in his current collection he has received as gifts.
“At Christmas, the kids or my friend would send me a car,” Dickson says. “We would get each other models if we saw something unusual.”
Until about seven years ago, Dickson and his wife, Sue, lived in Buffalo, N.Y. When they decided to move to Greenville in order to be more centrally located to their children scattered across the region, Dickson was forced to buy a trailer simply to transport his extensive vehicle collection.
“We became acquainted with Greenville because my father-in-law, Pastor Jones, pastored a church here and we would come visit him,” Dickson explains. “We thought this was a nice place to settle, to retire in. We love it here.”
Living in Greenville allows reasonable travel times to the homes of his grown children, who reside in Iowa, Indiana and New York.
Dickson’s “retirement” hasn’t been quite as leisurely as he originally anticipated, however; he is currently serving as interim pastor of First Baptist Church on Franklin Street.
Still, visiting his children and pastoring still leave him plenty of time to spend with his collecting hobby, he says. Dickson’s extensive O-gauge model train city features a working carousel, trolley car, several trains and virtually every item one would find in a small, circa-1950s town.
Around the holidays, much of the “town” is dismantled and moved upstairs, Dickson laments, for inclusion in Sue’s Christmas village display.
With 20 grandchildren visiting on a more or less regular basis, Dickson has discovered it’s a good idea to keep one room filled with “kid-friendly” cars and trains.
“They see all my cars and they of course want to play with them,” Dickson says. “But kids can be hard on them, so I keep a bunch handy that they can use for demolition derby or whatever. That’s their favorite part; when things crack up.”
Dickson plans to one day pass his expansive collection along to one of his sons, who also is interested in the hobby and has a collection of his own.
“I’ve really enjoyed the cars,” Dickson says, cradling the Packard that remains his personal favorite. “This is a great hobby.”