Skip to main content

I think every generation thinks a previous one was better. I get a few train magazines, Toy Trains, Classic Trains, Trains, and digital OGR, and while I like the articles, I also come away sad most of the time.  They feature alot of railroading in their glory days when Big Boys, Challengers,  and Mallets,  SanteFe's and Pacifics, pulled 100 car coal trains, or stings of box cars, LCL shipments that stopped at REA offices, and polished passenger trains.  It was said back in the 1920's you could travel from California to New York and not walk more than 2 blocks, with interconnected trolley, interurbans, and mainline railroads.  Of course wishing for the 'old days' would bring you a time that still had its problems, some the same as today, some worse, like the Depression and WW II, but there were train fans back then, modelers, photographers, it was a hobby then as it is now with folks equally enthused.   While I own a few modern locos, I have many other going back to the late 30's, scale cars and basic Lionel set cars, they are powered by a pair of ZW's, but I can switch in another power unit that can activate their various functions if I have the desire, but I am just as happy living in the joy of running them like they were always meant to.  That is just me, and the hobby is big enough for everyone to find a niche.  But one thing is for sure, a kid with a paper route today, like the one I had when I was 12, will not be buying a $9.95 Athearn HO GP30 in kit form, and will have to save a long time to buy a $70 MTH or Menard's O gauge box car, the hobby has definitely aligned with the fellow with a bit of extra money.

I can't wax poetic on the past because I didn't come into O scale until 12 years ago. It had been roughly 30 years since running HO. That said, I think what is available today is fantastic. I started out with and have since ditched Christmas themed trains and migrated to scale items mostly from New England lines. Blown away but what I've been able to find between items produced by MTH and Atlas (especially VT railroads from Beth at PDT), and older Weaver, K-Line and Lionel items off eBay, the forum, and at York. I've got a list of things I'm still looking for, but if I never find them, I've got more stuff to run on our layout than space or time to run it.

As to nostalgia, I get it. Baseball was at its best before they lowered the mound - Koufax and Gibson, wow. Pete Maravich averaging 40 points per game at LSU without the 3-ball. OJ rushing for 2,000 yards in 14 games. Okay, so the OJ reference casts a shadow over the rest of my logic but thought I would wax poetic

I enjoy reading different threads like this that are not "What color is your favorite caboose?"

in regards to this thread I tripped back into this hobby when MTH was running up to full steam and all my stuff is mostly MTH          Railking PS 1 , and  2  mostly, and  a few PS 3 ( PS2 is my all time favorite by far ,with PS1 in 2nd place. But that's for another thread

To me, the Glory Days are now.  This is based on the 4 A's: Available, Accessible, Acceptable, Affordable.

Available: Almost everything is on the market.

Accessible: One can buy anything on the market in a reasonable manner.  Less need to "make the rounds" to see what's in stock.

Acceptable: You can get something that meets your desires.  If you can't find a nice set of Canadian Pacific 2373 F3s, you can buy a set of repainted shells and mount them on LTI mechanisms.

Affordable: The price - in relative terms - is right.  This varies from person to person.

Such a valuable overview of our hobby. A lot of our differing viewpoints depend on how old we are and when we entered the hobby.

I am 75, and so my heart is really stuck in the 1950s and early 60s. My first train set was a Marx tinplate inn1952 and my Lionel set arrived at Christmas, 1955.

in the comic book hobby, their “Golden Age” generally refers to the 1940s and early 1950s. Following was the “Silver Age” of the 1950s and 2960s. Marvel Comics only began to be published in the early ‘60s. I think that such a reference is useful with toy trains. Perhaps the real “Golden”eriod was the 1920s throough the 1940s? I mean, Standard Gauge, OO AND O gauge offerings galore and from several important manufacturers.  

Mike Wolf and MTH revolutionized toy trains and forced Lioned to put up or shut up with its offerings. They had been coasting for several decades having the market pretty much to themselves .

we are in a different environment now (once again) and only the passage of time will determine what we call this current “age.” Fortunately, there is SO much variety of merchandise available  from all previous eras and the newest innovations, too,  to make everyone pretty satisfied  with what they have to choose from to thoroughly enjoy the hobby.

Good points made on the intensity of MTH in the 90s. MTH was making PS1 items like crazy - new steam and diesels, right up to the release of PS2 items. I recall Lionel CEO Dick Maddox's famous statement, "They're eating our lunch." Evidently, both companies had different business plans in the 90s. Then, Lionel moved overseas, and the race was on. What still makes my head spin is how fast technology changed and how items became old and obsolete within a year or two, assuming you wanted the latest features that is.

Last edited by Paul Kallus

A huge positive change in the past decade or so is the focus on building layouts and running trains.  When I first joined TCA in 1989, it was all about acquiring stuff.  The few guys who weren't paranoid and secretive would "show" you their collection - just the ends of boxes in closets or on shelves.

My only real concern is for the many small businesses and one-person operations that we rely on for parts, supplies, and service - so many of these folks are well past retirement age and I don't see enough backfilling of their roles.   

Yes, building layouts is a big part of the core of the hobby. The glory days I refer to was a multi-company and multi-cottage industry bonanza of sorts that to this day enables a person to build a layout using ready-to-run and install items. With that being said, there's likely and always will be some who only buy and use a certain brand of trains and items...nothing wrong with that though...I've seen some great Lionel-only layouts. Personally, I love the variety of items made, and with Menards and Woodland Scenics in the mix in the last decade it's gotten better.

Last edited by Paul Kallus

I guess I never thought about the glory days.  In the late 40's Dad purchased a used set for my older brother.  I came along and received a Scout Set, Dad opted for the Lionel Madison Cars and Aluminum passenger cars.  My friends all had Lionel tables somewhere, mostly in the basements, my cousin had American Flyer.  Our table was 5 sheets of plywood end to end with a small gap so we could have a lake.  Another sheet of plywood, slightly lower, gave the table an "L" shape, that was my play area. When Missiles and Rockets and the Space Age arrived, 1959 or so, we stopped purchasing, probably because my brother and I were older.  MPC kicked things off again as did MTH, Dad built another table in the new house, my brother built one for his son, when they moved the tables were rebuilt.  A day did not pass with out a Train tables in the family.

The 'Glory Days' query gave me pause, and here's what I know, we have had trains running somewhere, someplace, continuously for over 75 years.  Dad's trains are with his grandchildren, my Brothers are with his grandchildren, my Sisters are with her son and his children. My daughter has hers and her husband does also.  So, as I pass along one set after another to other family members (or the children of friends), I'd say that the Glory Days were yesterday, today, and for years to come.  

I've seen your collections, your new purchases, your layouts and enthusiasm and awesome creativity...pretty neat stuff, great stuff. Don't change a thing!

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, every kid wanted or had a Radio Flyer wagon, Erector set, BB and cap guns, 20 inch Schwinn bike and toy trains;   Lionel or American Flyer.  Toy trains had more general acceptance, especially at Christmas time,  with boys and families then than they have now for sure.  I would consider those days Glory days for model trains.  My brother and I got bored with the Christmas time only 027 layout and moved on to plastic, then stick and later Ucontrol planes and then model and RC with tubes, boats.

Later Hot wheel cars became popular often replacing trains.  O gauge trains had a come back in the 1970s with the post was born men who had the trains as children.  Recently, model O trains have become more popular with adults due to the swing to more scale like trains and modern operating systems and sound.  The kids have been priced out and like their electronic machines now.


Last edited by Choo Choo Charlie

If you were fortunate enough to be a part of the glory days (50s and 60s) as a child, God bless you. I had six other siblings, so nobody was getting a train set for a birthday gift or Christmas present. And we weren't even close to being the biggest family in an Irish Catholic neighborhood.  Still, I did see a classmate's layout (only child) and when I made my mark as an adult, I invested in my own glory days. The day my grandson buys his first engine will be the start of a new glory day.  Reminds me of Steve Miller Band song, Fly Like an Eagle - time keeps on slipping into the future.

@CALNNC posted:

.....But one thing is for sure, a kid with a paper route today, like the one I had when I was 12, will not be buying a $9.95 Athearn HO GP30 in kit form, and will have to save a long time to buy a $70 MTH or Menard's O gauge box car....

Your post made me nostalgic for the days circa 1971 when my brother and I rode our 3-speed bikes the 5 miles up to Two Guys Department Store on a warm summer day. There they had a wonderful hobby section where I could carefully pick out a freight car for maybe $1 or $2 each and a little switcher like AHM's Docksider or Plymouth MDT for $3.99, unless my memory is more faulty than I already know it to be. True, the quality was not what it is today, but the hobby was accessible to us kids.


@Paul Kallus posted:

For those of you guys who remember the late 1940s and early 1950s as the golden years, I recommend Ron Hollander's "All Aboard!" It's mostly about Lionel as I recall.

Yes. Hollander was a such a talented writer, slipping effortlessly between careful reporting and wistful memory. I ordered that book after reading an article he wrote in TCA quarterly. The book in turn prompted me to buy my first O Gauge Lionel car "just to get it out of my system," as I told my wife. That didn't work. Instead, it led me to take the tarp off my HO trains and build a small O Gauge layout. So, in some ways this is the Glory Days of the hobby for me.


@Paul Kallus, I’ve been reading the many great comments, and something I see is backward compatibility, something Lionel is famous for, some like the pre-war era, then the amazing 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, fast forward Today, if your having fun in this Fantastic Hobby, This is the Glory Days, and we measure our wealth by or health, the hobby is like Life, constantly changing, we just need to jump on this great ride and hang on. Sharing our likes and dislikes with our friends here on this wonderful forum and the education we acquire from those in the know is priceless, yes, we’ve seen our hobby change, from fun running our trains in one spot (conventional) to sharing operating our trains with others via Command Control. (Many Choices). I do think when we were young, running those post war trains around an oval of track on the floor, or a 4 by 8 piece of plywood, our Vision was of the real thing and today, with the emphasis on scale looks, the realistic sounds, the command control systems, it’s a great time to be in this multi faceted hobby. Paul, thanks for starting this thread. Happy Railroading Everyone

You guys are making me feel a youngster it was a Kiddie City in Feasterville, PA that was larger than life for a boy. I rode my bike there as often as look at all the friends, Johnny and Brian, rode everywhere in those days (1970s). As I recall they only put out O-gauge trains, or perhaps merchandised them prominently, around the holidays. It sure was fun to look at them and dream of building an empire. They were out of my price league, though my family had a 1950s Marx set that I had a lot of fun with.

Last edited by Paul Kallus

@Paul Kallus and others.  I am sort of in leapinlarry's group in that the "Glory Days" depended on where/when each of us experienced them.  In my case, my first Lionel appeared around the tree when I was 2 years old, in 1946.  It was a freight pulled by the then new Lionel PRR steam turbine.  The trains continued to expand each year, still only being set up for about a month between Thanksgiving and New Years, with a big peak in 1953 when I got the Santa Fe F-3 and the Silver Range passenger cars for Christmas !  Knowing how much those cost, I still don't know how Mom and Dad did it, it was a real sacrifice.  I then made a bad mistake, in about 1957 I sold all the Lionel and bought HO.  I never really go into HO and my interest in it only lasted about 3-4 years, although with smaller scale it did give me a year round layout.  Then the trains went away (I still have the HO sets) as girls, cars, college, Air Force, etc replaced that hobby.  Then in 1973, my oldest son expressed some interest in trains, and we bought a Lionel set to go around the tree...that was it!  He never really developed a high interest but it hooked me good, and I am still running trains 50 years later!  For me, the Glory never ended.  I am still running my trains on 0-31 tubular track, using my trusty ZW transformer and O-22 switches with sections wired up with toggle switches for sector control.  Its not much compared ,with the artistry of some but it makes me happy.

Best Regards to everyone


Reading all the different points of view here makes me realize that what makes for "glory days" depends very much on the criteria one uses to evaluate various periods. It never occurred to me to consider in what periods a boy could buy a train with his own earnings, for example, and see today lacking in that regard. From the point of view of some postings, I'm in the glory days right now, since I have a good sized layout, time to work on it, and can afford most of what I want. When I was working and raising a family, I had none of those three. Given the used market, it doesn't seem to matter much that I missed a lot of items the first time around. And as some said, maybe the glory days are not only now, but continually unfolding in front of us.

I agree with several other posters that the definition of glory days depends upon one’s viewpoint.  If someone defines glory days as the time model trains were most widespread and prominent in the public eye, then it’s the 1940s and 50s.   If it’s the time tradition was revived but with an updated spin, then it’s the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Those with a tech and realism lean will say it’s today.

One huge advantage for the 21st century:   We can go back to any era and relive or recreate it.   But you can’t do that in reverse.  

Last edited by Tommy_F

Another pitch for the late 1940's and 1950's:  Toy or model trains were sold in many places besides hobby shops.  In St.Louis, the three major downtown department stores all had Holiday time street side, full sized show windows with operating toy trains:  Lionel and one Am Flyer.  Often people had to wait to get close enough to see them for the crowds.  These stores also had ground floor large toy trains displays and lots of trains to buy.

Sears & Roebuck and Five and ten stores also sold toy trains usually Lionel and Marx.  One Friday evening, our family was shopping at a commercial South St. Louis shopping street and my Dad snuck into a 5&10, with toy trains in the window,  to buy us two more Marx 1590 automatic switches.  I saw him an kept my mouth shut as my younger brother still believed in Santa.


Last edited by Choo Choo Charlie

Glory days for me is now.   Why?  First economics.  Actual cost of the O gauge new equipment today is comparable to the past .   Not much difference between breaking the $1500-2000 dollar barrier today vs. the $100 barrier for the lionel 773 in 1950.  That is around $1250 today.  Top end is always expensive.   I can get prewar, postwar, mpc and many modern items for what is much below their original retail cost adjusted for inflation.   My problem is limiting what I want.

Next comes availability.  Prewar, Postwar, MPC and later are stil readily available.  Overall it is durable and fairly well taken care of.  Most designs are fixable.  At least for me.   You want modern sound and control, not a big problem.

Add 3D printing... and I can make many things.  A new tool for the hobbyist.

The Information age has made it so I can share the hobby with others from my living room.  I can deal across the country, find parts and patiently wait for the deals. 

All relative points and based on a person's perspective. However, most of us have a niche in the hobby; we're experienced in various respects. For example, I am an expert e-bay buyer of used stuff . But for a newcomer desiring to build a layout, and as I originally stated, from a sheer volume and variety of both scale and semi-scale RTR items standpoint from multiple companies, I wonder if any other period can even come close to the time I referenced.

Last edited by Paul Kallus

Add Reply


OGR Publishing, Inc., 1310 Eastside Centre Ct, Suite 6, Mountain Home, AR 72653
800-980-OGRR (6477)

Link copied to your clipboard.