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TOY TRAIN MEMORIES book by John Grams
A product review by Gordon Wilson
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!