I read with bemusement Jonathan Yardley's review of Sam Posey's book, "Playing With Trains" [Style, Sept. 9]. One can only surmise that Yardley's childhood was bereft of a train to call his very own. His ridicule of Posey's passion and his generalization that trains are a dying hobby are both misguided and tinged with enough sarcasm to make his few valid points insignificant by comparison.
As a product manager for Lionel, the world's most renowned maker of model trains -- 104 years young this month -- I can tell your readers that not only is today's model train hobby healthy but its ability to capture the imagination of young and old has never been greater. Consider that one of every four dollars spent on Lionel products are for children 8 and younger. Beloved stories such as "Thomas the Tank Engine" and "The Polar Express" inspire purchases of Lionel ready-to-run train sets in growing numbers. The nation's largest toy manufacturers -- Mattel, Fisher-Price, Lego and Brio, to name a few -- are increasing the number of train products they offer through mass merchandisers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Toys R Us.
According to Yardley, the only trains that could sell today would bear the name Amtrak or would be composed of the comparatively mundane paint schemes of today's rail cars. Exactly the opposite is true. Most toy locomotives sold today are of the steam variety, which, as anyone knows, have not ruled the rails for 50 to 60 years. It is precisely for that reason that their popularity is strengthening. Combine that with their mechanically impressive and imposing looks, the thrill of seeing real-life puffing smoke billowing from their stacks, and the authentic, digitally recorded sounds of their whistles, bells and chuffs blasting from modern, on-board speakers, and it is not hard to imagine the instant pull that these magnificent models have on people. Indeed, look at almost any "toy train" on the market and you will notice a conspicuous absence of diesel locomotives.
People from all socioeconomic walks of life are involved in and love this hobby. It is their passion, coupled with the allure of the mighty train, that will keep this pastime going for years to come.
-- Eric Shreffler
Beverly Hills, Mich.