In the 1940s and 1950s, Skyline of Philadelphia manufactured and marketed a line of toy train-oriented building kits. Actually, there were two lines: One was a line of building kits made of cardstock and wood, and one was a smaller line of lithographed tin buildings, similar to the inexpensive toys made by the likes of Louis Marx, Wyandotte, and countless others in the days before ubiquitous plastics.
I’ve long suspected the two product lines came from the same company, but had no evidence to prove it until Ed “Ice” Berg produced scans of a Skyline catalog containing both paper/wood and tin litho buildings, side by side.
“Why have Marx toys dropped in value?” you ask? Blame Millennials. Well, actually, my generation bears more of the blame for this one. Blame Gen X. The value of vintage toys tends to follow trends, and those trends don’t necessarily pass from generation to generation.
Why do Lionel trains have three rails? After all, real trains usually have two. This unrealistic feature is a legitimate drawback for Lionel and other makes of O gauge trains, but the decision made sense at the time.
The birthplace of scores of classic toy trains fell victim to the Marx factory fire in Girard, Pennslyvania.
The old Marx factory stood at 227 E Hathaway in Girard, Pennsylvania. For a time in the 1950s, Marx was the largest toy manufacturer in the world. Marx made toy trains at the site, which caught fire on July 12, 2016. There were no immediate reports of injuries, fortunately. There was very little news coverage of the fire.
In the 1950s, Marx and Lionel took turns being the biggest toy company in the world, largely riding on the popularity of O gauge trains. Neither company particularly liked the other, but both owed some degree of their success to being compatible with one another. Because of their interoperability, the two makes of trains are frequently compared and contrasted even today.
One of the most frequent questions I see or receive directly about Marx trains is what a Marx train is worth, or the value of a Marx train. Of course without seeing the train, it’s nearly impossible to give a good estimate, but there are some general rules that you can follow, either to protect yourself as a buyer, or to keep your expectations realistic as a seller.
Disassembling a postwar Marx 666 locomotive, or its plastic counterpart the 1666, isn’t too difficult, but it helps to have some instructions.
Marx designed its trains so that a father or older brother could service them, so it comes apart with simple household tools, and you can get most of what you’ll need to service it at the nearest hardware or auto parts store, with the exception of the bulb for the headlight.
Hafner was a Chicago-based maker of clockwork-powered O gauge trains during most of the first half of the 20th century. The trains were inexpensive but durable. William Hafner developed the clockwork motor as a hobby around the turn of the previous century and put the motor in toys. Eventually he decided to make a train–perhaps he thought his two sons would like one–and he did. He even sold a set or two, but didn’t have the facilities to mass produce them, or the money to buy such a facility. So he approached William Coleman, who had an interest in a struggling farm tool company, and after Hafner secured an order for $15,000 worth of trains, Coleman agreed to use the company’s excess capacity to produce the trains.
And so began American Flyer, the company that battled Lionel for the hearts and minds of train enthusiasts for about sixty years, until 1967.
But for reasons that Coleman and Hafner took to their graves, the partnership dissolved in 1914. The sons didn’t know exactly what happened. John Hafner said Coleman had promised his father a larger share of the company if the trains proved successful, then broke his promise. John Hafner said the two families had animosity afterward. But Robert Hafner recalled receiving wedding gifts from the Colemans in 1917, and said the dissolution was purely for business reasons. Going it alone, William Hafner formed his own company, rented factory space for $50 a month, and started a product line that would last into the 1950s.
Unlike his erstwhile partner, Hafner didn’t have to deal much with Lionel. Hafner’s greater concern was with this upstart named Louis Marx. Read more
In the 1950s and 1960s, it was possible to walk into Sears and see an Allstate electric train on the same shelf as Lionel and American Flyer. These trains are still somewhat common today. That leads to some further questions.
Yes, it’s Allstate, as in the insurance company. What did they have to do with electric trains?
Cnet took a field trip to the official Lionel repair facility and wrote a feature story about it. It’s nice to see the attention outside of the hobby press, since it’s frequently news to people that Lionel is still around in any form. Read more