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
- Lionel Operating Train Society
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Model Trains
Source: Google News
North Adams Model Railroad Museum Heads for Phase 2iBerkshires.com, February 10th
image description. Mayor Richard Alcombright looks over the scale model of the proposed Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum. image description. Developer Thomas Krens points to possible improvements on Main Street...Read more
Model Train Fair and Farm Toy Show Feb. 20Quad-Cities Online, February 9th
The 8th annual Northern IL Model Train Fair and Farm Toy Show will be held on Saturday, Feb. 20th from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Bureau County Fairgrounds, 811 W Peru St, Princeton, IL 61356. There will be working Train layouts in several different...Read more
Mad City Model Railroad Show & Sale set February 20-21hngnews.com, February 8th
The 49th annual Mad City Model Railroad Show and Sale -- one of the nation's most wide-ranging model train shows drawing close to 10,000 attendees -- will take place Saturday and Sunday, Feb 20 and 21 at the Alliant Energy Center, Exhibition Hall, ...Read more
Model Railroad Open HouseAlaska Dispatch News, February 7th
The Northern Lights Model Railroad Club is hosting an open house at their layout in Russian Jack Springs Park. Club members will be on hand to talk about the railroad and answer questions. There will be trains running on the layout. Parking and...Read more
Young and old get on board for Valley River model train showThe Register-Guard, January 30th
“We're here because we enjoy it, we have fun and we can share the fun with everybody else,” said Gary Schwieger, a board director for the Eugene-based Willamette Cascade Model Railroad Club, which operated a mammoth HO-scale display measuring at ...Read more
Model Railroad Show at Valley River Center through SundayKVAL, January 29th
The exhibits showcase a variety of model train scales and time periods. Roger Fegles, club vice president, said each member's building style varies. "We set up the track, then build railroad cars and landscape after that," Fegles said. "I make what I...Read more
St. Paul's model railroad museum pulls into new stationTwinCities.com-Pioneer Press, January 22nd
Twin City Model Railroad Museum volunteer Matthew Winiecki works on setting up a donated model railroad layout in St. Paul on Oct. 9, 2010. The interactive model -- mostly built to the O-gauge scale of model railroading -- joins 14 others in the museum...Read more
Explore the World's Largest Model Train Set Close Up with Google MapsPopular Mechanics, January 13th
The newest bit of gimmicky fun from the folks over at Google takes the company's ubiquitous Street View cameras and miniaturizes them to give you an unprecedentedly close look at Hamburg's famed Miniatur Wunderland, the largest model train set in the ...Read more