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.

Model trains have been available since the beginning of the railroads, but they weren’t considered a hobby until the 1880s and boomed in popularity in the 1930s.

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...

HO scale trains are currently the most sought-after, although O scale was most popular in the 1930s and '40s.

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.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Airfix Model Railways

Airfix Model Railways

Dave McCarthy's Airfix Model Railway treasure trove is an in-depth archive of the company's plastic railway kits fr… [read review or visit site]

Gateway NMRA

Gateway NMRA

This great reference site for model railroaders, from the Gateway (St. Louis) division of the NMRA (National Model … [read review or visit site]

HOseeker.net

HOseeker.net

This site is a treasure trove of HO scale model railroad manufacturer catalogs and other reference information, inv… [read review or visit site]

Postwar Lionel Trains Library

Postwar Lionel Trains Library

Bernie Schulz’s Lionel Trains Library focuses exclusively on postwar Lionel trains and accessories. The site cont… [read review or visit site]

Eric's Trains

Eric's Trains

Eric Siegel's site displays his collection of O-gauge/O-scale trains, tracks, turntables, and other accessories. A … [read review or visit site]

Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT

Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT

MIT's model railroad club, as one might expect, has one of the best websites for learning about how people play wit… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Lot 566- Lionel Manufacturing - Standard Gauge - No. 1912 Nynh&h Electric EngineLionel Gun-metal Gray 763e Hudson Rare 2226wx Tender Freight Set 787w DakotapaulOverland Models Western Maryland 3-truck Shay #6Accucraft Aml Pennsylvania K-4 4-6-2 Live Steam LocomotiveBrasssamhongsa Ho Class S1 6-4-4-6Lot 565 - Lionel Standard Gauge No. 53 Electric Engine And 3 Passenger CarsLionel Gray Nickel Trim 400e Exc Original With 400w Complete!N Athearn 11823 Up #4006 4-8-8-4 Big Boy Steam W/ Dcc & Sound Union PacificLionel Pre-war 700e Loco Only, For Parts, Bad Boiler, The Rest Is GoodUsa Trains G Guage Locomotives, Pa/pb/pa, C-6 Very Good, Santa Fe Warbonnet 2002Lionel # 42 Dark Olive Green 0-4-4-0 Electric LocomotiveAster Live Steam Stirling Locomotive, Spanking New, Unfired, Orig. Box & PapersBrass Orion Models Ho C&o Steam TurbineLionel 763e Nyc J1-e Hudson Steam Engine #5344, Item# 18056 W. Tmcc, Rs & BoxBrass Ajin Precision Ho B&o The Royal BlueBrass Katsumi Mokeiten Co. Ho Atsf 2-10-10-2Brass Samhongsa Ho C&o Allegheny 2-6-6-61950 Lionel 773 Hudson With 2426w Whistle Tender SetLionel 2343 Santa Fe F-3 Aa Diesel...tested...2 Motors...ob W/ Master Carton BoxIves Original Prewar 1134 Locomotive And TenderNickel Plate Brass Ho Great Northern Z-1 Engine In Box 501080N Gauge Athern Union Pacific Big Boy 4-8-8-4 (dcc W/ Sound)Ho Scale Brass Overland 3 Truck Medco #7 Willamette Shay-type Geared Log LocoHo Brass Key Northern Pacific Yellowstone Z-5 2-8-8-4K Line Nyc J1e Hudson With Tmcc & Railsounds K3270-5343s New Good Mth & LionelL.g.b. 21382 New York 3rd Ave Street CarLive Steam Roundhouse Fowler Locomotive, 45mm, Burgundy, Fired Once, RemoteHo Fos Scale Models Craftsman Kit "red Hook Wharf" - Rare Find!!!Rare German Tin Station (candle Lit)Lionel 6-13004 Hiawatha Steam Locomotive & Tender Ln/boxBrass Daiyoung Ho Q-1 Duplex 4-6-4-4Aster, Made For Fulgurex, French Sncf141r Mikado Live Steam Engine & Tender N/rRare Vintage Marklin Ho Crocodile (krokodil) Electric Locomotive Ccs 800Gilbert American Flyer Ho 35099 Frontiersman Set, In Original Set BoxLionel Anniversary Passenger Cars 2481 2482 2483 1950Limited Edition Lionel Standard Gauge Train Set ( Reproduction )Sunset Brass Southern Pacific Ac-12 Cab Foward Steam Engine. O Scale 2 Rail. SpFos Scale Models Craftsman Kit Red Hook WharfLionel Original Prewar 116 Station Boxed High GradeLionel No. 726 Berkshire Locomotive W/ 2426w Tender From 1947 Ob (dakotapaul)Overland Models Central New Jersey Cnj M3as 2-8-2 W/elesco Heater Ho ScaleO-scale Ktm L&n M-1 2-8-4 "big Emma" Brass Ho Broadway Limited Prr H10s 2-8-0 #8421 W/paragon2 Sound Dc/dcc PennsylvaniaLionel 700e Original Display Board 1937-19421977 Lionel Trains-walt Disney Mickey Mouse Express-o-27-complete Boxed Set(14)Pfm Ski Pacific Fast Mail Southern Pacific S-14 Class 0-6-0 Ho Scale BrassMmi Dc1015-3 Drgw K-28 2-8-2 Steam Locomotive On3 ScaleAristo-craft 22401 Southern Pacific Sd45 Diesel Loco. Ex/boxAmerican Flyer 313 Large Motor Pacific Steam Locomotive 4-6-2 Very GoodMth Premier O Scale Kansas City Southern Ac6000 Diesel Engine Ps 3.0 No ReserveNew Mth Ho 80-3208-1 4-8-8-4 Union Pacific Big Boy #4013 Steam Engine LocomotiveCustom Brass C&o H-7a 2-8-8-2 Locomotive & TenderMth 20-3157-1 Boston & Albany 4-6-4 J-1e Hudson Steam Loco & Tender W/ps2 Ex/boxHo 1:87 Boley Hepa Promotex River Point Station Rps Truck PartsUnited Pfm Hon3 Narrow Gauge Sumpter Valley #250 2-6-6-2 Mallet Steam Eng- BoxedNew! Mth New York Central 4-6-4 Dreyfuss Steam Engine Proto-sound 2.0 20-3045-1Beautifully Detailed Brass Steam Locomotive And Tender Built KitLionel Trains Magne Traction Outfit No. 2175w Santa Fe Twin Diesel "o" Gauge SetLionel 6-24589 Santa Fe Gm F7 3 Aba Set Diesel Locomotive One Powered Two Non-Iron Horse Ho Central Railroad Of Nj 4-8-0 "camelback" #16106-1

Recent News: Model Trains

Source: Google News

Lone Star Hi-Railers to hold first train fest model train show, swap
Fort Worth Star Telegram, March 2nd

The Lone Star Hi-Railers model railroad club will hold its first Train Fest Model Train Show and Swap Meet on Saturday. The event will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Grapevine Founder's Building, located across from the Cotton Belt Depot at 701 S...Read more

Model railroad to mark anniversary
SaukValley.com, February 27th

The HO-scale model railroad will be featured from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 7 and 8 at 1055 W. Beach St. The club house is the large, tan building behind the Canadian National Yard office on Fever River Place. Admission is $4 for adults, $1 for children...Read more

Evansville Train Show a Chance to See and Purchase Model Train Sets, Pieces
Tristatehomepage.com, February 26th

Evansville Train Show & Swap Meet Saturday, February 28 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. St. Paul's UCC 2227 West Michigan Street Admission $3, children 12 and under accompanied by an adult are free. Call 812-426-2989 or visit evansvilletrainshow.com...Read more

4-H Club preparing for big model train show
Snohomish County Tribune, February 24th

While the club contributes to many events over the year, its big event is running the annual model train show put on by United Northwest Model Railroad Club. Now in its 24th year, the event will feature more than 100 vendors and 25 layouts. It will...Read more

Model train show and swap meet is scheduled
Joplin Independent, February 23rd

The Ozarks Model Railroad Association's 37th Annual Model Train Show and Swap Meet, will be going for a new attendance record when the doors open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Mar. 14, 2015, at Remington's, 1655 W. Republic Rd, Springfield...Read more

Model train displays highlight 'World's Greatest Hobby Tour' in Louisville ...
WDRB, February 14th

"I have a workshop in my home," model train builder Dave Queener said. "I do model pilot work for a German toy train company and then they let me come exhibit the models so I get to meet the public. World's Greatest Hobby Show is a treat." The show ...Read more

Model train enthusiasts open depot to new generation of train lovers
Heritage Newspapers, February 5th

Bill Moorehouse is among 40 people who are members of the Ann Arbor Model Railroad Club. His story is like many in his club: An intense passion for all things railroad and a set at home. As he got older, other loves came into his lie and he put the...Read more

End of the line coming for model railroad club's home?
Lancaster Eagle Gazette, February 4th

LANCASTER – The Hocking Valley Model Railroad Club may be reaching the end of the line at its home behind the Clarence E. Miller building on Granville Pike. The Fairfield County commissioners are trying to decide what to do with the building after the ...Read more