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.
If you’ve built a few PCs, or repaired a few PCs, you have some idea how important the power supply is. If you buy any old tin box that fits, you can probably expect to run into some problems. Here’s some advice on buying power supplies, including reliable power supply brands.
Marx made several variants of its Girard station. One was just a tin building. The better one had lights. The best one had lights and a train whistle. Here’s how to wire a Marx Girard station with both lights and the whistle. This works on the Oak Park station too.
I wire it a little bit differently than Marx did in its instructions. Marx’s way works, but can cause the light to dim when you push the whistle button. My way doesn’t dim the lights.
In 1959, Marx attempted to cash in on the popularity of TV westerns by creating an 1860s style locomotive. Today, the Marx William Crooks locomotive is one of the rarer and more desirable Marx locomotives. You don’t often hear the words “rare” and “Marx” together.
The Marx locomotive was a recognizable model of the real William Crooks locomotive, a St. Paul and Pacific 1861-era engine that still exists today.
The Lionel Multi-control Trainmaster RW is a sturdy tin box of a transformer from early in the postwar era. The presence of a whistle controller is the only thing that really distinguishes it from a prewar transformer. Lionel made it from 1948 to 1954. If you want to know all about the Lionel RW transformer, you’ve come to the right place. You probably won’t find a copy of the original instruction manual online but this will tell you all you need to know.
Years ago at an estate sale in St. Louis’ Central West End, I bought a number of Tootsietoy vehicles. When I got home, I noticed some had only the word “toy,” a number, description, and “Made in USA” inside. That was weird. These weren’t Tootsietoys. They were Londontoy.
The Hipwell Manufacturing Co. of Pittsburgh was the inventor of the single-cell battery and a venerable producer of flashlights. As recently as 2002, Hipwell produced 2 million flashlights in the United States.
When it comes to trains, I prefer older ones made of tin, rather than plastic. And I like tin buildings too. Any time I open a magazine featuring someone’s train layouts, the buildings all look the same. I want something a little different, so I look for tin buildings to go with my tin trains.
Many companies through the years made food containers with printing on them that look like buildings. The tins tend to be about six inches wide, around 8 inches tall, and two inches deep. They tend to resemble the two-story commercial buildings you used to see in downtowns, with a storefront on the first story and offices or apartments on the second floor.
You can use these tins to put together a very timeless commercial district for your train layout. If you know what to look for, you can find coffee shops, bakeries, candy stores, florists, and plenty of other stores to make your town a nice place to live and work. And the buildings usually aren’t terribly expensive, either.
Years ago, I decided I wanted to take a different approach with my trains. I heard about a guy in Springfield who has a traditional toy train layout with no plastic on it. I wanted to see if I could do something similar.
At the time, information about this approach was rare. So I’ve collected here what I know about tin buildings made prior to 1970 (the approximate end of the postwar era). You won’t find everything you want in pre-1970 buildings, so if you need something more modern to fill in the gaps, see my other post tin buildings for train layouts.