The Marx Oak Park station is one of three tinplate train stations Marx produced during the post-war era. They replaced an earlier, smaller, and less ambitious station from the pre-war era, and solved more than one problem for Marx.
The Marx Oak Park station had a long production run, from around 1950 to 1973. Marx named the station after the home of a Sears executive they were negotiating with.
Significance of the name Oak Park
In his January 2005 article about Marx post-war tin stations, the late Classic Toy Trains and Model Railroader editor Neil Besougloff noted that the names of the three stations sounded like all-American suburbs. And the name was certainly a departure from competitor Lionel, who typically stamped all their stations Lionel City.
But there was more to the city names than just an attempt at versatility. In the case of Oak Park, using the name help to them cut a deal. Sears was a major retailer of toy trains in the 20th century, and they sold trains under both the Marx name and their own Allstate brand name at various times. The executive Marx was negotiating with in the early 1950s resided in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. So did Richard Sears, the cofounder of the store chain.
The Bogota and Montclair passenger cars got their names for similar reasons. Executives from other retailers who sold Marx trains lived in those cities.
The Girard and Glendale stations have a different significance. Marx had factories in Girard, Pennsylvania, and Glendale, West Virginia. Not only that, those stations were manufactured in the very factories they were named after.
Oak Park station variations
The Oak Park station is a hip-roof-architecture traditional train station, very much like what you found in small towns and suburbs throughout the United States. The design was identical to the Girard station, varying only in the with the design they printed on the parts. The sign had different lettering, and the Oak Park station had yellow brick and a green roof, rather than the more traditional red brick and gray roof.
The Oak Park station generally came with a diesel horn, while a more expensive variant had both a light and a horn. The more expensive version had cut out windows with glazing to accommodate the light. The version without a light had printed windows.
Besougloff noted that the lithography was less ambitious than many pre-war stations, but it also made the stations look more timeless. I agree, they weren’t up to Bing or Ives standards. But although they date to the post-war era, these stations can blend into a pre-war layout just as easily as postwar.
It is possible to find examples of the Oak Park station with a steam whistle rather than a diesel horn, but it is unclear whether Marx ever intended to sell them that way, if they made up a few as a favor, or if someone swapped parts over the decades.
Speaking of decades, the Oak Park station had an impressive run. It made its debut around 1950. But Marx was still selling them in 1973, only a year before the company wrapped up its train production for good.
While much of Marx’s product line saw a resurgence under new ownership, be it Model Power or K-Line, the tin stations were not among the products that survived.
The Oak Park station seems to be harder to find than the Girard station. I spotted one at a train show around 2004, decided to think about it, and it wasn’t 5 minutes later that someone else grabbed it. That’s only my experience in and around St. Louis of course, but they turn up with less frequency on Ebay too.
Why put a horn in a station?
Lionel put sound in its locomotives, and you use a pushbutton, either on a separate accessory controller or the transformer, to make the sound activate. It worked by injecting DC power onto the rails, and the polarity determined whether you would get a diesel horn sound or a whistle sound.
It was clever, but expensive. Not to mention patented. American Flyer competed by hiding a whistle mechanism or diesel horn mechanism in a billboard. Marx decided to hide its mechanisms in its train stations.
If you want sound effects regardless of the brand of train you run, one way to get them is to put Marx stations and/or American Flyer billboards on your layout to get the sound effects that you want. Of course, you can accomplish something similar with modern electronics, if you don’t care about using modern conveniences on your vintage layout. But if you want vintage sound effects, the Marx Oak Park station was the way our forerunners did it in the 1950s.
Marx Oak Park station value
The Oak Park station is more scarce than the Girard station, and correspondingly more expensive. You can expect to pay around $60 for an unlighted version and closer to $75 for a lighted example, assuming they are complete and in nice condition. You can usually find one on Ebay if you are in the market for one.
Setup and use
The Oak Park station wires up exactly the same way as its Girard counterpart. Use a push button to activate its horn.
Long-time train hobbyist Richard Getty used to entertain the Marx train discussion group with his fictional tales of operating a Marx-based railroad between the towns of Girard, Oak Park, and Glendale, imitating the history of real railroading in the area of Vermont where he grew up. He chose those names because those were the names of the stations Marx made. He named his railroad the Girard and Oak Park, because those were the first two stations he got. Later, when space permitted, he acquired a Glendale station and added a Glendale line.
Operations versus running
His approach to the hobby was different from mine, in that he actually did operations between two, and later, three towns on his layout. That’s not to say his approach was wrong and my approach is right. He had a lot of fun and stayed within budget, so he absolutely did it right.
Where my approach on my layout was to build something reminiscent of the area of South St Louis where my wife and I met and let the trains run themselves, his operations-based approach requires more distance, or at least illusion of distance.
To replicate his way of doing things, place a station at two different ends of your layout, place a few buildings near the station to make it look like a small town, and if you have the kind of imagination to rival Rich’s, try your hand at concocting colorful tales of what happens over the course of the trains running between those two towns.