Once upon a time, reports anchor Charles Osgood of CBS News Sunday Morning, if you were a little boy, you almost certainly would have found a train under the tree.
And while those boys may have grown up, some still love playing with trains which, by the way, is the title of a book by former race driver Sam Posey.
The train he plays with? A replica of the Colorado Midland Railroad, circa 1900. It took 16 years to build. Posey calls himself "a scenery guy," which is to say, for him, the layout's beauty is more important than working the trains.
"At a subliminal level," Posey explains, "you're kind of getting off on the excitement: 'I'm building Colorado! This is the tunnel where those 20 guys froze to death.' "
As you might expect, friends suggest Posey might be a tad obsessed.
"At first," Posey admits, "I thought, 'Well, it's just a train layout, it wasn't obsessive.' And then I thought, 'Well, I did wind up sleeping on the basement floor a few nights. I did wind up wearing my New York Giants sweatpants for six weeks straight, never changing them. I did unhook the phone. Maybe there was a touch of the obsession there!' "
Perry Squiers built an exact replica of the Pittsburgh Shawmut and Northern Railroad in his basement.
Squiers is what they call "an operating guy," which means he insists his trains run exactly like a real railroad.
About once a month, twelve of Squiers' friends come over to run what they call "a session."
"We re-enact the operation of the railroad exactly the way it was on this particular railroad in 1923," Squiers says.
Each man assumes a role: dispatcher, engineer, yardman. You get the picture.
Squiers thinks he inherited his love for model trains. "My father was a serious model railroader in the 40's…and we always had a Lionel set under the tree. I think it was for him, but he said it was for me."
Barbara and Clarke Dunham whipped up a Christmas confection for New York's Citicorp Center: 30 trains running simultaneously on an elaborate route that starts across from New York City as it looked in 1945, and heads up the Hudson River, passing through every season on its way.
"We have people bringing in six-week-old babies. They're born that way. There's a train gene. And you either have it, or you don't," Barbara Dunham says.
Though model train lovers might think the Dunhams have the perfect job, operating an elaborate computer-controlled layout can sometimes be a bumpy ride. "These are toy trains that can act like nasty little children if they aren't doing what they want to all the time," Clarke Dunham notes.
But, concludes Osgood, if these trains put visions of locomotives racing in the heads of a new generation, it will all be worthwhile.
For more information:
"Playing with Trains"