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
New landmarks join Chicago Botanic Garden model train exhibitChicago Tribune, June 28th
Since 2000, one of the main attractions at the Chicago Botanic Garden has been its model railroad garden, which offers 50 re-creations of famous nationwide sites and symbols against the backdrop of small trains winding over 17 tiny tracks and 26 little ...Read more
Model train hobby instilled by fathersMesabi Daily News, June 24th
CHISHOLM — Considering how many model train enthusiasts picked up their interest in the activity from their dads, Father's Day seemed more fitting than any other day to display their hobby. The Laurentian Model Railroad Club welcomed visitors to check ...Read more
Model train hobby lets out steamHibbing Daily Tribune, June 21st
Steve Kinghorn, left, and Russell Uber, watch as a train takes off around the tracks Saturday as part of the Laurentian Northern Railroad Club's display at the Minnesota Museum of Mining in Chisholm. The club will be running trains from 1 to 5 p.m...Read more
Pocatello Model Railroad and Historical Society open house June 20Idaho State Journal, June 19th
The Pocatello Model Railroad and Historical Society will hold an open house from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 20 in UPRR brick building 59 south of the UPRR depot and just north of the Benton overpass. Trains will be running in five scales on...Read more
There's always more to see at Dennis Creek Model RailroadFlipSidePA, June 14th
Rather it's the Dennis Creek Model Railroad, and all 125 feet or so of it are laid out in the backyard garden at the home of Les Tosten. It is a G-scale set-up, possibly the only one in the area, Tosten said Sunday while standing in the small shed that...Read more
Next model train open house to be held June 20Log Cabin Democrat, June 13th
SUBMITTED PHOTO A model train enthusiast holds a section of model railroad track and wiring for its electric controls. These, along with newer railroad features, added activities and refreshments, will be a treat for both kids and adults at the next...Read more
All Aboard the Diablo Valley Lines: Model Railroad Fun in Walnut CreekPatch.com, June 8th
Families and train buffs can 'ride' the Diablo Valley Lines all year long during their 2015 whistle stop shows, featuring hundreds of model trains representing the mid-20th century through today, traveling over 4,300 feet of track on one of the world's...Read more
Model railroad club slated to lose its space in Souderton train stationThe Reporter, June 8th
Model railroad club slated to lose its space in Souderton train station. Bob Keeler —digital First media model train rounds a curve at the Logan Southern Model Railroa. By Bob Keeler, bkeeler@21st-CenturyMedia.com, @bybobkeeler on Twitter...Read more