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Playing with Trains: A Passion Beyond Scale Paperback – November 8, 2005

4.7 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Here's a guy with a healthy variety of interests. Posey is an architectural designer, an Emmy-winning sportswriter, and a Grand Prix racer. Oh, and he likes to play with toy trains, too. OK, it may be a little more than a pastime: his own model railroad, based on the Colorado Midland, took more than 15 years to build. Not merely a memoir, his book is an introduction both to the whole subculture of model trains and to the people for whom playing with trains is not just a hobby but a way of life. Remarkably, considering the narrow focus of its topic, this is a book that will appeal to just about everyone. In telling the story of his obsession with model trains, Posey speaks directly to all of us who have special interests to which we devote large chunks of our spare time. 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. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (November 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812971264
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812971262
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #984,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. Rosen on October 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Seeing this book was a surprise, I'd only ever thought of Sam Posey as a race commentator. I'm glad I bought it - Posey does a wonderful job of weaving his history of model railroad interest with the history of the hobby, the background of the actual railroad he attempts to recreate with his layout, and the people and places that are the "rock stars" of model railroading. Anyone who has ever had a railroad set will recognize Posey's (and his acquaintances') child-like enthusiasm for trains, both real and modeled. He travels all over the country meeting some of the top modelers and visiting their layouts and has a wonderful articulate voice for description of some of the 'characters' and their unique visions of what a model railroad should be.

So why did I give this book only 4 stars? For one, I wish there had been some photos of some of the wonderful layouts he describes. There are none, just a couple of cover shots of his layout. This is especially odd since he devotes a portion of the book to describing his efforts to photograph others' layouts. The other reason is that I don't grade on a curve, and a 5 star book has to truly move me and be something I know I'll read again. "Playing With Trains" was fun and educational, but it's not quite at that level. Still strongly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
This book really captures the spirit of an activity and frame of mind so many of us return to. Model railroading, and the love of trains in general, is something that many of us pick up as a child and then abandon until we get older. After the mid-life crisis are finished, we finally have the time and hopefully the money to enjoy some of the things from our youth. I for one am planning my layout now! Maybe that is one of the reasons I picked up this book. Wherever you are in yor journey, I highly recommend Playing With Trains. It is an enjoyable read with some excellent insite.
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Format: Hardcover
Sam Posey's writing style has been described as articulate. I would call it both articulate and captivating. It is hard to put the book down, you want to keep reading. When I finished it, I was disappointed to have reached the end, I wanted more.

The reader is immediately drawn into a fascinating world that melds realism and imagination in a unique and inviting way. It is not really about toys or the trains themselves, as much as it is about the effect they have on those who venture into the hobby.

Sam describes a train's disappearance into a mountain tunnel as adding dimensions of mystery and anticipation to the layout. And, in many ways, that describes the essence of the book itself.

It seems inevitable that this book will become a catalyst for new model train layouts of various sizes and complexity being constructed in basements across America.

Even for those who really have no interest in trains, this book is enjoyable, intriguing and great fun to read.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a gem and a page-turner. It is a lot of fun but it is also deep, a masterpiece in fact.

When a child takes off in an airplane for the first time, he may react very strongly to the optical illusion, as the plane climbs out, that houses, trees, cars, and people are shinking into miniatures. At first the child may be made uneasy by this shrinkage but, with the pro forma voice of adult reassurance (no, they are not really shinking, we are just moving further away) the illusion of tiny houses, barns, trees, people -- whole cities in miniature -- becomes a source of quickening delight.

This is why people love scale models. A big part of what the brain does, all day every day, its main job perhaps, is to judge size and scale. A human brain moving though the world constantly seeks clues, references, that will tell it whether an object, a tree or a building, say, is 1) tiny or 2) far away.

The size of a building can be quickly determined -- the eye counts the number of stories. But a tree -- mature trees of every size, from five feet tall to a hundred feet tall -- may have identically the same shape and structure. To help the brain judge a tree's size and distance, the eye hunts for a size reference of some kind, maybe a woman or a dog standing under the tree.

If it finds there instead, under the tree, a huge package of cigarettes, or a huge human hand -- signaling that the tree is in fact tiny -- the brain laughs out loud. It delights in miniatures: exact scale models.

And the brain is repelled by departures from perfect scale. Lionel trains of the 1950s, for example, were supplied with a non-scale track -- three rails instead of two.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For some reason I could not finish reading this book. But that could be my own fault entirely as Mr. Posey is a writer that is very easy to read.
The subject matter and the title of this book does however, say it all. Playing with Trains is exactly what it is so if you are looking for how I did it myself type book , I suggest you look elsewhere.
There is a certain appeal to some in the hobby but if you like to build yourself then read this book but don't expect to it to be a DIY by any means. It's more of "I have the money, I can pay someone else to build it for me." but it's also a bit more than that. It's a walk down memory lane for a ,lot of people who grew up with model trains. Mr. Posey's writing style is captivating and you might just find yourself reading it for the shear sense of joy and pleasure that comes through. For that alone it is worth a read.
I think it all depends on what you are looking for. Like I said, the Title says it all.
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