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About Model Railroading

We offer here some basic and some esoteric information about model railroading.

We start with a Dictionary of Terms to help you understand what we mean when we say words like "turnout" and "trucks" and "scenicking" and other words unique to model railroading as it relates to real railroading.

We continue with a Question and Answer section to help with some of the most common questions in model railroading.

We finish with a history of the model train manufacturers.

If you have more questions, come see a Montana NTRAK modular layout and talk with any of our club members. Check our Calendar of Events page to see where we will be next.

DICTIONARY OF TERMS

Accessory
An item intended to complement a model train set but generally not included with it, such as a switch, a building, or a trackside light. Some accessories, such as billboards, tunnels, and many buildings, are static, while others, such as coal loaders, control towers, or gatemen, have an operating feature.
Airbrush
A miniature paint sprayer that gives a controlled application of thinned paint.
Articulated
A locomotive with a jointed frame that is flexible in at least one direction.
Benchwork
A frame that is the foundation of a model railroad or model train layout. L girder and open-grid are two popular types.
Block
An electrically insulated zone of track.
Body shell
The housing of a locomotive or car that covers the interior workings. Sometimes referred to as the "cab"
CA
Short for cyanoacrylate adhesive, also known as super glue. A high-strength adhesive that can be used on metal and styrene plastic.
Cab control
A method of controlling model trains in which one power pack is used for each train so the power pack can be connected to one set of blocks and remain disconnected from all others. Only one engine or set of engines can be controlled in each block.
Can motor
A permanent magnet motor enclosed in a metal "can" (housing). A can motor is generally direct current (DC)-only.
Chassis
Frame and mechanism of a locomotive or car; what the body shell sits on.
Chemically blackened
A metal part treated with chemicals to achieve a painted or blackened look. Manufacturers use these processes on wheels, trucks, and frames.
Coil coupler
A model train connecting device that uses a solenoid to open and close it; the electricity to operate the solenoid comes via a device beneath the truck that slides along the track, activated when a button is pushed and current is provided. (see coupler)
Command control
A way of controlling trains by sending electronic messages through the rails. Each locomotive has a decoder or receiver which only responds to the messages specifically directed to it. Engines can be controlled independently anywhere on a layout. Also known as Digital Command Control (DCC).
Consist
Cars which make up a train; also a list of those cars. Locomotive consist is a group of engines put together to pull a train.
Couplers
Are the devices by which cars and locomotives are hooked together. The most widely used coupler is known as a "knuckle" coupler. These generally replicate full-size couplers as used on U.S. rolling stock. Not every knuckle couple available will mate with every other, for a variety of reasons.
Crossover
Two turnouts (a.k.a. switches) and a connecting track that allow a train to be diverted to a parallel track.
Die-Cast
A manufacturing process in which molten material is poured or injected into a metal mold. The molds are always metal in this process, but the material cast may be metal or plastic. There are other casting processes, such as sandcasting or lost-wax casting, but these are less common.
Duckunder
An area on a layout where you must bend down and go under the benchwork to gain access to another part of the layout.
EOT device
An End-Of-Train device (sometimes called a FRED, for Flashing Rear-End Device) that has replaced cabooses. Along with a flashing light, many EOTs or FREDs can transmit information on brake-line pressure and speed to the locomotive.
E-Unit
The mechanism that provides the reverse sequence on model trains; there are two-position (forward-reverse) models and three-position (forward-neutral-reverse) models.
E Unit
A General Motors Electro-Motive Division (EMD) six-axle streamlined passenger locomotive of the 1930s-'60s.
EMD
Abbreviation for Electro-Motive Division of General Motors, manufacturer of prototype locomotives.
F Unit
An EMD four-axle streamlined freight/passenger diesel of the 1940s and 1950s, made in several variants.
Factory Prototype or Factory Sample
Manufacturers produce these preproduction models for executives and employees so they can work out plans to design and decorate the final model. Most prototypes/samples were never intended to leave the company, but over the years many have made their way into the hands of collectors, giving them a glimpse of the production process. The terms are most often used with regard to model trains.
Factory Error
Usually a train with faulty paint or lettering (decoration), or a part (factory installed) that varies from most examples. They are often worth more than a similar, but correct, item.
Flextrack
Prefabricated flexible sections of track used on a layout. It usually comes in straight, 3-foot-long sections which can be bent as needed. Other kinds of track are sectional (rigid pieces of straight and curved track that come with train sets) and handlaid (built with handmade ties, rail, and spikes).
Frame
The base structure of a locomotive or car, without trucks, motors, etc.
Free-Lance
Modeling that does not closely follow a real (prototype) railroad.
Gauge
The distance between the inside of the heads of track rails. Standard gauge on real railroads is 4'-8 1/2". Narrow gauge means rails with a width less than standard gauge. For example, On3 means O scale trains with 3 scale feet between the rails.
Gondola
A long, flat, open car with short sides and ends for hauling items like iron, steel, and scrap.
Grade
Refers to the level of the ground or the ground surface upon which track is laid.
Ground Throw
A machine that is used to move the point rails of a switch. It is built to a low profile, close to the ground, hence its name. An upright machine that does the same job is called a switch stand.
Hardshell
A scenery base made by dipping paper towels in plaster or using plaster-impregnated gauze and laying it over a light support structure like cardboard.
Heat-Stamping
A process of lettering using a hot metal dye and a colored tape ribbon. Heat-stamping leaves a slight impression on plastic or metal surfaces.
Helix
A rising curve which turns around an axis like a corkscrew. Used on multilevel model railroad layouts to allow trains to move from one level to another.
Hi-rail
Broadly speaking, hi-rail refers to modeling prototype railroading as accurately as possible using model trains on a layout with realistic scenery.
Homasote
A pressed paperboard often used for roadbed on a model or toy train layout.
Hopper Car
An open-top car for hauling items that don't need protection, such as coal and gravel. Unloaded through doors in funnel-like bins in bottom of car. Covered hoppers have roofs and carry grain and other items that need protection from weather.
Intermodal
Shipments that are carried by more than one mode of transportation, mainly containers and piggyback trailers.
Kitbashing
Taking one or more model railroad kits (often structure kits) and changing the construction process or combining parts to make a unique model.
Large Scale
Model trains manufactured since 1970 that use No. 1 gauge track. The trains themselves are scaled (if at all) to different ratios, including 1:22.5 (G scale, originated by the LGB manufacturer and also used by Bachmann).
Live Steam Locomotives
Model trains that run on real steam. Their boilers contain water that is heated by a fire. The cylinders function in much the same way as a full-size locomotive's.
Magne-Traction
Lionel's patented model train system, dating from 1949, for increasing locomotive traction by way of magnetized axles.
Magnetic Coupler
A post-1947 Lionel model train coupler that uses either a movable metal plate or a metal shaft to open the coupler. A magnetic coupler requires an electromagnet to operate.
Main Line
The primary track that defines the railway and which connects the railway's most important destinations. It does not include spurs, branch lines, yards, sidings, or passing tracks.
Module
In NTRAK model railroading, a module is a section of a layout built to the international NTRAK standards. Each module can be connected interchangeably with any other module built to the same standards.
MOW
Maintenance-of-way equipment. Used by a railroad to keep track and roadbed in good condition.
Operation
Running trains on a model railroad layout in a way that simulates real railroad activity.
Passing Siding
A track that parallels the main line and joins it at both ends. It is usually long enough that an entire train can pull into it so that another may pass in the opposite direction.
Point-to-Point
A type of track plan whereby the train begins its journey at a dead end and ends it at another. The track does not form a continuous loop, nor are there turning or reverse loops at the ends.
Points
Can refer to an entire switch or turnout or to the actual rails that move within a switch to change the direction of the train, also called point rails.
Rail Joiner
The device that holds rail ends together and in alignment. Commercial, sectional track comes with slide-on joiners. Clamp-on joiners are also available.
Reefer
A refrigerator car. Similar in appearance to a boxcar but uses ice or mechanical cooling equipment.
Reproduction
A newly manufactured model train that's closely patterned in style, color, and materials after an older train that is long since out of production.
Roadbed
Foundation of built-up earth under tracks.
Rolling Stock
Freight and passenger cars.
Running Board
Walkway along roof or along sides of tank cars.
Scale
The size of things in model railroading relative to things in real railroading. For example, in N scale, models are 1-to-160 in real life. In HO scale, models are 1-to-87 in real life. Other popular scales are Z (1-to-220), S (1-to-64), and O (1-to-48). Many Lionel model trains are close to but not really O Scale and are what we call semi-scale trains. (See Semi-Scale).
Scenicking
A word unique to model railroading, meaning to design, build, and apply the scenery on a model railroad module or layout.
Scratchbuilding
Making a model from raw materials and parts, not using kits.
Semi-Scale
Almost but not exactly a true scale model.
Styrene
Short for polystyrene, a versatile plastic commonly used for modeling. Comes in sheets, blocks, and rods of many different thicknesses and sizes.
Tinplate
Originally, this term came from a reference to the tin-plated steel used to construct model train track and cars. People outside the model train hobby often use this term to refer to nearly all aspects of model trains, particularly the metal models made before World War II.
Traction
City and suburban trolley lines; equipment run by electricity.
Train Set
A train sold as such by its manufacturer, with or without track and transformer.
Transformer
Strictly speaking, an electrical device for raising or lowering AC voltage, but in model train parlance, and AC power pack for controlling train speed and direction.
Truck
Assembly holding a group of two or more wheelsets together beneath a car.
Turnout
A piece of track that allows a train to go from one track to another. Called a "switch" in a real railroading. Referred to by number. For example, a No. 6 turnout spreads one unit for each six units of travel measured from the frog (the point at which two rails join to form a V).
Universal Motor
An open-frame motor that has a wire-wound armature and a wire-wound field coil in series, allowing it to operate on AC or DC.
Variations
Slightly different production versions of the same numbered set, locomotive, or piece of model train rolling stock. Often, the differences are slight and may involve subtle changes in color, lettering, or detailing.
Wheelset
A pair of wheels connected by an axle.
Weathering
Making shiny new models look more realistic by dirtying them up with chalk or paint.

MODEL RAILROADING QUESTIONS

Which is better, HO or N scale?
Each scale offers advantages that the other can't match, and for a particular modeler, this makes all the difference in the world. HO is the most popular and thus has the broadest availability of rolling stock, building kits, and other scale materials needed to complete a scene. Most modelers simply like its middle-of-the-road size. But it's difficult to run 50-car trains on even medium-sized HO layouts. In N scale, size does matter, especially to those who simply don't have much space for a layout. N Scale product availability has not been an issue in more than a decade as the scale continues to expand. Simply put, it's a matter of choice.
What is the NMRA?
The National Model Railroad Association (NMRA), is an organization devoted to the development, promotion, and enjoyment of the hobby. It establishes and publishes standards and recommended practices used by the hobby industry so cars and locomotives produced by different manufacturers are compatible with one another. There are NMRA conventions and meetings held at the national, regional, and local levels.
What is NTRAK?
NTRAK or NTrak is a take off on the word AmTrak, which is the national company that runs passenger trains in the United States. NTRAK is a national organization of N Scale model railroaders that provides the standards for making the modules NTRAK clubs use in setting up a layout, like we do at Montana NTRAK. (Click on the NTRAK Logo on our Links Page to go to the NTRAK national organization.)
Why are some scales written with a lower case n, as in HOn3?
Consider it a handy abbreviation that describes not only the modeling scale but also the track gauge used for a particular model pike. The "n" signals that it is narrow gauge -- in this case, 3 feet. (Standard gauge track has rails 4'8-1/2" apart.) Other variations include Gn3, On3, HOn2-1/2, and Nn3.
How much does it cost to get started?
One of the best ways to get started in model railroading is to purchase a model train set that you and your family can enjoy together, particularly around the winter holidays. A set has everything you need to operate trains, including a locomotive, cars, track, and a transformer (power pack) to control speed and direction. Many sets can be found for $100 to $400. If that's too steep, consider purchasing a used set from a local hobby shop.

TRACK AND ROADBED QUESTIONS

What is meant by a No. 4 turnout?
In a No. 4 turnout, the diverging rails are one unit apart when measured four units past the point of the frog. Thus, for every four feet of travel past the frog, the rails are one foot further apart, as long as the track stays straight. A No. 4 is a very sharp turnout, and No. 6 and No. 8 turnouts, while longer, are more realistic and reliable for model operations, particularly for N Scale.
What is meant by the word "code," as in code 80 track?
The "code" is simply the rail's height in thousandths of an inch, so code 80 rail is .080 inches high. The term is not used in real railroading, where rail size is typically expressed by pounds per yard instead of height.
What is Homasote, and why do so many layout builders use it?

Homasote is a pressed paper product made by the Homasote Corp. It's recycled newsprint and comes in 4 x 8-foot sheets that are a half-inch thick. It's usually used as wall-insulating material. Homasote's main advantage is that its density allows it to hold spikes well, yet it's soft enough that they can be driven in with a pair of needlenose pliers. This is a particularly attractive feature for those who handlay track. Homasote has its disadvantages: It has poor dimensional stability and tends to expand when exposed to high humidity. This problem can be addressed by sealing the product with paint or shellac. It's also difficult to cut Homasote without generating a lot of dust and dulling saw blades. One solution is to use a knife-type blade (no teeth) in a saber saw. To find a dealer in your area, call the Homasote Corp. at 800-257-9491. Other roadbed options are Vinylbed (available from Hobby Innovations, P.O. Box 676, Mountain City, TN 37683) and cork, available in strips from various suppliers.

How do you prevent derailments?

Poor trackwork, faulty wheels, sharp curves, and unrealistically high speeds are often the culprits. Checking whether the wheels and track are in gauge, by using a National Model Railroad Association standards gauge, is a logical first step if a particular car or section of track seems to be at the center of recurring derailments.

Well-laid track is important. The rail joints should be smooth from the time you first lay the track. Avoid S-curves. Trains weren't meant to be serpentine. A straight section between two divergent curves will do wonders. More advanced trackwork methods include super-elevating curves, installing longer turnouts (No. 6 and greater), and reducing the number of rail joints through the use of flextrack.

The trucks on your rolling stock should always swivel freely. Any build-up of grime or dirt on wheels should be removed before it causes the car to wobble. Speed and sharp curves don not go well together. Real trains would never be subjected to the curves we use on model railroads. Few freight trains travel faster than an automobile on Interstate Highways. A model locomotive traveling 100 scale miles per hour on a sharp curve can easily derail.

How do you keep track clean?
Dirt on track is caused by a mix of dust, oil, and oxidation. Obviously a dry, dust-free environment is the best defense, and all but impossible. A well-vacuumed carpet, a clean furnace filter and air conditioning help, but dust is an ever-present guest. However, keeping the grease and oil from the gears of your working locomotives from reaching the track is achievable. Never overlubricate your locomotive. The excess will only migrate downward over time. Once the track is noticeably dirty, clean the railheads with an abrasive block, liquid track cleaner on a lint-free cloth, or a track-cleaning car. Excessively dirty wheels can make the track dirty in short order.
Do you have to solder track?
Soldering track has two advantages: better electrical conductivity and reinforced rail joints that stand up to stresses such as wood expansion, layout moving, and rail shifting. The key to good soldering is to start with a clean surface, use a non-acid core solder and a liquid resin flux, and use a hot iron to avoid melting the plastic ties. Don't overdo it; a little solder at the joint is all you need.
How do you figure grades, and how steep can they be?
Expressed as a percentage, grades indicate how steeply tracks climb. A 2 percent grade means a rise of two units for every 100 units of travel. In other words, a rise of 2 inches for 100 inches. Even at that seemingly minuscule rise, a locomotive loses roughly half its pulling power. Each additional percent increase reduces the pulling power of a locomotive consist pulling power by half again. The key to determining how steep to make a grade is to decide how many cars you plan to pull and what's practical in the available space. Realistically, anything greater than 5 percent is asking too much from a model locomotive.

CONTROL and ELECTRICAL QUESTIONS

How big of a power pack do I need?
Remember these handy rules when purchasing a pack: Amperes determine the amount of power. Voltage determines speed. Electrical rating (measured in voltamps, VA, meaning volts x amps) is what matters. Any pack will work on a big layout if enough feeder wires are attached to reduce electrical resistance and the resulting voltage drop that slows trains down as they get farther from the power source. A more powerful pack will be able to run more locomotives. If the amperes drawn exceed the pack's capacity, the pack begins to overheat. The pack that comes with a starter train set (rated as low as 7 volt-amps, or just 0.7 amps delivered at 10 volts) will run one (maybe two) locomotives at the same time. A 14 VA pack will easily power three or four locomotives. Don't throw away that tiny starter pack in train sets. It comes in handy for powering accessories separate from your main power source, freeing the bigger pack to run just locomotives.
How do you wire a reverse loop?
The common method is to insulate the reverse loop at both ends, run separate feeder wires from the power pack to the loop, and install a double-pole, double-throw (DPDT) toggle switch between the power pack and the non-loop feeder wires. While the train is in the reverse loop, you would throw the DPDT switch to reverse the polarity on the remaining track sections, allowing the train to leave the loop with ease.

LOCOMOTIVES and ROLLING STOCK QUESTIONS

What should I look for in buying an engine?

Are more expensive engines better? Modelers should consider these elements: realism, running capabilities, and level of detail. Beyond that, you'd use the same considerations as deciding whether to buy a $5,000, a $500, or a $50 watch. Obviously, there should be more inherent quality and value in an expensive locomotive, but the mid-priced version is often an attractive and well-equipped alternative. It's the inexplicably cheap one that warrants caution. N Scale manufacturers make models of varying qualities.

Atlas, InterMountain, Kato, and Life-Like (Proto 2000) excel in making fine plastic diesel locomotives with a high level of detail and excellent running characteristics. Model Power makes fine running metal steam locomotives, but the detail is not as extensive as you find on N Scale diesel locomotives. Bachmann's Spectrum Series steam locomotives also are very good, and they have more detailing than does the Model Power line.

Expect to pay $75 and more for each of those model locomotives. Steam locomotives, with their array of moving valve gear and rods, cost more to produce than the equivalent-quality diesel model locomotive, and often cost more. The middle ground is represented by Athearn, Con-Cor, and Walthers, whose locomotives are priced from $30 up.

Should I oil my trains?

Locomotives, yes. Freight and passenger cars, probably not. Nonetheless, it's important to use the right lubricants for maximum performance. The primary purpose of oil is to reduce wear and tear on moving parts, particularly those subjected to intense friction. Model locomotives will eventually break down without proper lubrication applied to motor bearings and gears. They are under constant stress.

Freight and passenger cars have friction points, but they are under far less stress. Today's models reduce friction by using acetal plastic sideframes and needlepoint axles. Oiling is unnecessary; once the oil becomes dirty and breaks down, it will actually increase friction.

What is a talgo truck?
It's a freight or passenger car truck with the coupler mounted on the truck frame instead of on the carbody itself. Truck-mounted couplers are common on N Scale rolling stock. Advanced modelers often modify or replace talgo trucks in favor of using body-mounted couplers for realism.
Should I replace my horn-hook couplers with knuckle couplers?
N Scale modelers often replace the horn-hook Rapido couplers that come on some rolling stock for a realistic appearance and for train operation. N Scale magnetic knuckle couplers are made by Accurail and Micro-Trains, among others.

SCENERY QUESTIONS

Does operating model trains involve advanced carpentry or electrical skills?
You don't have to be a highly skilled craftsman to enjoy model trains. In fact, one of the benefits of the hobby is that you can learn about these disciplines at any level you choose. In the course of pursuing the hobby, many people learn about electricity, woodworking, and working with plaster and art materials. Some may also learn about the operation and significance of real railroads throughout American society. Best of all, participating in the hobby enables families to spend more time together. Spouses and children contribute time and talents to searching for a collectible or building a layout.
What is Hydrocal?
A trademark product of U. S. Gypsum (USG Corp.), Hydrocal plaster's biggest advantage is its strength. Paper towels dipped in a soupy mix of Hydrocal and applied to a structure of balled paper or interwoven cardboard strips make a remarkably strong scenery shell. Hydrocal also takes detail very well when cast in rubber rock molds. Its drawback is that it is more difficult to carve and detail, unlike softer molding plaster that modelers usually prefer as the top coat on plaster scenery. What is ground foam? It's just what it sounds like: ground up pieces of foam dyed to represent grass, weeds, soil, shrubbery, and tree foliage. Woodland Scenics and AMSI are leaders in the field, but other manufacturers offer similar products. The material can be applied with diluted matte medium or white glue; it can also be applied directly to wet paint.

MODEL TRAIN QUESTIONS

What's the difference between model trains and model railroading?

Model railroading refers to the entire hobby, including both scale model trains and toy trains. Some prefer toy replicas rather than scale models of real trains or even fanciful representations because they look neat, feature many different colors, and bring back memories of their youth or when railroads helped build the United States. The majority of the people involved with the model train hobby consider themselves both collectors and operators. Collectors cherish their vintage and recent model trains as examples of innovative design and manufacture. They usually display their trains on shelves or in showcases and may study the features to learn more about their production and value.

Collectors may be generalists, who collect any type of train that suits their fancy. Most likely, though, they specialize and search for only those trains made by a particular company or during a certain era. Some hobbyists, recognizing the value of their trains, sell to other collectors and even speculate on the potential investment value of their collection.

Operators regularly take their trains out for a spin around a layout of track, often with scenery. Most hobbyists build their own layouts, though a few have layouts constructed for them, in basements, garages, or spare rooms in their homes.

In NTRAK model railroading, most modelers build a single 2x4-foot module that can be plugged into other modules to set up a big layout just about anywhere. Montana NTRAK modular model railroading provides a person living in a small apartment the opportunity to be a part of a big layout, like those we set up in the Gallatin Valley Mall or at the Museum of the Rockies or at the Bozeman Public Library, all here in Bozeman, Montana.

COSTS and VALUE QUESTIONS

How do I determine the value of my trains?
First, you need to identify your trains.
That means learning what their gauge is (measure the distance between its wheels), which company made them, and what number was assigned to them (look for names and numbers on the sides and bottom of models).
Second, you have to assess the condition of your trains.

The Train Collectors Association has established several grades to guide you. (From highest to lowest):

  • Mint Condition - Brand new, often in its original, unopened packaging with all original paperwork included.
  • Like New - Free of any blemishes, nicks, or scratches with original condition throughout. Boxes in pristine condition often are sold with the item.
  • Excellent - Exceptionally clean with minute scratches or nicks but no dents or rust.
  • Very Good - Clean, with a few noticeable scratches, but otherwise free of dents, rust, and warping.
  • Good - Quite a few scratches with some small dents and dirty spots.
  • Fair - Many scratches, chipped, dented, rusted, or warped.
  • Poor - Particularly beat-up; these items often are used for parts or restorations.

Having identified your train and evaluated its condition, you can ascertain its value in several ways. First, check with hobby shops that deal with model trains. The owner or a collector may have ideas. Second, attend swap meets and train shows and, while there, ask some of the dealers about your trains.

Third, consult price guides, which can be purchased at hobby shops and from publishers.
Once you have ideas on what your trains are worth, you can decide whether to keep or sell them. If you decide to sell or a retailer expresses interest in buying your trains, remember that you're selling at wholesale. You should expect to receive about 50 percent of the value listed in price guides because retailers expect to make some profit on the transaction when reselling your trains.

MODEL TRAIN HISTORY

Everyone has heard of Lionel, the giant of the toy train industry. Most of us in model railroading began our journey with an O Gauge Lionel train at Christmas. In later years, most of us moved on from toy trains into true-to-scale model railroading.

For the true modeler of trains, Scale -- not, Gauge -- is the key word. Gauge is the distance between the rails, whereas Scale is the proportion of the whole model railroad, including locomotives, rolling stock (cars), people, animals, vehicles, and scenery, compared with real life.

In N Scale, the proportion is 1-to-160. In other words, anything that is 1 in N Scale is 160 in real life. One foot in N Scale is 160 feet in real life. At Montana NTRAK, we are true N Scale model railroaders.

True Scales include G, O, S, HO, N, and Z. G Scale is the largest. There is an even smaller Scale than Z Scale, but it has not gained significant modeler interest, not yet, anyway. HO Scale is the most popular for home layouts. N Scale, in the form of NTRAK, is the most popular modular or portable form of model railroading.

Regardless of your Scale of choice in model railroading, all of us in the hobby owe a big debt of thanks to Lionel toy trains. Lionel was the genesis of model railroading today.

Back in 1900, Joshua Lionel Cowen launched his toy train firm. He developed toy Standard Gauge (2 1/4-inch between the rails) and helped to popularize O Gauge. (Remember: Gauge is the distance between toy train or real train rails, and Scale is the direct proportion or size of any model as it relates to real life.)

Lionel became the pre-eminent toy train manufacturer during the late 1940s and '50s. In 1969, General Mills secured the rights to manufacture Lionel trains under the names Model Products Corp. and Fundimensions. A man named Richard Kughn acquired those rights in 1986, and he began Wellspring Associates, an investment firm that uses the name Lionel Corp.

Also well-known is American Flyer. Founded in 1907, seven years after Lionel, the American Flyer Manufacturing Co. made windup and electric Wide Gauge (the competitor to Lionel's Standard Gauge) trains. The A. C. Gilbert Co. bought the firm in 1937. After World War II, Gilbert switched from O Gauge to S Gauge. Lionel purchased the rights to produce American Flyer trains, after Gilbert went out of business in 1966, and introduces a few Flyer products each year.

Another company, Marx, offered affordable trains for the masses since the time its founder, Louis Marx, began making inexpensive windup and electric trains in the early 1930s. Consumers looking to purchase inexpensive yet attractive metal or plastic toy trains kept Marx a strong manufacturer well into the 1960s. Although the original company went out of business in 1975, a new Marx Trains Inc. makes Marx trains.

Before Lionel entered the scene, Ives Corp. dominated toy train manufacturing in America. Founded in 1868, just four years after the American Civil War ended, this toy firm developed a mechanical clockwork locomotive that gave its trains the edge of self-propelled motion. Around 1900, in response to competition from European toy makers, Ives produced colorful electric locomotives with the first automatic reversing units. Heightened competition from Lionel and American Flyer led to Ives declaring bankruptcy in 1928.

Among current manufacturers of the large toy trains, a few stand out. MTH Electric Trains makes detailed O Gauge trains and accessories and in recent years has built three extensive product lines (Premier, RailKing, and Tinplate Traditions) that compete directly with Lionel.

K-Line also offers affordable O Gauge trains, track, and accessories. The firm has recently upgraded its product line with scale-detailed diesel locomotives and freight cars, die-cast metal rolling stock, and semi-scale, die-cast metal steam locomotives.

Three other key O Gauge manufacturers are:

Atlas O, which offeres realistic O Scale rolling stock, and building kits, plus diesel and electric locomotives.

Weaver/Quality Craft Models, which offers scale-like brass steam locomotives, plastic diesels, and freight and passenger cars.

Williams, which offers locomotives and all types of rolling stock.

Two firms supply much of the new S Gauge and Scale equipment:

American Models offers a variety of steam, diesel, and electric locomotives, as well as freight cars, and passenger cars.

S Helper Service has become a major manufacturer of train sets, diesels, and freight cars.

The list of N Scale manufacturers is extensive and growing. The Scale became popular in Europe in the 1960s. It has become the second most popular Scale in American model railroading today. NTRAK, the standard for modular model railroading, has helped boost the Scale into extraordinary international popularity.

Nonetheless, today and always, we will remember and be thankful for the toy trains manufactured by Joshua Lionel Cowen.