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
Model Train Display Perfect for Christmas HolidaysCoral Springs Talk, December 19th
Take the family and view this unbelievable model railroad on display right now at Aventura Mall in Miami. If you are a model train enthusiast, or can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into such a production. At 16 by 29 feet, it's South Florida's...Read more
Train show starts MondayThe Courier-Journal, December 19th
Stop by the new Southwest Library's Winter Wonderland Train Show, presented by the Kentucky and Indiana Model Railroad Club, starting Monday. Come see and hear the model trains on display through Jan. 2. The hours: Mondays-Thursdays, 9 a.m.- p.m.; ...Read more
Tualatin Valley Model Railroad Club at the Washington County Museum (video)OregonLive.com, December 18th
If you want to see the model train display, the club members will be operating the trains Saturday, Dec. 20, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. They will also be at the museum every day after Christmas until Jan. 3. For more information go to...Read more
Model train barn brings holiday cheerAthens NEWS, December 17th
Next to rocking horses, nothing more shouts Christmas morning than the electric model train. Generations of children, mostly boys, started what often became a lifelong hobby with their first train set on December 25. Indeed, some people you might not...Read more
Model train displays offeredSandusky Register, December 17th
Reviving a holiday tradition, the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont opened its annual holiday model train display in November. And the Eerie-Mad River model railroad club in Sandusky recently hosted an open house. The Rutherford B. Hayes ...Read more
Model train and railroad display is big successGreensburg Daily News, December 15th
The model railroad that the Pacific & Eastern group sets up each year at the church measures 23 feet by 52 feet. A raffle ticket for a Lionel model train was given to each child who came to view the model trains running over the picturesque tracks...Read more
Model railroad trains on display in Downers Grove through Dec. 28Suburban Life Publications, December 15th
DOWNERS GROVE – BSA Venture Crew 57 model railroad club is inviting residents to view its display of running HO scale trains. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, at 5122 Main St. The display will be available for viewing ...Read more
RIT Model Railroad Club Honors Local Enthusiast at Annual ShowTWC News, December 13th
“What I like about model railroading is being able to take a model and make it look like the real thing,” RIT Model Railroad Club Founder Otto Vondrak said. “So a lot of the models I build follow actual trains that actually existed. They're scale models.”...Read more