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Review: “Lionel Trains: A “Pictoral’ History of Trains and Their Collectors” Or…Is It Possible to Find a “Bad” Book on Lionel Trains?

e*Train Issue: Oct 2005   |   Posted in:

By Bill Laughlin

Perusing the latest “Historic Rail” catalog, I noticed a new listing for “Lionel Trains: A Pictoral (sic) History of Trains and Their Collectors” with no author listed, 200 pages, for a pricey $69.95. By comparison, all other books on the “Toy Train/Lionel” page in the catalog ranged from $12.45 to $29.95. That highest-priced latter one is David Doyle’s excellent 400-pg reference work, “Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains, 1945-1969, which I own and am quite familiar with.

Intrigued by the description of “hundreds of Lionel collections” and “lavish, full-color photos”, along with an attractive-looking cover, I bit, and sent for it.

What a disappointment! This is the most over-priced, insubstantial book I own—and I own just about everything written on postwar and modern O-gauge trains.

Let’s begin with the cover and inside first two panels: lavish is the right word: a plethora of original Lionel logos, beautifully-thick, golden yellow pages. Just enough to really get you psyched. Officially Licensed Product logo as well. Still no author listed, only a note that the book is published by Turner Publishing, Paducah , KY and a website reference. OK, so far…

Boom! Page 5 –“Thanks to the Lionel Corporation…to Dick Kughn, for PERPUTUATING (sic) the joy of toy trains…” [and] “To RM Auctions, Inc., for providing photo images from the Carail MUSUEM (sic)…” Very disheartening, to say the least, especially in this day of “instant” spell-check computer whizbang software (which doesn’t always catch misspellings, but would have in these basic instances.)

Fourteen pages in, finally, the book gets underway with an eight-page section titled “Historical Timeline.” I had high hopes for learning new tidbits possibly not covered in previous books in my collection. But grammatical errors mar the process.

Mixing mostly past-tense verbs with present tense ones is something you should not be dealing with in an “authoritative” text as this purports to be: “1999: Wellspring and Associates hired Richard Maddox…The A&E Cable Channel lists Lionel Trains as number 4 on their list…” (Pssst: the number “4” needs to be spelled out, as well!)

Perhaps the best part of the text is the following section, the 22-page “interview” with Richard Kughn. While most of this information has been previously given in other accounts, it is fairly enjoyable reading–aside from several lengthy diversions on Richard the K’s part. Editing likely would have made this a better read. The photos, especially the ones taken at Carail, are nice and large enough to truly enjoy.

Not so with the remaining 100-plus pages: Photographs are mostly peanut-sized (1”x2”) or slightly larger! Just enough to see that, yes indeedy, the man has TRAINS!

Personal anecdotes mixed with, in some cases, miles-long lists of postwar part numbers, in no particular order, is somehow supposed to justify the expense of this book. While some of the personal stories are amusing, or slightly interesting, there is scant evidence of any editing.

In any decent review of a layout or collection, the author entices the reader with large, well-composed pictures of the subject being described. Especially in this day of poorer reading skills and short attention-spans, visual elements are absolutely crucial to the success of the article or book.

In the first half of this book, style dominates over substance, with the exception of the Kughn interview. In the latter half, it is clearly rambling “substance” taking precedence over any such visual “style.”

I’d answer the question posed at the beginning both “Yes” and “No”. No, it’s not possible to buy a “bad” book on Lionel trains, in the absolute sense that there’s probably some shred of redeeming value in all books—certainly in this one it’s the pages on Mr. Kughn. Yes, comparatively speaking, there’s bound to be one book that ends up at the bottom of the heap.

So that this review ends on a more positive note, in my experience, there are numerous other books published over the years that are better values. In addition to the aforementioned David Doyle reference guide, three general-purpose, landmark ones that immediately come to mind are (1) All Aboard by Ron Hollander, (2) Lionel: America ‘s Favorite Toy Trains by Gerry & Janet Souter, and (3) Legendary Lionel Trains by John Grams & Terry Thompson.

Unless your personal collection is listed herein, or you have collector buddies in this book, I see little reason to purchase it.