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Toy Trains are the World's Greatest Hobby!

Today there are a half million model railroaders and toy train hobbyists in the US and Canada!

What types of people love trains? Click each one and see!

Scale Modelers
Toy Train Operators
Train Collectors
Everybody Else!


The National Toy Train Museum exhibits hundreds of historic toy trains, and operates layouts in standard gauge, O, S, G, Z, and HO scale.

Want more information on Toy Trains? Visit our National Toy Train Library, or see our Links page.


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For even more information, music, activities, and how to get started with toy trains, visit our Kids section.


About Toy Trains

Museum lobby.Toy trains are for kids of all ages!  While real trains go back to the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s, toy trains emerged later. Wooden and metal toys resembling trains were first made in Europe in the 1860s.

By 1901, Lionel made its first electric train for use in store display windows. A number of famous manufacturers, including Lionel, American Flyer, Ives, Marx, Marklin, and LGB have made toy trains. Some of the most historic ones are on display in the National Toy Train Museum. These are commonly referred to as tinplate trains.

"Tinplate" is a term applied to toy trains originally built of thin stamped metal, but more broadly it includes trains composed of plastic parts as well, their over-riding characteristic being that they were built for mass-market enjoyment rather than the precise scale that some of today's model railroad craftsmen build and enjoy.

Stamp.Model Railroader magazine began in 1934, and by the 1950s, seemingly every boy had a train set.  Around then, there arose a differentiation between cheaper production trains for kids and much more detailed and accurate reproductions pursued by adult train collectors. Some reflect actual trains, while others display general themes. For some, the delight is in the joy of collecting and operating, while for others the focus is on absolute scaled accuracy.

Today, many of the Baby Boomers have embraced toy train collecting and operating. They can be seen in basements, at Christmas exhibits, running in gardens, and in special displays. Many toy trains today feature the latest in authentic sound and electronic control features.

Increasingly, toy trains use digital technology both onboard and at the control panels. This allows greater control, introduction of new features, and new challenges. In fact, wiring has always been a task requiring planning and skill when creating a train layout.

Toy trains prices range from economical to very expensive. Some are repaired, restored, traded and sold, with careful standards applied to their condition and worth. The Train Collectors Association is the largest and oldest group of toy train enthusiasts in the world.

Toy trains come in different sizes, reflecting different rail gauges and scale. Here are some of the more common.

Typical Toy Train Gauges/Scales
Length of
50 foot
1/220   6.5mm   2 3/4"
1/160   9.0mm   3 3/4"
1/87  16.5mm   6 7/8"
1/64   7/8"   9 3/8"
1/48   1 1/4"  12 1/2"
1/32 1 3/4" 18 3/4"
1/22.5   1 3/4"  26 5/8"
Standard 1/27   2 1/8"  22 1/4"
Often used interchangeably, "gauge" refers to the distance between the main rails, while "scale" refers to the ratio of the model to the real thing.
   ~~ There are other variations .~~

Toy Train Operators

Today, toy trains produced for mass-market for home train layouts are quite realistic, if not absolutely to scale. Lionel is a good example.

The Toy Train market has grown, and it's great fun! Some fans' train layouts combine highly precise scale models with the more economical products.

The term "hi-railers" was used many decades ago to describe such fans.


Railfans are people who love real trains -- full size!

They may have first had toy trains at Christmas, then ridden on a real one, seen a freight train go by, or are just fascinated by these large wonders. Some railfans love to take pictures of trains, study their history, visit railroad museums, and read magazines like Trains and Railfan and Railroad.

Many railfans focus their interest onto specific railroads, or scale modeling and toy train collecting.

Train Collectors

There are tens of thousands of people who seriously collect toy trains.

Some specialize in certain periods and types. Some build train layouts to run their trains, but the greater emphasis is on collecting, preserving and displaying them.

Collectors belong to groups such as the Train Collectors Association, share information and advice, and often attend regional "train meets" to further the exchange of technical information and enjoy the hobby. Some regard toy trains as investments, and some act as dealers, buying and selling.

The Train Collectors Association has established guidelines for determining the condition of such items, and provides means for individuals to advertise them.

Scale Modelers

Scale modelers build and run small models of the real thing. Intricately designed and crafted with meticulous skill, these trains often run on track layouts built to reflect actual or typical railroad locales.

Some of the scales used are shown below on this page.

Everybody Else!

If you've ever had a train under the tree, read or heard about Thomas the Tank Engine™, taken an Amtrak trip, or commuted to work by rail, or realized that the stuff in those freight-cars may be what you end up using, you're fully qualified to be a railfan or a Toy Train fan!

Trains are a major component in our economy, and their effect pervades our lives, even if we don't go down to the local depot like people used to.

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