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Playing with Trains: A Passion Beyond Scale Paperback – November 8, 2005
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Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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. This bothered a lot of people, me included, and that noxious third rail is a leitmotif in this book. Whole railroads have been built, it seems, to undo the damage done by that third rail to the perfect illusion of scale.
If you put time into the scale equation, as you approach or draw away from an object, then the game of guessing the size of a distant object becomes a key to assessing speed and distance. The faster you drive, the more important the question of scale becomes to your survival. Adding in the axis of time also gets you into the problem of history -- personal history, railroad history.
It seems especially apt that Sam Posey, an artist and a Ferrari racer (he won Sebring) would be fascinated by the concept of scale. In this book he weaves the basic human delight with, and fixation upon, the problem of time, speed, size and distance into a wonderfully elaborate and personal story of scale modeling in the "real" world; it is really a very sophisticated book, in which time and space become playthings, taffy to pull, and history collapses into the present moment.
It is also a great narrative about his life, and about how he built his scale model railroad. There are really two books here. Part I is literature, a self contained essay about Posey and his railroad. Part II is journalism, visits to other people's railroads, railway journeys, essays. In this respect it is kind of like a DVD, with the actual movie (Part I) plus a surround of interviews and how-we-did-it's (Part II.) . Absolutely first rate.
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.