Synopses & Reviews
Why do grown men play with trains? Is it a primal attachment to childhood, nostalgia for the lost age of rail travel, or the stuff of flat-out obsession? In this delightful and unprecedented book, Grand Prix legend Sam Posey tracks those who share his "passion beyond scale" and discovers a wonderfully strange and vital culture.
Posey's first layout, wired by his mother in the years just after the Second World War, was, as he writes in his Introduction, "a miniature universe which I could operate on my own. Speed and control: I was fascinated by both, as well as by the way they were inextricably bound together." Eventually, when Poseys son was born, he was convinced that building him a basement layout would be the highest expression of fatherhood. Sixteen years and thousands of hours later, this project, "the outgrowth of chance meetings, unexpected friendships, mistakes, illness, latent ambitions, and sheer luck" was completed. But for Posey, the creation of his HO-scale masterpiece based on the historic Colorado Midland, was just the beginning.
In Playing with Trains, Sam Posey ventures well beyond the borders of his layout in northwestern Connecticut, to find out what makes the top modelers tick. He expects to find men "engaged in a genial hobby, happy to spend a few hours a week escaping the pressures of contemporary life." Instead he uncovers a world of extremes extreme commitment, extreme passion, and extreme differences of approach. For instance, Malcolm Furlow, holed up on his ranch in the wilderness of New Mexico, insists that model railroading is defined by scenery and artistic self-expression. On the other hand, Tony Koester, a New Jersey modeler, believes his "mission" is to replicate, with fanatical precision and authenticity, the way a real railroad operates. Going to extremes himself, Posey actually "test drives" a real steam engine in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, in an attempt to understand the great machines that inspired the models and connect us to a time when "the railroad was inventing America." Timeless and original, Playing with Trains reveals a classic, questing American world.
"Former sportswriter and Grand Prix racer Posey captures the perennial American obsession with model railroading in this joyful combination of memoir, cultural history and love letter. Those who owned electric trains as kids will delight in Posey's retelling of his early love of Lionel trains, as well as his recounting of such details as the fact that Pope Pius XII, 'in full ecclesiastical garb, posed with Lionel equipment in the Vatican.' After his loyalty switches to smaller HO-scale trains, which at first seem more economical for a set he wants to build for his young son, the author soon finds himself confronting the essential truth of HO life: 'people with HO layouts rarely bought their accessories, they made them.' Most of the book's first half recounts the construction of Posey's 16-year masterpiece, a recreation of the Colorado Midland Railway. The author's concise descriptions of his various models are enthralling and often funny, such as the model of his friend Paul Newman's impeccably clean Newman's Own food company headquarters; Posey playfully makes it into a harmful sewage polluter with lazy, card-playing workers, one of whom 'looked suspiciously like Newman himself.' The book's second half is equally absorbing, as Posey meets with, profiles and discusses model railroading with some of the nation's top modelers. Agent, Eric Simonoff. (On sale Sept. 7)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Posey's touching tribute to his hobby is both a sociological study and a personal journey. Anyone who has ever owned a train set or had a love affair with trains will relate." Library Journal
"Remarkably, considering the narrow focus of its topic, this is a book that will appeal to just about everyone....This is a book for every train buff, sports fan, weekend gardener, knitter, crossword puzzler, comic-book collector, or antique hound who has ever experienced the thrill, joy, disappointment, and warm fuzzy feeling that comes from doing something you love." Booklist
"Sam Posey's volume of grand passions and Lilliputian vehicles offers all the satisfactions of a great rail journey through soaring, unspoiled American terrain." Michael Pollan
"This book deals with toys, but it's really about a man's inner life. It's bright and touching and shows a subversive sense of humor." Paul Newman
"With the empathy and insight that could only come from a true hobbyist, Playing with Trains takes the reader on a trip through the model railroading world and introduces us to some of the hobby's most interesting personalities. The journey is personal, friendly and welcoming, and I found it immensely enjoyable." Terry D. Thompson, Editor, Model Railroader Magazine
An Emmy Award-winning sportswriter and Grand Prix racing legend explores the connection between men and trains.
About the Author
Sam Posey was a professional race car driver for nearly twenty years. His career highlights include a fifth place in the Indianapolis 500 and a win in the Twelve Hours of Sebring. After retiring from the track, Posey became a commentator for ABC, winning an Emmy Award in sportswriting for Trans Antarctica, the International Expedition. His first book, The Mudge Pond Express, describes his racing days. He lives above his train layout in northwestern Connecticut, with his wife and two children.