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Vintage Model Railroads

Hobbyists collect lots of unique things.  My uncle collected Coca Cola bottles from various locations and I once met this guy who collected candy wrappers.  But collecting classic toy trains is a little different.  Part of it is that a lot of these locomotives can be rehabilitated and made to work again.  So it’s not like you are just taking a gander at them in some book or on some wall.  The trains still can be caused to serve their function in real life.  Try doing that with your stamp collection!   

What are the popular collectible trains these days?  Here’ the big three:

Lionel trains:  

We have to start with the big tuna, Lionel locomotives.  Lionel train has been the longest lasting toy crafting obsession.  Lionel trains once topped the toy training hobby.  Via aggressive advertising they associated their trains with Christmas and by World War II when Lionel was ordered to redirect production to aid in the war struggle they were the unparalleled gold standard of the model train world.  Lionel’s historic toy trains are some of the most popular and widely available trains around.   The rocker, Neil Young fell in love with Lionel locomotives as child and became a collector and then part owner of the company as an adult.  These trains are such popular items because many grown ups remember them from their childhoods when Lionel displays were often placed in hardware stores.  For this reason the whole brand is embedded in a type of 1950’s nostalgia.  The truth is that Lionel was in the process of being overtaken by other brands during that time and that most of us, like Neil Young, didn’t actually get Lionel trains as Christmas gifts only makes Lionel more popular now as a collector’s item.

American Flyers:  

Among avid collectors and toy locomotive fanatics no type of model train has more cachet than the American Flyer S gauge toys that came out just after World War II.  Although Gilbert failed to displace Lionel with his S scale train in the 50’s, American Flyer trains are perhaps even more sought after today than Lionel’s vintage trains.  Gilbert’s effort, however, resulted in some of the most beloved locomotives around and collectors go absolutely ape doo doo over these historic toy trains. The uniqueness of s gauge adds to the mystique of the American Flyer brand.  They are so popular among collectors and fans that Lionel LLC, the current holder of the American Flyer patent, plans on releasing many of the most popular trains from this time period.  They are sure to disappear like hot cakes.

Ives:  

If you really want to locate a locomotive nobody but the true collector has, go for an Ives locomotive.  Ives was the third competitor in the Lionel versus American Flyer triumvirate.  An old Ives toy train is a real find.  Like Lionel, Ives runs on O gauge. 

Clock operated locomotives of the Victorian era:  

If you really want to go old school you can’t go older than a Victorian era clock operated train.  They don’t have the complicated detail that the Lionel and American Flyers would have after World War I.   These clock operated locomotives, however, really give you a sense of how such trains were viewed before toy training became so popular.   These vintage model trains were clearly made for children. They were clock operated because there was no power source yet.  They were largely purchased by the well off back in the day and that’s who can afford to collect them now.  You can see how the simple style really could have appealed to tiny children.  These locomotives can really capture the imagination of another age.  In fact, you might say that toy training came to us just like kindergarten.  Both were part of Germany’s obsessions with childrearing in the early 20th century.

There is great joy in restoring one of these old model trains.  You could choose a far worse hobby.

Here is more information on Model Steam Trains. Here is a website with a free mini-course dedicated to Model Trains.