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
City Rezones Block for Model Train MuseumThe Missourian, May 21st
Others expressed strong support for the plan proposed by Iron Spike Inc., a group of model railroad enthusiasts from this area. The group proposes to construct a large building on the site that will house an interactive model train display. Organizers...Read more
Model railroad club testament to timelessness of trainsLongview Daily News, May 8th
Whiffen is one of 16 regular club members. Whiffen's interest steamed when he visited a model train layout at Balboar Park while his family was living in San Diego. The park is home to the San Diego Model Railroad Museum and houses the world's largest ...Read more
National Train Day events at Twin City Model Railroad MuseumTwinCities.com-Pioneer Press, May 7th
Twin City Model Railroad Museum volunteer Matthew Winiecki works on setting up the model railroad layout recently donated by St. Paul native Michael Corrigan, a businessman now living in California. The layout features elements of the Twin Cities in a ...Read more
Model railroad club keeps track of the pastGlendale News Press, May 6th
Starting at Union Station in Los Angeles, it takes about 20 to 25 minutes to reach the end of the line at the Bakersfield rail yards. "Close to an hour round trip," Paul Koehler said. "That's assuming there's other trains on the railroad and you're...Read more
Model train show set for SaturdayShreveport Times, May 6th
The Shreveport Model Train Show Saturday will literally have bells and whistles. With any luck it also will have lanterns, antique toys and memorabilia by the bygone days when the clickety-clack of iron wheel on steel rails, rather than scans and...Read more
Trainmasters Model Railroad Club 15th Anniversary show is June 6-7 in ...NJ.com, May 5th
The Somerset County 4-H announced the Trainmasters Model Railroad Club's 15th Anniversary Show is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, June 6 and 7, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Ted Blum 4-H Center of Somerset County, 310 Milltown Road, ...Read more
Model train show rides into Augusta ExpoStaunton News Leader, May 3rd
The 29th annual Shenandoah Valley Model Train and Railroading Show brought nearly 1,000 visitors to Fishersville from all over Virginia and neighboring states Sunday. Bill Kauffman, part of the Augusta County Railroad Museum and Model Railroad Club, ...Read more
Model Train Club open house brings fun to visitorsDuncan Banner, April 26th
Roger Clark, left, and James Almy at the annual fall Model Train Club Open House Saturday. Posted: Sunday, April 26, ... Model trains of all sizes were rolling down the track Saturday for the 18th annual Model Train Club Open House. The event was at...Read more