The first steam locomotive roared down steel tracks in 1830, and all who saw this cutting edge technology were filled with awe at the sheer force of the thing. Miniatures of steam locomotives and train cars were soon sold as souvenirs and model train collecting was born. In the 1880’s, model train collecting came into its own as a hobby and really took off in the 1920’s when department stores began including them in their Christmas window displays.
Accuracy is the aim of model railroaders and they focus on every imaginable aspect of railroad history and operations.
What does “scale” mean?
Different size model trains have been produced by a number of manufacturers: Lionel, American Flyer, Marx, and Marklin to name a handful. Each of these manufacturers used different materials to build their trains and they were designed to different scale sizes (also known as “gauge”). The scales or gauges are known as O scale, HO scale, N scale, Z scale, and G scale. Model trains are also referred to by type, such as brass, tinplate, or steam.
Early model trains were manufactured from tinplate and were popular until shortly after World War II. Soldiers returned from the war with brass model trains they acquired in Japan, sparking the interest in brass train sets which remained popular through the 1970’s.
The largest of the model trains, built to a 1:22.5 scale. These are the model trains you frequently see running outdoors, especially in gardens.
Most popular prior to World War II, these were built to a 1:43, 1:45, or 1:48 scale
Introduced in the 1930’s, HO (“Half O”) are built to a 1:87 size and reached the height of their popularity in the 1950’s.
Much smaller, built to a 1:160 scale. Introduced in the 1960’s, N scale trains were very popular with consumers, as they required much less room to display
Built to a 1:220 scale, Z scale were even smaller and became popular in the U.S. in the 1970’s
Why the emphasis on railroad logos?
Some collectors like to focus on specific railroads, regardless of gauge or type. The more popular are New York Central, Pennsylvania Railroad, Santa Fe, and Union Pacific.
According to Xfinity, “There are model train enthusiasts, and then there is Rod Stewart… (He) insists on a backstage area where he can set up tracks before concerts. His crowning achievement is a complete replica of New York’s Grand Central Station in his house, comprised of 100 feet of track, dozens of locomotives and carriages, skyscrapers and hundreds of passengers in 1940s dress. The set was featured on the cover of Model Railroader – an honor he once said would “mean more to me than the cover of Rolling Stone.”