Model railroad trains first became popular when department store owners incorporated them into their Christmas window displays in the 1920s, and they've been a fixture of childhood and beyond ever since. Today model railroading is an extremely popular hobby, with both collectors and modelers who focus on every imaginable aspect of railroad history and operations.
Vintage model train collectors and hobbyists tend to specialize by scale or gauge (O scale, HO scale, N scale, Z scale, G scale), by type (brass, tinplate, steam, etc.), or by manufacturer (Lionel, American Flyer, Marx, Märklin). Until the National Model Railroad Association was formed in 1935, there were no standard gauges and a train from one manufacturer wouldn’t necessarily run on a track from another. The NMRA developed the standardized gauge system that is still in place today.
O scale model trains, built to a 1:43, 1:45, or 1:48 scale reached a height of popularity before World War II. True O scale trains ran on a two-rail track and were built to scale. Companies like Lionel and American Flyer made O gauge trains, but these ran on a three-rail track and are not as collectible as O scale.
HO scale model trains were introduced in the 1930s and became popular in the 1950s. HO, short for "Half O," is scaled to a 1:87 size and has the widest available range of rolling stock and accessories of all model railroad scales. Most HO scale trains run on a two rail track.
N scale is built to a 1:160 scale, much smaller than O and HO. First introduced in the 1960s, N scale model railroads are in demand because they don't require a lot of space to set up a layout. An even smaller scale, Z scale (built at a scale of 1:220), was first introduced in Germany in 1972 and became common in the U.S. shortly after.
G scale trains are the largest model trains and can be used for either indoor or outdoor (aka 'garden') model railroads. G scale trains, built at a scale of 1:22.5, are the largest electrically-powered model trains...
The earliest model trains were mostly made of tinplate. Tin trains, which were cheap and efficient, were produced until shortly after World War II, when other materials took the lead. After WWII, soldiers returned to the U.S. with brass model trains from Japan, sparking an interest in brass railroad sets. Although still made today, the most collectible brass model trains are those produced in Japan up through the 1970s.
Until the 1950s, steam locomotive models were more popular than diesel, and they continue to be desirable among collectors today. Steam model trains are categorized by wheel configuration and railroad name.
Some people tend to collect more by the railroad than the manufacturer, even creating railroad layouts that are historically accurate. Some of the most popular railroads to collect and recreate are the Pennsylvania Railroad, New York Central, Chicago and North Western, Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, Santa Fe, and Great Northern.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Airfix Model Railways
Postwar Lionel Trains Library
Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT
Clubs & Associations
- Train Collectors Association
- National Model Railroad Association
- Lionel Collectors Club of America
- Toy Train Operating Society
- National Association of S Gaugers, Inc.
- Train Collectors Society (U.K.)
- Lionel Operating Train Society
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Model Trains
Source: Google News
Villages Railroad Historical Society stages Christmas Model Train ShowOrlando Sentinel, December 20th
The group is holding its annual Christmas Model Train Show at the Colony Cottage Recreation Center, 510 Colony Blvd. Joining Goldberg are other enthusiasts including Joseph Guarino, above. Goldberg said the show has received a steady flow of visitors, ...Read more
Model train exhibit offers delights, hobby for young, oldThe Tribune, December 20th
Amy Redlin brought her 4-year-old son to the Seymour Library last Saturday morning so he could look at one of his favorite things: Trains. The Holiday Model Train Exhibit, organized by the Southern Indiana Model Railroad Association, spread out...Read more
Model train exhibit continues at Casper trails centerCasper Star-Tribune Online, December 20th
There's still time to get your fill of model trains. The model railroad exhibit at the National Historic Trails Interpretative Center runs through December. “Trains of Yesteryear: Trains that your Grandfather Enjoyed” focuses on antique model trains...Read more
Orange City man helps build massive model railroadMyFoxOrlando.com, December 18th
His stock is so complete, he services customers from all over the world. But as impressive as the store is, it hardly compares to what he has upstairs. The Blue Springs Railroad is a model train setup like you've perhaps never seen before in Central...Read more
5 model train displays to check out this weekendLancaster Newspapers, December 18th
Shortline Model Railroad Club in Ephrata: The club's annual train display is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Jan. 12. It is located at 11 S. State St. Turn onto Sugar Alley for parking, and use the entrance at the back of the building...Read more
Volunteers keep model train on trackStatesman Journal, December 17th
The public can view the S gauge model railroad and handmade wooden village during holiday performances at the Capitol Rotunda through Dec. 20. Students from around the state give holiday performances from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday...Read more
Glen Rock model train display offers something for the young and old alikeThe Evening Sun, December 15th
Model train displays offer something for all ages. The Glen Rock Hose and Ladder Company's annual holiday train display attracts youngsters and the young-at-heart as well, proving you don't have to be a kid to love trains. Josh Conner, 7 of Glen Rock...Read more
What's a $15K model train look like? Pasadena's Whistle Stop sells them89.3 KPCC, December 14th
It's close to Christmas, so plenty of kids — and grown-ups who still think they're kids — flood the shop to buy the ultimate tree accessory: a model train. The Whistle Stop first opened its doors in 1951. Fred Hill started working at the Whistle Stop...Read more