Looking back at Sam Posey’s Playing With Trains

I finally got around to reading Playing With Trains (here’s a Nook link), sportscaster Sam Posey’s 2004 memoir of 50 years as a model railroader.

Of course I was mostly interested in the first couple of chapters, where he talks about growing up with Lionel trains. It’s more a personal recollection than a complete history, which was his intent, but that’s good. The history of the consumer perspective often gets lost. He and his mother regarded American Flyer as more realistic but flimsier; Lionel was rugged but ran on unrealistic 3-rail track.

Here’s another interesting tidbit: Growing up in the 1950s, your big toy was either a train set or a fort playset–normal families couldn’t afford both. I was vaguely aware that the fort playsets existed but didn’t know that about them.

The bulk of the book covers Posey’s journey from a guy who owned a Lionel set as a kid to becoming a hard-core HO scale hobbyist. I won’t spoil the ending, but if you want to reach a certain level, it becomes all consuming, and this is a first-hand account of why.

The last portion of the book describes the industry itself, both the manufacturers and the tension between the hard-core hobbyists. I’ve seen this, and it’s the reason I rarely venture into train-related forums. It’s supposed to be fun, and what seems like fun to one person might seem too much like work to another.  I think Posey does a good job of describing how he enjoys his hobby while acknowledging that others enjoy it a different way. It may help that he and his own son have differences.

To someone who doesn’t participate in the hobby, this book is an interesting spectacle. To someone who does, it’s interesting to share in someone else’s journey. You can read the book in a weekend, and that’s something I recommend doing at some point.

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