Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A toy train is a toy which represents a train, distinguished from a model train by an emphasis on low cost and durability, rather than scale modeling. A toy train can be as simple as a pull toy that does not even run on track, or it might be operated by clockwork or a battery. Many toy trains blur the line between the two categories, running on electric power and approaching accurate scale.
|Name||Width (metric)||Width (imperial)||Approximate scale||Comments|
|Number 5 gauge||120 mm||4 ft 5/8 in||1:8||Also known as V Gauge.|
|Number 4 gauge||75 mm||3 in||1:11 or 1:20||Also known as IV or 3 gauge. Measurement is sometimes also quoted at 2 15/16 in.|
|Number 3 gauge||67 mm||2 5/8 in||1:16 or 1:22 or 1:23||also known as III, II, IIa gauges.|
|Number 2 gauge||54 mm||2 1/8 in||1:22.5 or 1:27 or 1:28||also known as II gauge.|
|Number 1 gauge||45 mm||1 7/8 in||1:32 or 1:30||Also known as I gauge. Used by modern G scale.|
|Number 0 gauge||35 mm||1 3/8 in||1:48 or 1:43 or 1:45 or 1:64||Introduced later, around 1900. This is modern O gauge.|
Märklin measured the gauge as the distance between the center of the two outer rails, rather than the distance between the outer rails themselves. Lionel's Standard gauge is allegedly the result of Lionel's misreading these standards, as are the variances in O gauge between the United States and Europe.
Most of these standards never really caught on, due to their large size, which made them impractical to use indoors, as well as the high price of manufacturing. Wide gauge trains, which are close in size to 2 gauge, are produced in limited quantities today, as are 1 gauge and O gauge trains. Of these, O gauge is the most popular.
The modern standards for toy trains also include S gauge, HO scale, and N scale, in descending order of size. HO and N scale are the most popular model railway standards of today; inexpensive sets sold in toy stores and catalogs are less realistic than those sold to hobbyists. O gauge arguably remains the most popular toy train standard.
Although the words "scale" and "gauge" are often used interchangeably, toy train manufacturers have only recently concerned themselves with accurate scale. The terms "O scale" and "S scale" tend to imply serious scale modeling, while the terms "O gauge" and "S gauge" tend to imply toy trains manufactured by the likes of Lionel and American Flyer. While S gauge is fairly consistent at 1:64 scale, O gauge trains represent a variety of sizes. O gauge track happens to be 1/45 the size of real-world standard gauge track, so manufacturers in Continental Europe have traditionally used 1:45 for O gauge trains. British manufacturers rounded this up to 1:43, which is seven millimeters to the foot. U.S. manufacturers rounded it down to 1:48, which is a quarter-inch to the foot. However, most engaged in a practice of selective compression in order to make the trains fit in a smaller space, causing the actual scale to vary, and numerous manufacturers produced 1:64 scale trains—the proper size for S gauge—in O gauge, especially for cost-conscious lines.
Some of the earliest O gauge trains made of tinplate weren't scale at all, made to unrealistic, whimsical proportions similar in length to modern HO scale, but anywhere from one and a half to two times as wide and tall.
Some adult fans of toy trains operate their trains, while others only collect. Some toy train layouts are accessorized with scale models in an attempt to be as realistic as possible, while others are accessorized with toy buildings, cars, and figures. Some hobbyists will only buy accessories that were manufactured by the same company who made their trains. This practice is most common among fans of Marx and Lionel.
The earliest toy trains date from the 19th century and were often made of cast iron. Motorized units running on track soon followed, powered by a steam or clockwork engine. Some of these trains used clever methods to whistle and smoke.
Toy trains were revolutionized when Märklin, a German firm that specialized in doll house accessories, sought to create an equivalent toy for boys where a constant revenue stream could be ensured by selling add-on accessories for years after the initial purchase. In addition to boxed sets containing a train and track, Märklin offered extra track, rolling stock, and buildings sold separately, creating the predecessor to the modern model train layout featuring buildings and scenery in addition to an operating train.
Electric trains followed, with the first appearing in 1897, produced by the U.S. firm Carlisle & Finch. As electricity became more common in the early 20th century, electric trains gained popularity and as time went on, these electric trains grew in sophistication, gaining lighting, the ability to change direction, to emit a whistling sound, to smoke, to remotely couple and uncouple cars and even load and unload cargo. Toy trains from the first half of the 20th century were often made of lithographed tin; later trains were often made mostly of plastic.
Prior to the 1950s, there was little distinction between toy trains and model railroads—model railroads were toys by definition. Pull toys and wind-up trains were marketed towards children, while electric trains were marketed towards teenagers, particularly teenaged boys. It was during the 1950s that the modern emphasis on realism in model railroading started to catch on.
Consumer interest in trains as toys waned in the late 1950s, but has experienced a resurgence since the late 1990s due in large part to the popularity of Thomas the Tank Engine.
Today, S gauge and O gauge railroads are still considered toy trains even by their adherents and are often accessorized with semi-scale model buildings by Plasticville or K-Line (who owns the rights to the Plasticville-like buildings produced by Marx from the 1950s to the 1970s). Ironically, however, due to their high cost, one is more likely to find an HO scale or N scale train set in a toy store than an O scale set.
Many modern electric toy trains contain sophisticated electronics that emit digitized sound effects and allow the operator to safely and easily run multiple trains on one loop of track.
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