Neil Young talks Lionel

Although I’m not a fanatic about Neil Young’s music, I do like it, and I have all the respect in the world for him as an artist. 

And many who are even vaguely familiar with his story probably know he’s a major model train fanatic, and he owns a piece of Lionel.

Jimmy McDonough wrote an incredible book about Young, Shakey, and it’s remarkable that any journalist could get a minute of Young’s time, let alone fifty hours of interviews.

And one of the most fascinating chapters for me was about Young’s model train obsession. Young built a train barn in his home, and it was his sanctuary.


As Young told McDonough, “My said said he could understand why I would need an obsession to distract me from my work. How can you miss something if you don’t go away.” If his music felt uninspired, he’d head off to the train barn. “It gives me a lot of relief,” he said.


As reported in Shakey, when Young was out Christmas shopping some time in the 70’s, he bought a Lionel passenger train for  himself as a gift. Young’s son Ben also has cerebral palsy, and the trains were also a way of father and son communicating and being together.


Young’s train obsession got to the point where he had a recording engineer look into sound systems, and he got his trains hooked up with QSI, Quinn-Severson Industries. Still, with his obsessive ears, he critiqued, “It doesn’t sound like it’s big,” but the horn sounded cool.


Young spent a lot of money on his trains, and he knew it drove his advisors crazy. “You think they liked it when I was spending a hundred and seventy-five dollars on spec for a control system for Lionel? It’s like, ‘What the f*ck are you doing?’ They’re just scratchin’ their heads… I’ll do anything to get what I want. If I want something, if it can be gotten financially and I want it, I’m tenacious.”