Monday, May 2, 2011

Booklist: Playing With Trains, by Sam Posey

Playing With Trains: A Passion Beyond Scale, by Sam Posey
Randon House, 2004
214 pages. No index. No photos.
Library: 625.19 POS

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 unearths a wonderfully strange and vibrant culture.

Posey's first layout, wired by his mother in the years just after the Second World WAr, was, as he writes, "a miniature universe that 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.

Years later, Posey was convinced that building his son a basement layout would be the highest expression of fatherhood. After sixteen years and thousands of hours, this project, the outgrowth of chance meetings, unexpected friendships, mistakes, illnesses, 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. Posey knew enough not to expect genial hobbyists dabbling in their basement workshops. Still, he was startled by the "world of extremes" he discovred - extreme commitment, extreme passion, and extreme differences of approach.

For instance, Malcolm Furlow, holed up on his New Mexico ranch, insists that model railroading is defined by scenery and artistic self-expression; while Tony Koester, a New Jersey modeler, believes his mission is to replicate, with fanatical precision and authenticity, the way a real radio operates.

Going to extremes himself, Posey drives a real steam engine in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, in an attempt to understand the great machines that inspired the models and connects us to a time when the railroad was inventing America. Ultimately, Playing With Trains reveals an enduring American world of invention and pleasure.

Table of Contents
Author's Note
Part One
1. The Mighty ZW
2. Lionel Dad
3. The Gorre and Daphetid
4. John James Hagerman
5. Thin Air
6. In the Zone
7. Short Notice
8. Englemann Canyon

Part Two
1. Fountain of Youth
2. Ruling an Empire
3. The Holy Grail
4. A Railroad to Run
5. Borrowed Time
6. The Silver Meteor
7. Powered by Steam

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