Last Updated on May 26, 2022 by Dave Farquhar
What scale are Marx trains and accessories? Why, your favorite answer, of course: It depends. The scale of Marx trains and accessories varied, pretty widely. The reasons varied too. Here’s how they ranged, why, and what you can do about it, if indeed you choose to do anything about it at all.
Scale of Marx trains and accessories
Marx didn’t make its early trains to any particular scale at all. They just built cars six inches in length, and built locomotives about eight inches long to pull them, and called it good. The design resulted in pleasing, attractive proportions, but little to nothing in the way of realism. The trains looked good and didn’t cost much money. Marx started producing this line in the mid 1930s and kept on producing and selling them until 1972, just updating the lithography from time to time to keep them looking somewhat contemporary. It was a pretty good run.
In the late 1930s, Marx tried its hand at 1:64 scale trains to compete with American Flyer. Marx didn’t match American Flyer’s variety of engines but they outdid Flyer on the cars. Marx’s stamped tin lended itself well and it just printed multiple designs, getting lots of use out of each basic car design it tooled up.
After Marx mastered plastic, it continued producing its cheaper plastic trains at approximately 1:64 scale. Its so-called deluxe plastic trains, which it sold from 1955 to 1974, were slightly larger, varying from 1:60 to 1:55 scale.
Marx’s line of diesel engines was slightly larger, very nearly 1:48 scale. Marx considered full 1:48 scale cars to go with them but never put them into production.
Here’s more detail on the sizes of Marx trains over the years, and on Marx trains’ long and distinguished history.
Marx made some accessories in the 1:48 scale range. But not a lot.
Marx’s oversized accessories
Besides trains, Marx made lots of accessories. They sold well, partly because Lionel and American Flyer owners would outfit their layouts with cheap Marx accessories even if they wouldn’t be caught dead with a Marx train. The early Marx tin accessories were huge, though, often 1:24 scale or larger. The reason varied, but often it was due to the materials available. The solenoids and light bulbs Marx could get didn’t lend themselves to anything any smaller. Scale-sized accessories with ginormous light bulbs, or a base large enough to hold a solenoid the size of a family car would have looked ridiculous. So Marx made the whole accessory ginormous instead.
Marx also made an amazing freight station, but it’s 1:24 scale. Why? Because it was supposed to double as a playset. It’s great for Standard Gauge layouts though. Marx’s Glendale station is also oversized, though not quite to that extent.
In the 1950s, Marx made plastic buildings and accessories and stayed fairly close to 1:64 scale. Without having to make them light up, Marx could make them any size they wanted. The 1:64 size matched its trains well, along with American Flyer trains of the same period, and wasn’t too far off what Lionel was making. You could say Marx got religion on scale, but really it was a combination of factors. 1950s technology made things possible that weren’t possible, or at least not practical, in the 1930s. And of course, Marx’s HO scale line was pretty true to scale, at least for its era.
Marx’s undersized accessories
Marx also sometimes made undersized accessories. It sold a pressed tin dump truck, for example, that was undersized for even the 6-inch car it rode on. Realistically, that dump truck probably wasn’t anywhere near even 1:87 HO scale.
There was an economic reason for this too. Marx borrowed from its other lines at times, allowing it to add versatility to its train line without making any new tooling. The dump truck wasn’t the right size, but it looked close enough, so Marx went with it.
Marx wasn’t into scale model railroading at the time. It was making toys to hit price points that as many people as possible could afford. The saying in the 1950s was that if your dad had a good job, you had a Lionel or American Flyer train, and if your dad had a bad job, you had a Marx. It was an exaggeration but there was a fair bit of truth in the statement.
So that’s why the scale of Marx trains and accessories varied so widely. Marx had to hit a price point with a product attractive enough to sell. If they had to go over or under on size, they were wiling to do that.
What to do about Marx’s varying scale
There are different approaches to Marx’s changing rules with scale. One option is to pick a scale and stick with it. If what Marx made was oversized, don’t use it. Someone else made something comparable in a usable scale, in most cases.
Some people don’t worry about it at all. They just build an all-Marx layout, using nothing but Marx stuff, and don’t worry if the buildings are 1:32 scale, the lights are 1:24 scale, and the trains are 1:64 scale. That look isn’t for everyone, perhaps, but it can be stunning.
I took a blended approach. I use Marx items where I can, and supplement with comparable-sized trains and accessories from other manufacturers too. I have exactly one tin Marx building, but I found others that work well. I have exactly two Marx tin automobiles, so I supplemented them with Japanese tin vehicles and Tootsietoy diecasts.
When scales are too far off, group like-sized items together to disguise the differences. And if all your lamp posts are oversize, it tends to disguise the fact all of them are oversize.
A scale purist will sniff at the results, but I’m fine with that. As long as they’re happy with their railroad and I’m happy with mine, that’s all that matters. I can’t speak for anyone else and their satisfaction with their own railroad, but I’m happy with mine. If what makes me happy doesn’t make them happy, they should try a different approach.