Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Review: The Lionel Train Book by Robert Schleicher,

The Lionel Train Book by Robert Schleicher, edited by John W. Brady ©1986 Lionel Trains, inc

(This is one of the first books Robert Schleicher wrote for folks getting started with Lionel trains. I am reviewing it as a prelude to reviewing his later word, The Big Book of Lionel, revised and updated in 2011.)

First, let it be known that the Lionel "How to Operate Lionel Trains and Accessories" manuals were excellent. They were included in train sets from the 1940s to the 1970s. They all followed the same basic format, from starting and basic track work to building a model railroad. Lionel supported them with other small publications that focused on everything from track layouts to essentials of railroading.

How I ended up with a copy of The Lionel Train Book, I cannot remember. In this I am like many rail hobbyists. The way a few books came into the home library is forgotten. They may have been a gift or part of a larger order some time ago.

The Lionel Train Book includes most of that good Lionel "old school" information. This book was written in what hobbyists know as the MPC era. At that time, tubular track was the norm for O and O27 gauge trains. There was no command control or digital railroad sounds. Train control was a matter of wiring track in blocks. Wiring was conventional. Trains and accessories used the same electrical mechanisms as they had for over 40 years (at the time). Only a few very new accessories had been added since the original Lionel folded in 1969*.

So why bother?

The Lionel Train Book does not read like a manual. Its manner is more conversational. It begins with a feel for Lionel trains and the company that made them. Then, the book delves into aspects of Lionel train operation such as trackwork, wiring, blocks, transformers and all the essentials. The bonus is that it goes further into layout building, toy train operation and scenery. Many things that were barely touched by the old manuals are covered well in the Lionel Train Book.

The book uses design and building of a 4 by 6 foot layout to illustrate some of its techniques. The layout is a tubular pike, using mostly O27 track and a few pieces of regular 31-inch O. It would handle the smaller types of O27 trains best. Supplementing these are layouts and plans clipped from older Lionel materials.

For its time, the Lionel Train Book was an excellent text for those getting into the hobby. Copies are hard to find and may be sold at collector prices. Then again, there have been other books written since then that are more up-to-date insofar as O gauge and technology. (Keep in mind that I am doing this review as a prelude to his 2004 / 2011 work "The Big Book of Lionel")

*Lionel has been through several incarnations. The original company ran from 1900 to 1960, when it was acquired by Roy Cohn. Yes, that Roy Cohn. He owned it from 1960 to 1969, when it went bankrupt. Corporately, it was the same entity under Cohn’s control. In 1970, tooling and trademarks were leased by General Mills, who put Lionel Trains under its MPC model kit subsidiary. This would be Lionel’s second incarnation. Lionel was bought by collector Richard Kughn in 1986. He sold it to an investment group called Wellpsrings in 1994. It has had a few revisions since them.

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