Neil Young’s 2012 autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream, contains fascinating memories and anecdotes about songwriting, guitars, folk and rock music, musicians, classic cars, Young’s impressive ongoing inventions (including an electric car and a music file format, PureTone, to rival and replace mp3’s), and, unexpectedly, model trains.
Young, like fellow rockers Rod Stewart and Bruce Springsteen, began as a model train hobbyist and collector – for the love of God, do not call them “toy trains” to a model train collector – and eventually dedicated space in his 2800-square foot barn to a massive 750-feet track layout with landscape, tunnels, and buildings. Young brought this track along on his HORDE tour and allowed fans to play with the display, carefully supervised by the six crew members hired simply to travel with, set up. and tear down the track.
Young first created a research and development company, Liontech, to help the storied Lionel, LLC train manufacturing company, founded in 1900, create model trains with sound systems and control units. Young then became part owner of Lionel, along with an investment company. It was Young’s designs and inventions for Lionel that helped to bring the company out of bankruptcy in 2008. Young’s first train-related invention was a control unit, the Big Red Button, that enabled his son, who has cerebral palsy, to control the trains. Other inventions of his include the first-ever wireless remote control device for model trains, the TrainMaster Command Control (for which he paid for the development out of his own pocket), Lionel LEGACY Command Control System, LEGACY RailSounds System, and LionVision, which provides each model locomotive with a digital camera and microphone, allowing a train-view to be shown on a video screen or online.
Young helped Lionel design their Postwar Celebration Series, re-imagining classic designs with new technological features, such as the 5344 NYC Hudson train, first manufactured in the 1930’s. In 2004 Lionel released a limited edition train set based on the Neil Young and Crazy Horse album Greendale, set in a fictional California town.
“I remember one day David Crosby and Graham Nash were visiting me at the train barn during the recording of American Dream, a lot of which we did on my ranch at Plywood Digital, a barn that we converted to a recording studio…Anyway, I saw David looking at one of my train rooms full of rolling stock and stealing a glance at Graham that said, This guy is cuckoo. He’s gone nuts. Look at this obsession. I shrugged it off. I need it. For me it is a road back.” – Neil Young, Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream
“Clyde Coil” = Neil Young’s pseudonym for train-related websites and articles. Is this video (I can’t embed it here) a “Bernard Shakey” (another of Young’s nom de plumes) production?
Now I want all future Thomas the Tank Engine movies to feature Neil Young as the voice of the conductor instead of Alec Baldwin.
Below, Young talks model trains with fellow Lionel enthusiast, David Letterman: