model train set on track

Toy Train Memories

e*Train Issue: Dec 2002   |   Posted in:

book by John Grams
A product review by Gordon Wilson

In recent years we have been deluged with “Coffee Table Books,” large hardback picture books of all manner of Toy Trains. The things which all of them had in common were pretty pictures, loosely accurate texts, and a great deal of self-praise from the train manufacturers responsible for their publication. The latest addition to this growing library is Toy Train Memories, published by Kalmbach Books of Waukesha, Wisconsin, for $29.95 per copy.

John Grams is the author, editor, and compiler of this 160-page collection of “Memories” to which nearly all of us can relate. The book is divided into six distinct areas of Toy Trains and the December Holiday period. I have but one complaint with the book, and it is the same one I have found with every other “Coffee Table” book about Toy Trains. My objection? Accuracy in researching the subject and the anachronisms found in some of the “staged” photos. I guess, attention to detail is a more proper way to state my slight disappointment, for this is a truly “feel good” book. On page 10 we are told that Lionel began in 1901. However, a 1900 Lionel Catalog has been unearthed and for over two years was on display at the TCA’s National Toy Train Museum. Additionally, it was the subject of a much-publicized article in the TCA Quarterly. Ironically, the owner of that 1900 catalog is featured on page 111, although his name is spelled incorrectly. I fail to understand why the author of this book did not make the connection between this “rare” catalog and its owner. When writing about A. C. Gilbert turning the Chicago Flyer O gauge line into “S” gauge, ignored completely is the fact that Gilbert made the change in the late ’30’s, not 1946. Many photos are not fully annotated. I was particularly struck by this when on page 147 there is a photo of President Eisenhower being presented with a Lionel General locomotive. Unfortunately no one else in the 1959 photo is identified. The person immediately to the left of “Ike”(to the right as one views the photo) is New Jersey Congressman Peter Frelinghuysen. Accuracy and attention to details seem to take a back seat to publishing deadlines.

Now, what sets this book apart from the others? Without a doubt it is the author’s intent to target ALL toy train manufacturers and to take each of us back to the days when Toy Trains were fun and a prized gift. Nearly all of us can relate to a toy train running around a Christmas tree and each of the photos of young people enjoying themselves is cause for each of us to reflect on what this hobby is all about. Of particular interest to anyone who grew up with Post-War Lionel trains are the reproductions of Robert Sherman’s artwork contained in the book. Many of the paintings have never been seen before, except by an elite few. The photography is first rate and is artistically interspersed with Angela Trotta Thomas paintings and Department 56 displays.

Of all of the “Coffee Table” publications, this one, in my opinion, is the best. It doesn’t try to “sell” you on its product line or make comparisons between manufacturers. The inaccuracies are minimal, although, to me, glaring at times. The images convey the message of how wonderful this hobby really is – boys, girls, fathers, mothers, celebrities, athletes, even U. S. Presidents have all been beguiled by the mystique of a toy train. What other hobby crosses so many socio-economic lines? What other toy has ever been so universally linked to the biggest holiday season of the year? Yes, if you can purchase only one “Coffee Table” book, this is the one to get. It is priced right, contains superb photography, uses nice glossy paper, and has a message to remind all of us of the days we once thought of as truly magical!