Sunday, December 21, 2014

Toy Trains (Special Guest Photos!)

I never had a toy train when I was a kid, but I love toys - especially vintage toys! And if I had oodles of spare cash, I would be mighty tempted to collect trains like the ones seen in todays photos. Which, by the way, were provided to GDB through the generosity of Ken Martinez, who snapped the pictures at the Sacramento State Railroad Museum. I have to get up there someday.

Wow, look at that setup! Ken tells us that this is a Lionel tinplate roundhouse that could be expanded by adding sections. It's fantastic. I'll bet that when this was produced (I dunno, the 1930's?), only a rich kid would have had anything as nice as this. Any idea what those yellow things are supposed to be at the ends of the tracks (with the red lights on top)?

Look at this beautiful Lionel power station accessory, embossed and lithographed with bright colors. I'll bet Ward Kimball had one of these (his collection of toy trains was legendary, and I believe that when it was auctioned after his death, it fetched over 5 million dollars). I love the details like the cows, lamp posts, etc. It's the toylike quality that I find so appealing.

Now THIS is the kind of thing that I would have wanted to build! A bridge spans a chasm where a river (controlled by a dam) provides power for the townsfolk. The papier maché mountains are wonderful. The lights actually light up! There's even an airplane up above the hills. And it appears as if the houses get smaller as they go up - the same forced perspective that you find at Disneyland.

MANY THANKS to Ken Martinez for sharing these neat pictures with us!


Nanook said...


I believe the "yellow things at the end of the tracks with the red lights on top" are 'buffer stops'. Or the Lionel version of them, at least.

Ken - thanks for sharing these great images.

Steve DeGaetano said...

Major, those yellow things are simply "bumpers." They keep the locomotive or cars from going off the end of the track. Unlike the real things, the Lionel version had a plunger. When the coupler of a car or engine pushed the plunger in, the red light would light up! They are pretty cool. Real track bumpers aren't nearly as elaborate--usually being made of welded sections of rail.

Chuck said...

I've had a fascination with the tinplate Lionel stuff since I was a kid, and this is a glorious display.

My father had a co-worker in the late '70's who was a big Lionel collector. Being a fellow train enthusiast, he invited my dad and the family over for a private tour, and we found his living room, family room, dining room, den, the upstairs hallway, and even his bedroom walls were covered with display cases showcasing his collection. A lot of his treasures had been purchased cheaply, found in attics and garage sales during the period when Lionel trains were declining in popularity (and manufacturing quality) but before the collectors' market had heated up.

Every year at Christmas, he would decorate the living room, family room, and dining room with a different Lionel display from a different era, complete with working accessories. The star attraction was a No 1 gauge set from I think 1915.

Their annual open house was always a blast, because he always showed us how the action cars operated (offloading and loading cattle, launching missiles, etc.), and his son, who was an occasional babysitter of mine, would supervise us as we got to play with the gear first hand.

Thanks for sharing, Ken & Major P!

Anonymous said...

Brings back memories of my father building a train set/board which filled an entire bedroom back in the 50s. It was American Flyer and how I wish I had all of it today.


Alonzo P Hawk said...

That's quite a layout! Thanks for sharing. My 6 year old is drooling over these pictures.

Alonzo P Hawk said...

Oh, poop. He just asked why we don't have a set up like this and can "we" build one like it.

Steve DeGaetano said...

Through a licensing agreement with Lionel, a company called MTH makes reproductions of many of the trains and accessories you see in these photos. Not cheap, but less expensive than originals (which are highly collectible).

K. Martinez said...

I do have some selections of Prewar (1900-1942), Postwar (1945-1967), MPC and Modern Era Lionel which I've collected through the years. But most of my collection is from the modern era. Most every year at Christmas, I set up a couple of trains under the tree. For me it isn't Christmas without my trains running around under the Christmas tree or in one of my Dept. 56 villages.

The big green bridge in the last pic is the "Hellgate Bridge" accessory. Glad you guys enjoyed these. Thanks for allowing me to share, Major.

Chuck said...

We have a VERY small collection of Lionel stuff that unfortunately only sees the light of day for about three weeks each year around Christmas. Mostly modern - like 2007 and newer modern - but we do have a repro cannon car, and a single example each of the postwar submarine car, missile car, and exploding missile target car. It's all inspired by my dad's friend's collection.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I thought they might be bumpers or something, but didn't know if such a thing existed! Thanks.

Steve DeGaetano, even more info about the bumpers! I'm kind of surprised that they wouldn't use an actual spring-loaded plunger/shock absorber, maybe trains are just so massive that they would be useless.

Chuck, it sounds like your father's friend had the kind of layout that I would want if I got into model railroading. I can get obsessive! One of my favorite things ever was a huge setup at a local museum… the sky would cycle from daytime to night, and I could have just watched it for hours. My mom would have to drag us away!

KS, I love how even grown men with children loved their model trains. Kind of like Walt Disney, now that I think of it!

Alonozo, ha ha! Well, now you've done it. However, it sounds like a fun father/son project, it you have the room for it.

Steve DeGaetano, very cool that you can buy repros of the vintage train sets. They are definitely more to my taste.

K. Martinez, wow, you have some prewar stuff?! I know some of it can go for hundreds or even thousands of dollars. I love it! I think you might have sent me photos of your Dept. 56 village, I wish I had posted those with these. Arg! Oh well, next time.

Chuck, I always loved the oddball cars, like the cannon cars, or the snow plows. A submarine car? What does that even look like? Favorite: the "exploding missile target car"!

K. Martinez said...

Chuck - Most of my collection is from 2005 on as well, but I was able to obtain some of the older original stuff. Not much, but some. I loved the "Conventional Classics" line they did a couple of years ago (reproductions of original postwar sets).

Major - I'll have to photograph some of those old Lionel pieces for you and send to post on your blog.

Chuck said...

Major - the submarine car sounds a lot cooler than it is. It's basically a toy submarine on a flatcar, although the submarine does have a wind-up propeller, and I understand it was designed to be played with in the tub (which I've never attempted; I'm more of a shower type of guy).

The exploding target car is pretty awesome. I'll have to photograph some of my stuff and send it to you as well.

Melissa said...

My uncle had the most amazing Lionel train setup in his basement - it stretched across at least three banquet-size tables and went through tiny mountains, farms, and over a bridge. There were shelves on the walls of cars to switch out for the ones on the tracks.

My cousin always lists as part of his childhood trauma that his father made him play with all those toy trains. The grass is always greener, I guess.

Brad Abbott said...

The California State Railroad Museum really is amazing, and considering I live in Sacramento, I really should get over there more often.

Standing in a room with full-size locomotives, which look like the DLRR trains, but only a lot bigger, is pretty impressive!

Alex Blasingame said...

I'm a little late to the party, but great pics from the museum. Brad is right about how impressive the location is. I was there a few months ago and took a few pics, including one of Ward Kimball's caboose. I also have some video of the Lionel exhibit. I'll email you a link to them on Google Drive, if you'd like to post them. Thanks for sharing- I love trains!