Trains – Big & Small

Just this week the Union Pacific 150 Express headed to Houston for the railroad’s 150th Anniversary Celebration on October 26-28.

“Spring, Texas, October 22, 2012 – Legendary steam locomotive No. 844 is on the final leg of the UP 150 Express tour, which culminates at Union Pacific Railroad’s 150th anniversary celebration at Houston’s Amtrak Station, October 26-28. The trip commemorates 150 years since President Abraham Lincoln created Union Pacific by signing the Pacific Railway Act.” (1)

Seems there has always been a lot of interest in trains – large and small. We’re going to take a look at some of the more notable manufactures of toy trains as well as some of the varied collectibles associated with traditional passenger trains.

Toy Trains

The first name that comes to mind is Lionel. Although you would do well to remember the other manufacturers including American Flyer, Ives, Marx, and Thomas Toys.

Amazingly, toy trains have been around since the 1860’s. These early toy trains were typically made of tin or cast iron (watch out for replicas) and manufactured as small scale versions of the steam-powered trains of that time. Most of these early toy trains could be pushed and pulled- with a few having a ‘clock-work’ motor.

Electric trains became popular in the late 1800’s as electricity became more common in the home. As popularity grew so did the market for extras to accessorize the train set-up, i.e., buildings, cars, foliage, bridges, people, animals, farm equipment, etc. With all of the older and vintage pieces being sought-after still today.

Model trains were produced in different gauges (space between the wheels). The most popular gauges were:

  • Standard – 2-1/2′ between wheels
  • HO – 5/8″ between wheels
  • Number O – 1-1/4″ between wheels
  • Number 1 – 1-3/4″ between wheels
  • Number 2 – 2″ between wheels
  • Number 4 – 3-1/4″ between wheels

When shopping for model trains know not to confuse the two terms – scale and gauge. Scale refers to the numeric ratio describing the size of the miniature to the original. That being a train of 1:48 scale would be 1/48th the size of the original. While gauge refers to the distance between the tops of the rails – we’ve used the reference to between wheels for our notations.

Railroad Collectibles

Items associated with railroads have always been in demand with some of the earliest collectibles being the treasured railroad pocket watch and the lanterns used for signaling.

The watches used by railroad employees had certain requirements and were required to meet certain standards one of which was a routine inspection and servicing to be done by a qualified jeweler. Before purchasing any railroad pocket watches it would do you well to familiarize yourself with the nuances. Not all pocket watches are railroad watches. However, if you are fortunate enough to find a genuine railroad pocket watch in working order, and in good condition, it can have a value anywhere from $300-$1,000+.

Some of the more noted manufacturers of railroad watches were

  •  Ball
  •  Elgin
  •  Hamilton
  •  Hampden
  •  Howard
  •  Illinois
  •  Rockford
  •  South Bend
  • Waltham
Lanterns

Believe it or not the earliest lanterns had no special features and used whale oil. Over time railroad lanterns were modified to meet certain specifications. In most cases the name of the railroad would be embossed or stamped somewhere on the metal and etched on the glass globe – as well as the manufacturer’s name and patent date. The earlier lanterns were taller than their shorter counterparts manufactured in later years.

Lanterns came in different styles. Bell bottom with either a solid or wire ring bottom, Fresnel globe* lanterns, and short globe models that used either kerosene or batteries.

* Fresnel – a globe comprised of zones. In each of these zones, the overall thickness of the lens is decreased, effectively dividing the continuous surface of a standard lens into a set of surfaces of the same curvature, with stepwise discontinuities between them. A Fresnel lens can be regarded as an array of prisms arranged in a circular fashion, with steeper prisms on the edges and a nearly flat convex center.(2)

Another lantern that was very popular is the lantern used by a Conductor. These hand lanterns are smaller in size than the tall globe lanterns. And, another feature that makes them desireale is that their globes are often colored – green, red, or a combination of half clear-half colored. We find it interesting that these lanterns were not marked like the other lanterns unless they were presentation pieces. In that case the lantern would have been marked with the name of the railroad AND the conductor. These are extremely hard to come by. A complete lantern of this type can easily be valued over $1,000.00

For the average collector out there, don’t despair – not all railroad collectibles are expensive. Some of the more affordable items can still be found today in the following categories:

  1. Badges, Brotherhood Items, Baggage Checks
  2. Emblems & Lapel Pins, Pinback Buttons
  3. Clothing Items, Caps
  4. Dining Car Items – Dishes, Menues, Flatware, Ashtrays
  5. Locks
  6. Playing Cards
  7. Postcards, Maps, Stocks, Bonds, Ticket Items, Time Tables, Brochures
  8. Telegraph Insulators

Trains – big or small – there’s all manner of train collectibles available for those willing to look. And don’t forget, as with any type of collectible, become as familiar as you can before shopping so you don’t end up paying big dollars for a reproduction or something that has been piece-mealed together.

 

 

(1) http://www.uprr.com/newsinfo/releases/up150/2012/1022_houston.shtml 

(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fresnel_lens

 
 

4 comments to Trains – Big & Small

  • Looking for a tall clear cast lantern and globe from te T&P RY ! Thank-you

    • David

      Bill – have you tried Ebay? Also there is an online business – VanDykes.com If you can’t find an original, maybe you could use a repro in the meantime? David

  • garty sale

    i have a conductor’s chair it is labled soutrhern pacific it was handed down from my grandfather i want to know if there is any value to this chair and if so how do i go about sellinbg it

    • David

      I’m sure your chair would have value, however, couldn’t find any information on such an item in any of my reference books.

      You can go to Heritage Auction at this link: http://www.ha.com/c/index.zx

      and look for the value. If you are looking to sell, you might want to contact them about that as well.

      Unique items like your chair are always difficult to research –

      Thanks,
      Daid

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