Customer Reviews: Playing with Trains: A Passion Beyond Scale
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on October 29, 2004
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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on January 28, 2005
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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on September 7, 2004
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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on November 7, 2004
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. 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.
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on May 20, 2014
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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on October 13, 2004
I have not gotten a chance to read this book yet, but heard a delightful interview with the author on Colorado Matters. If you are so inclined, it was on October 4th (2004) and can be found from the web site--click on Colorado Matters and choose that date. I will be getting this book.
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on June 4, 2005
It's quite possible that only a very few people outside of the model railroad subculture will ever read this book, which is a shame because that means most will miss out on a very literate and enjoyable work.

Sam Posey's wide-ranging interests and accomplishments are the telltale artifacts of a sharp mind and competitive nature--traits that are clearly in evidence throughout this excellent book. However, it is the combination of Mr. Posey's love of family, friendship, and the desire to share his passionate love of trains that make this such a well-rounded work.

I found his psychological profiling of model train afficianados particulary enjoyable, including the character assessments of the leading masters of the craft today. Mr. Posey's a smart guy; so I'll trust his judgment and agree his observations are right on target.

Relatively few times in the book he describes early bouts with Parkinson's disease, yet it seems these amount to little more than a sidebar. Perhaps that's the more courageous and unselfish route provided for the general reader; the book remains focused on his obsession/love affair with trains, and not some unfolding misfortune.

Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder how he's doing and wish him well.
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on May 4, 2005
Anyone who, as a child, stood on a station platform or by a grade crossing and felt that flush of anticipation that overcame the twinge of fear at the approach of a thundering, hissing locomotive and trailing cars will instantly connect with Sam Posey's passion that goes beyond scale.

I grew up in a railroad familiy and I've loved trains all my life. After almost 60 years I'm finally in a situation where I can pursue the same inexplicable passion that drove Mr. Posey to recreate the Colorado Midland.

This book is a song to the heart of anyone who shares that same undefinable connection to trains and railroading. And, perhaps it's eloquent prose will open the door of understanding just a bit for friends and family who don't share, but patiently (and lovingly) tolerate our passion for the sound of steel wheels on steel rails, the mixed smells of lubricating grease and coal smoke, and the sight of big machines tackling bigger terrain.

In a larger sense, Mr. Posey has given all of us some insight into how a love of any pursuit only for its' own sake can take hold of a person and provide them a personal lens through which to see and enjoy the experience of life.

A "must read"... even if you're only wondering why it is that a certain population of grown men (and women) love to play with trains.
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on July 29, 2015
This book takes you into the mind of a model railroader. Sam Posey does a great job of staying on task with his passion for the hobby and how he committed himself to making his layout special. His overview of other industry giants layouts was insightful and pleasing to see how each giant viewed their purpose for how they approached their layout. Most books go over the techniques and methods on the hobby. Sam approaches it from the side of the model railroaders mindset and their approach to making the layout be a signature for what they are about. Great reading and everyone should be able to gather an insight as to why they love the hobby.
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I happened across a copy of Playing With Trains at a local bookstore, and from the first page I was hooked- the author's enthusiasm just jumped right off the page. I was immediately transported to my youth, and my long gone Lionel Southern Pacific set, screaming accross the ping-pong table top layout. Then I camed across the author's reference to racing cars for a living, and glanced at the cover- of course! Sam Posey was not only one of the friendliest and most likable men ever to set foot in a race car, he was, and is, a great story teller. Back in the 70s he'd written a book about his life in racing (The Mudge Pond Express) that may be the best book ever written about what it's like to be a race car driver. Posey's prose style is right up there with Tracy Kidder or any of the best contemporary non-fiction writers.

The tale begins with Posey's own childhood trains, and then jumps to the birth of his first son, and the construction of what begins as a simple oval but becomes a fifteen-year obsession. Along the way we're introduced to other model railroaders, and we learn a bit about the makers, the sellers, the hostory of railroad and model railroading, and of course Thomas the Tank Engine, who personifies railroading for so many children of the eighties and beyond. There's even a trip on a full-sized train, as well as Posey's experience driving a full-sized steam locomotive for the annual April Fool's road test in Road and Track magazine. At one point in his fifteen year oddyssee Posey is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease- something that chnages his perspective a little, but doesn't slow him down in his pursuit.

Serious model railroaders will find fault with this book- there are no layout diagrams, no closeups of engines, and none of the detais and minutia that make up the model railroader's hobby. That's okay, though, as this book wasn't written for them. It's really for anyone who has owned a model train- or perhaps wished they'd owned one- or anyone who has looked longingly at the elaborate layouts in hobbyshops and department stores of the past, and thought how nice it would be to play with trains again.
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