A Historical Time line of Model Trains
Less than a half a century after the invention of the first steam-powered locomotive, model train sets were well on their way to becoming one of the world’s most popular hobbies. Model railroad trains started as a toy that only wealthy families could enjoy, but rapidly evolved to be more affordable as technology improved.
|1860s||Toy floor trains are made of wood and metal|
|1891||First mass market model train sets made by Märklin in Germany|
|1896||Carlisle and Finch develop electric powered trains that run on a metal track|
|1901||Lionel invents its first electric powered train|
|1920s||The “Golden Age” of model trains|
|1930s||HO and O scales are introduced|
|1942-45||Production of model trains stops during World War II|
|Early 1950s||Toy trains are the number one toys for boys|
|Mid 1950s||Plastic replaces metal as the primary material used to make model trains|
|1965||N scale trains introduced|
|1968||G scale trains introduced|
|1970s||Z scale trains introduced|
|1980s||Digital control and realistic sound systems introduced|
|Today||There are over ½ million model train collectors in the US & Canada|
Not only do electric toy trains provide a lot of fun for the entire family, they have a history that is almost as rich as the one shared by the real railroads.
The very first toy trains appeared on the market in the 1860’s. These were simple designs that were made out of wood and metal. It is doubtful that the designers had any inkling of what their simple floor toys would evolve into.
The Märklin Company in Germany saw a need for a set of standard gauges for toy trains in 1891. When they first implemented these standard gauges it was for the wind-up (also called clockwork) trains the Märklin Company produced. The same standards are still used for today’s electric trains.
The very first electric toy train was introduced to the world in 1901. The train was a product of the Lionel Toy Company. At first it was only intended to be used as a window display. It wasn’t long before consumers were more interested in the window display then in the merchandise.
It was during the 1920’s that electric toy trains became really popular. At the time all the kids wanted them, but only the rich kids could afford them.
Smaller scaled electric toy trains were introduced to the world. They were typically O gauge and HO gauge. The HO scale was roughly on half of the O scale. Originally named as “Half O” scale it was later shortened to HO. Most of them could only be purchased as kits that were then put together by adults with a great deal of experience.
World War II stopped the production of electric toy trains from 1941 through 1945.
When production of electric toy trains resumed after the war, their popularity took off. By the 1950’s they were the most popular toy among boys in the United States. They had also become more affordable. At this time the biggest toy train manufacturer is Lionel. By the middle of the 1950’s there was a clear division between toy electric trains that were designed for adults and toy electric trains that were designed with children in mind.
The N scale train was introduced in 1965. The N scale train was roughly one half the size of the HO scale trains. Three years later the G scale train was introduced. The G scale is still a popular choice among garden railroaders.
The G scale train was introduced by Germany’s LGB Company. The G scale allows collectors to add real scenery to their layouts as well as topography. Some people incorporate garden trains directly into their home’s landscaping.
Märklin created a train that was even smaller then the N scale train in the 1970’s. This train was called the Z scale. At this time improvements in technology and electronics could be seen in the toy electric trains.
Realistic sounds and digital control systems were added to the electric toy trains in the 1980’s.
Today with over ½ million model train collectors in the US & Canada alone, the hobby has matured and modern technologies have become norms in both model building and operations.
Some modelers pay attention to landscaping their layout, creating a fantasy world or modeling an actual location, often historic. Landscaping is termed “scenery building” or “scenicking”. Constructing scenery involves preparing a sub-terrain using a wide variety of building materials, including (but not limited to) screen wire, a lattice of cardboard strips, or carved stacks of expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) sheets. A scenery base is applied over the sub-terrain; typical base include casting plaster,plaster of Paris, hybrid paper-pulp or a lightweight foam fiberglass bubble-wrap composite as in Geodesic Foam Scenery.
The scenery base is covered with substitutes for ground cover, which may be Static Grass or scatter. Scatter or flock is a substance used in the building of dioramas and model railways to simulate the effect of grass, poppies, fire weed, track ballast and other scenic ground cover. Scatter used to simulate track ballast is usually fine grained ground granite. Scatter which simulates colored grass is usually tinted sawdust, wood chips or ground foam Foam or natural lichen or commercial scatter materials can be used to simulate shrubbery. An alternative to scatter, for grass, is static grass which uses static electricity to make its simulated grass actually stand up.
Buildings and structures can be purchased as kits, or built from cardboard, balsa wood, basswood (or any soft wood really), paper, or polystyrene or other plastic. Trees can be fabricated from materials such as Western sagebrush, candytuft, and caspia, to which adhesive and model foliage are applied; or they can be bought ready-made from specialist manufacturers. Water can be simulated using polyester casting resin, polyurethane, or rippled glass. Rocks can be cast in plaster or in plastic with a foam backing. Castings can be painted with stains to give coloring and shadows.
The first clockwork (spring-drive) and live steam locomotives ran until out of power, with no way for the operator to stop and restart the locomotive or vary its speed. The advent of electric trains, which appeared commercially in the 1890s, allowed control of the speed by varying the current or voltage. As trains began to be powered by transformers and rectifiers more sophisticated throttles appeared, and soon trains powered by AC contained mechanisms to change direction or go into neutral gear when the operator cycled the power. Trains powered by DC can change direction by reversing polarity.
Electricity permits control by dividing the layout into isolated blocks, where trains can be slowed or stopped by lowering or cutting power to a block. Dividing a layout into blocks permits operators to run more than one train with less risk of a fast train catching and hitting a slow train. Blocks can also trigger signals or other accessories, adding realism or whimsy. Three-rail systems often insulate one of the common rails on a section of track, and use a passing train to complete the circuit and activate an accessory.
Many layout builders are choosing digital operation of their layouts rather than the more traditional DC design. The industry standard command system is Digital Command Control (DCC). The advantages to DCC are that track voltage is constant (usually in the range of 14 – 17 volts) and the command throttle sends a signal to small circuit cards, or decoders, hidden inside the piece of equipment which control several functions of an individual locomotive, including speed, direction of travel, lights, smoke and various sound effects. This allows more realistic operation in that the modeler can operate independently several locomotives on the same stretch of track. Less common closed proprietary systems also exist. Several manufacturers offer software that can provide
Methods of power
Static diorama models or ‘push along’ scale models are a branch of model railways for unpowered locomotives, examples are Lone Star and Airfix models. Powered model railways are now generally operated by low voltage direct current (DC) electricity supplied via the tracks, but there are exceptions, such as Märklin and Lionel Corporation, which use alternating current (AC). Modern Digital Command Control (DCC) systems use alternating current. Other locomotives, particularly large models can use steam. Steam and clockwork driven engines are still sought by collectors.
Most early models for the toy market were powered by clockwork and controlled by levers on the locomotive. Although this made control crude the models were large and robust enough that handling the controls was practical. Various manufacturers introduced slowing and stopping tracks that could trigger levers on the locomotive and allow station stops.
Early electrical models used a three-rail system with the wheels resting on a metal track with metal sleepers that conducted power and a middle rail which provided power to a skid under the locomotive. This made sense at the time as models were metal and conductive. Modern plastics were not available and insulation was a problem. In addition the notion of accurate models had yet to evolve and toy trains and track were crude tin plate. A variation on the three-rail system, Trix Twin, allowed two trains to be independently controlled on one track, before the advent of Digital Command Control.
As accuracy became important some systems adopted two-rail power in which the wheels were isolated from each other and the rails carried the positive and negative supply with the right rail carrying the positive potential.
Other systems such as Märklin instead used fine metal studs to replace the central rail, allowing existing three-rail models to use more realistic track.
Where the model is of an electric locomotive, it may be supplied by overhead lines, like the full-size locomotive. Before Digital Command Control became available, this was one way of controlling two trains separately on the same track. The electric-outline model would be supplied by the overhead wire and the other model could be supplied by one of the running rails. The other running rail would act as a common return.
Early electric trains ran on track side batteries because few homes in the late 19th century and early 20th century had electricity. Today, inexpensive train sets running on batteries are again common but regarded as toys and seldom used by hobbyists. Batteries located in the model often power garden railway and larger scale systems because of the difficulty in obtaining reliable power supply through the outdoor rails. The high power consumption and current draw of large scale garden models is more easily and safely met with internal rechargeable batteries. Most large scale battery powered models use radio control.
Engines powered by live steam are often built in large outdoor gauges of 5″ and 7 1/2″, are also available in Gauge 1, G scale, 16 mm scale and can be found in O and OO/HO. Hornby Railways produce live steam locomotives in 00, based on designs first arrived at by an amateur modeler. Other modelers have built live steam models in H0/00, 009 and N, and there is one in Z in Australia.
Occasionally gasoline-electric models, patterned after real diesel-electric locomotives, come up among hobbyists and companies like Pilgrim Locomotive Works have sold such locomotives. Large-scale petrol-mechanical and petrol-hydraulic models are available but unusual and pricier than the electrically powered versions.
NMRA (National Model Railroad Association) standardized the first model railway scales in the 1940s. NMRA standards are used widely in North America and by certain special interest groups all over the world. To some extent NMRA and NEM standards are compatible, but in many areas, the two standards specify certain model railway details in somewhat incompatible ways for the same scale.
There are two NMRA standard sheets where the scales have been defined. NMRA standard S-1.2 covers the popular model railway scales and S-1.3 defines scales with deep flanges for model railways with very sharp curves or other garden railway specific design features.
In certain NMRA scales an alternative designation is sometimes used corresponding the length of one prototype foot in scale either in millimeters or in inches. For instance, 3.5 mm scale is the same as HO. For HO and O -scales, NMRA uses letter ‘O’ whereas NEM uses the number zero (H0 instead of HO).
NMRA has defined alternative, more prototypical, track and wheel system standards in standard sheet S-1.1 for the purposes of reproducing the prototype proportions in scale model more realistically. These model railway standards are based on the full size prototype standards and the scale model operational reliability is therefore reduced in comparison to the models conforming to the normal NMRA standards. Proto and Finescale rails and wheels are generally not compatible with the normal scale model railway material with the same scale ratio.
Proto scale was originally developed by the Model Railway Study Group in Great Britain in 1966 and later adopted into NMRA standards with modifications necessary for the North American prototype railway standards. Proto scale reproduces faithfully the prototype wheel tread profile and track work used by the Association of American Railroads and the American Railway Engineering Association.
Finescale reproduces the prototype wheel tread profile and track work used by the Association of American Railroads and the American Railway Engineering Association with minor compromises for performance and manufacturability.
NMRA Popular Railway Scales
|Z||1:220||6.5 mm (0.256 in)||NMRA does not give any other dimensions for Z-scale apart from the gauge|
The s.g. is set nominally to gauge=6.5 mm; more exact to 1:220 would be 6.52 mm (0.257 in)
|Nn2||1:160||0.177 in (4.5 mm)|
4.5 mm (0.177 in)
|Nn3||1:160||0.256 in (6.5 mm)|
6.5 mm (0.256 in)
|N||1:160||0.353 in (8.97 mm)||standard gauge|
|TT||1:120||0.470 in (11.94 mm)|
0.472 in (12 mm)
12 mm (0.472 in)
|HOn2 or 3.5 mm||1:87.1||7 mm (0.276 in)||narrow gauge|
|HO or 3.5 mm||1:87.1||0.65 in (16.5 mm)||standard gauge|
|OO or 4 mm||1:76.2||0.75 in (19.05 mm)||standard gauge|
|Sn3 or 3/16″||1:64||0.563 in (14.3 mm)||narrow gauge|
|S or 3/16″||1:64||0.883 in (22.43 mm)||standard gauge|
|On2 or 1/4″||1:48||12.7 mm (0.5 in)||narrow gauge|
|On30 or 1/4″||1:48||HO-track||narrow gauge|
|On3 or 1/4″||1:48||0.75 in (19.05 mm)|
19.4 mm (0.764 in) (?)
|O or 1/4″||1:48||1.25 in (31.75 mm)||1.177 in (28.9 mm) is true standard gauge|
|#1n3 or 3/8″||1:32||1.125 in (28.6 mm)||narrow gauge|
|#1 or 3/8″||1:32||1.766 in (44.85 mm)||standard gauge|
|Fn3 or 15 mm||1:20.32||#1-track||narrow gauge|
|F or 15 mm||1:20.32||2.781 in (70.69 mm)||Identical to Proto 20.32 except the wheel flange depth|
|1″||1:12||4 3⁄4 in (121 mm)||–|
Note: to interpret the number in the left hand column, these examples illustrate:
3.5 mm scale (HO): 3.5 mm scale measurement = 1 foot (304.8 mm) prototype. The ratio is therefore 1:87.08571, usually reported as 1:87.
1″ scale: 1″ scale measurement = 1 foot prototype, the ratio is reported as 1:12.
NMRA Deep Flange Scales
|SHR or 3/16″||1:64||0.865 in (21.97 mm)|
vs. 0.865 in (22 mm)
|O27||–||–||Same as OHR but models 10% smaller|
on the same track gauge
|OHR or 1/4″||1:48||1.25 in (31.75 mm)||–|
|G or 3/8″||1:32||1.772 in (45 mm)||–|
|G||1:29||1.772 in (45 mm)||–|
|G||1:24||1.772 in (45 mm)||–|
|G||1:22.5||1.772 in (45 mm)||–|
|G||1:20.3||1.772 in (45 mm)||–|
NMRA Proto Scales
|Proto:20.32||1:20.32||70.69 mm (2.781 in)||NMRA|
|Proto:20.32n3||1:20.32||1.772 in (45 mm)||–|
|Proto:32||1:32||1.766 in (44.85 mm)||–|
|Proto:32n3||1:32||1.125 in (28.6 mm)||–|
|Proto:48w5||1:48||1.25 in (31.75 mm)||Russian prototypes|
|Proto:48||1:48||1.177 in (29.9 mm)||–|
|Proto:48n3||1:48||0.75 in (19.05 mm)||–|
|Proto:64||1:64||0.883 in (22.43 mm)||–|
|Proto:64n3||1:64||0.563 in (14.3 mm)||–|
|Proto:87||1:87.1||0.65 in (16.5 mm)||–|
|Proto:87n3||1:87.1||0.413 in (10.5 mm)||–|
|Fine:HO||1:87.1||0.65 in (16.5 mm)||–|
|Fine:HOn3||1:87.1||0.413 in (10.5 mm)||–|
|Fine:TT||1:120||0.470 in (11.94 mm)|
0.472 in (12 mm)
|Fine:N||1:160||0.353 in (8.97 mm)||–|
|Fine:Nn3||1:160||0.25 in (6.35 mm)||–|
“HMRS: HMRS”. hmrs.org.uk.
“Bragdon Enterprises – Geo Foam Instructions”. Bragdonent.com. Retrieved 2012-05-05.
“FREMO homepage” (in German and English).
“Sipping and Switching Society of NC website”.
“Z-Bend Track homepage”