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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