Thursday, April 9, 2015

REVIEW: The Big Book of Lionel by Robert Schleicher, 2nd Edition, 2011 (1st edition, 2004)

The Big Book of Lionel by Robert Schleicher, 2nd Edition, 2011 (1st edition, 2004)

When Barnes and Noble offered copies of The Big Book of Lionel by Robert Schleicher for $8.98, I jumped on it. The book supposedly covered Fastrack and the Lionel Legacy system. I was curious to get a few good facts about both. Having read an earlier work by this author, The Lionel Train Book from 1986, I felt assured I would get the information I wanted.

Indeed, The Big Book of Lionel starts out boldly. It goes right into trackwork, floor layouts, impromptu layouts and permanent ones. Trackplans with wiring are illustrated. Many were taken from earlier Lionel works, such as the instruction manuals and the Model Builder. (Track plans from 1940's Handbook for Model Builders have shown up in subsequent Lionel works as well as those by K-Line and others.) All of these are shown with the standard O gauge tubular track system that had been a staple for Lionel for about 100 years. Fastrack was mentioned in passing throughout most of The Big Book of Lionel. All illustrated track plans were for Lionel O tubular rail.

The work takes the reader through layout building, conventional wiring for blocks, signals, switches and even a few illustrated pieces showing how to wire TMCC. There is advice to use the widest curves possible so as to run Lionel’s longest full-scale O locomotives and passenger cars. Schleicher reads like an advocate for Lionel’s biggest, feature-laden (and most expensive) trains.

By the time you get to the section about locomotives, you might come to the conclusion that the author bleeds orange and drools blue. The Big Book of Lionel is 100% pro-Lionel and does not have a contrary thing to say about the company or any of its products. Mention is made of outside scenery makers Scenic Express and Woodland Scenics, but there is not a single word about Lionel’s competitors or their products. If The Big Book of Lionel were your only introduction to O Gauge, you might get the impression that Lionel was the only game in town.

Schleicher includes tips on everything from troubleshooting locomotives, switches and track to repainting old freight cars. He covers operating cars and action accessories. This is where lineside industries get mentioned. Amid all this, the author includes his "waybill" game for directing model freight operations. Advice on scenery ends with a discussion of structures, including basic weathering techniques. So far so good.

My major beef with the book to this point was that illustrations were not numbered. Any reference to a track plan or other items was given by chapter number. You had to read the track plan description to figure out which plan he meant. That was not easy when the reader was sent to Chapter 4 for a plan that was actually in Chapter 3. Equally frustrating was trying to figure out which plan he meant when the descriptions were similar. Even an experienced track-planner like me found this confusing. Using an illustration or page number would have been so much easier. The author or the editors dropped the ball. In my opinion, a major flaw, especially for a book aimed at newcomers.

A second criticism was the focus on layouts using the widest curve to the exclusion of layouts for tight spaces. Schleicher left no room for Lionel’s smaller cars and locomotives, nor for packing action into a smaller space. What with many apartment and condominium dwellers out there, such layouts would have given them greater access to O gauge.

The cover of The Big Book of Lionel by Robert Schleicher makes a conspicuous announcement: Includes FasTrack! Indeed, there was a whole chapter about Fastrack added to the text. Following it was a chapter on Lionel’s Legacy system. Fastrack started getting popular around 2004, when Lionel placed it in all of its train sets. It competed against MTH’s RealTrax, which had been issued in MTH train sets starting in 1998 or 1999. Both types of modular rail had become very popular.

I mentioned that in previous chapters, Fastrack was spoken of mainly in passing. There were a few statements covering some of its attributes. I fully expected the FasTrack chapter to give more complete coverage. Granted that the track was discussed, explained and illustrated. However, in the whole book, there was not a single track plan drawn for FasTrack. The author’s only suggestion was to buy another book which he had written about Fastrack Layouts. He even advised people not use FasTrack plans on the Internet because of possible flaws. "Buy my other book" just does not cut it.

The last chapter described the Legacy system and how it was an improvement over TMCC. Some specific details were given.

The Big Book of Lionel by Robert Schleicher is a good book. It has a lot of very good information presented in a way that should delight newcomers. It is not a great book. The problems of navigating pages by use of cumbersome descriptions is poor editing. Likewise, what with FasTrack being popular since 2004, the lack of track plans specific to the track system is an omission too big to bear. I wonder if it was done intentionally to divert customers to his other book. Nowadays when tubular is rarely used by newcomers, all the space devoted to tubular plans seems almost anachronistic in a work aimed ar beginners.

I have a feeling Barnes & Noble offered the sale price to make room for a new edition, or clear out excess stock. At the $8.98 price offered by the bookseller, it was well worth the price. Frankly, I do not think The Big Book of Lionel by Robert Schleicher would be worth the suggested list price of $29+.


I have always used tubular rail and will continue to do so. By the same token, I see the popularity of FasTrack and realize that it is a product that must be addressed. As for TMCC, Legacy and MTH’s competing DCS, nobody talks of the price factor. That stuff is expensive. It adds $100 to the cost of locomotives equipped with it. The various elements of the systems are themselves expensive and can add hundreds to the cost of a layout. I had tried TMCC on a club layout years ago and thought it was ponderous and overpriced. Any supposed benefits were not worth the cost., My opinion has not changed.

O gauge could become a rich man’s hobby/ The push for longer, scale trains, complex electronics and massive layouts ignores the average fellow with limited space and a limited budget. Folks ran their trains conventionally for 100 years and many continue to do so today. I am one of them

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