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.
When it comes to old toys, a lot of people forget about lead paint. It’s not a bad idea to be concerned about Tootsietoys and lead paint. That said, we also have to be realistic and reasonable. There’s no reason to be Scaredy Squirrel.
Restoring Tootsietoys can be a fun and satisfying way to enjoy old toy vehicles. Whether you want your childhood toys to look nice again or just enjoy bringing new life to neglected examples, it can be as easy and as affordable as you want it to be.
I’ll talk specifically about Tootsietoys here, but the principles apply to other vintage diecast cars of the same era like Hubley or Midgetoy.
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.
Scale-oriented O scale enthusiasts often bemoan the lack of true 1:48 O scale cars (as in automobiles) to go with their O scale trains. Often they go so far as to call 1:48 scale autos non-existent. That’s not entirely the case. There are 1:48 scale vehicles out there. Finding them just requires some creativity and imagination.
I know of more than 20 1:48 scale vehicles suitable for O scale train layouts. They fall into two broad categories: ready made diecast vehicles, and plastic 1/48 scale model car kits, which require assembly. The model kits tend to be costlier but allow a greater level of detail. Not only that, some of the model kits are 4-door sedans, the perfect ordinary car. For the realism-craving hi rail or 2-rail enthusiast, they are hard to resist.
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.
What scale are Hot Wheels cars, you ask? Unfortunately it varies a bit. They tend to be a bit less than 1:64. But scale isn’t Hot Wheels’ objective. Fitting in the package is. That means the size of Hot Wheels cars is between 2.5 and 3 inches, depending on what looks right for the prototype model. That’s when a prototype even exists. So it can take some homework to figure out the actual scale of any given model. Read more
It’s not uncommon to find model trains with unwanted paint on them, or original paint that’s damaged beyond the point of being able to rehabilitate it. Fortunately, the price is usually low on these trains, and there are numerous household chemicals that can strip the paint off these trains and give them a fresh start.
These tricks also work with other toys and plastic models, but while some of these methods seem to be unknown in the train community, some of them are very well known among collectors who restore vintage plastic model kits. This is an example where knowledge across disciplines can be very valuable, so I hope the car and airplane modelers won’t mind me sharing their secrets.
The breadth of Department 56 product lines, such as Department 56 Snow Village, is rather extensive, but there are items they don’t produce and likely never will. If you want to complete your village with other items, or use Department 56 in other settings, such as a train layout, then scale might matter to you—and Department 56 scale is undefined. Here’s how to make sure the things you want to use together will go together, size-wise.
The answer, by Department 56’s own admission, is that it varies. But since I see the question come up again and again, I’m going to tackle it. It varies, but there’s a method to it the madness.