Toy Model Trains, or Are They?

Toy Model Trains, or Are They?

Note: this article updates and expands upon an article we originally published on September 14, 2009.

Toy trains? Model trains? Toy model trains? Which is correct? Which one do only kids play with and which one do adults carefully build a layout for? Is there really a difference? It’s a good question – toy model trains, or are they? – so let us take a deeper look and examine what it really means.

When people think of “toy trains,” many will immediately think of Lionel or American Flyer trains, especially those from before about 1960 or so. Others will likely think of the models and toys of Thomas the Tank Engine, from Thomas and Friends. Which is correct? Or are both correct?

Likewise, when someone says “model trains,” thoughts almost always go to amazing detailed layouts taking up whole basements or even whole buildings. Time and effort went in to putting the layout together and making it an accurate representation of actual railroading and the real world.

Both are Correct

Ultimately, when talking about scale trains, from Z to G, both terms can be correct. It is possible for both to apply to the same layout even. And just because they are “toy trains” doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy them and “play” with them.

If “toy trains” wasn’t a legitimate way of talking about them, even for adults, then there would be no such thing as Classic Toy Trains magazine. There would be no such thing as the Toy Train Operating Society. There would be no such thing as the Lionel Collectors Club of America, which describes its members as being “Lionel model toy train collectors.”

Toy Trains

Most “toy trains” or “model toy trains” are Lionel O-scale, American Flyer S-scale, and other similar. But there are “toy trains” among other scales, such as the HO scale Thomas and Friends trains and trainsets available from Bachmann. Bachmann also produces large scale Thomas and Friends sets, but the HO scale sets, engines, and cars is outside what many model railroaders would consider as “models”, but instead call them “toys”.

Shared Hobby

No matter what scale we prefer or what we call them, we all share the hobby. Applying labels in order to poke fun at others does no one in the hobby any good. If someone prefers the term “toy trains” but still considers themselves a serious model railroader, that’s just fine. And if a “serious” model railroader wants to have some Thomas and Friends train engines to run on a layout for the enjoyment of his kids, that’s just fine, too. We all win when we all work together to make the hobby better by helping and encouraging one another, no matter what our preference is for scale, layout size, layout detail, or even terminology.

Take a look at this video of a marvelous and highly detailed “toy train” layout:

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9iEweZKu1Ow[/youtube]

Or this video of a marvelous and highly detailed HO scale “Thomas and Friends” layout:

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucL678R7-_Y[/youtube]

It’s hard to call either of those just a “toy train” because of the amount of care and modeling detail that went into both.

Toy Model Trains, or Are They?

That’s the question posed in the title and the opening. I began by saying both are correct – or at least, both can be correct – and I end it that way as well. Remember, if the HO scale modeler laughs at the person that enjoys “toy trains”, someone that isn’t a hobbyist is probably laughing at the “serious” HO scale modeler who “still plays with trains”.

What do you call them? Toy trains or model trains? Or do you use both? Let us know here in the comments or in our official Facebook group, located HERE.

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Robert Thomson

Robert W. Thomson is a life-long railfan, the son of a former L&N Railroad B&B gang foreman, and an amateur photographer. He was born and raised in southeast Tennessee but now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife, Connie and cat, Charlie. Robert has worked as a park ranger, underground mine tour guide, freelance roleplaying game writer, and ran his own roleplaying game publishing company until selling it in 2012.

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About The Author

Robert Thomson

Robert W. Thomson is a life-long railfan, the son of a former L&N Railroad B&B gang foreman, and an amateur photographer. He was born and raised in southeast Tennessee but now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife, Connie and cat, Charlie. Robert has worked as a park ranger, underground mine tour guide, freelance roleplaying game writer, and ran his own roleplaying game publishing company until selling it in 2012.