What has Johnny Cash, Winston Churchill, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Roger Daltrey, Joe DiMaggio, Rick Green, Gene Hackman, Tom Hanks, David Hasselhoff, Elton John, Michael Jordan, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, Neil Young and Gary Coleman in common?
All these celebrities love watching miniature trains running around miniature mountains, rivers and towns.
In short, they are all train model addicts.
Johnny Cash, the American singer and songwriter, made TV commercials and recommendations for Lionel Trains in the 1970s.
Neil Young is part owner of Lionel trains.
Rod Stewart, in between getting into blondes and who know what else, spent considerable time and money on building train models. In fact, Rod's impressive replica of New York's Grand Central Station, complete with 100ft of tract, buildings and figures in 1940s period dress, graced the cover of Model Railroader in October 2007. An honor Rod claims to mean more than 'being on the cover of Rolling Stones. "
The late Gary Coleman is another aficionado of train models. In an online interview with ABC News, he said, "Currently I'm doing Lionel trains. I'm doing them as prototypically as possible, even though they are toy trains. I still like to do it as realistically as possible."
Gary Coleman also allegedly left his complete train collection to Allied Model Trains, The Original Whistle Stop and The Train Shack in LA So if you are a train modeller, you know you are in great company. You can even get Frank Sinatra's train layouts on DVD.
So what is the appeal of these toy trains?
First of all, they are not toys. Enthusiasts will tell you they are works of art. They are scaled down versions of the real thing. They operate like the real one. There is a sheer number of skills you need to master a working layout. You are a jack of all trades: a semi-competent carpenter, electrician, metalworker, painter, sculptor and designer all rolled into one.
There is also the joy of escapism. You can forget the business of living for hours on end while you pore over the plan for a perfect world, all of your own making.
And it's never complete. You just keep scouring for more things to add to your model to make it perfect. Adding a mountain here, a pond there, more tracks. The list is endless. It can take you years. Then, of course, there's the ultimate thrill of seeing your trains going round the track.
No wonder so many celebrities are hooked on model trains!