Skyline tin buildings

Skyline tin buildings

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.

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Vintage tin litho buildings

Vintage tin litho buildings

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.

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Bachmann vs Lionel

Bachmann vs Lionel

Comparing Bachmann vs Lionel is a contrast between two very old, established names in electric trains. Lionel, in one form or another, has been selling trains since 1900. Bachmann, the largest seller of trains in the world, was founded in 1833, though they started selling trains in 1966.

Ironically, it was Lionel that got Bachmann into the train business. In the 1940s and 1950s, when every kid wanted a Lionel or American Flyer train, Bachmann sold buildings under its Plasticville brand so kids and dads could build towns for those trains to run in. As the focus shifted to smaller scales in the 1960s, Bachmann moved with it, with greater success than the companies it once shared a symbiotic relationship with.

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The common post on a Marx transformer

When you want to phase transformers, it’s good to know the common (in Lionel terms) or base (in American Flyer terms) post. It’s a shame that Marx didn’t label which of its posts was common. So here’s how to find the common post on a Marx transformer.

It’s a good thing this is fairly easy to figure out, because Marx transformers are dirt cheap. I bought one for exactly one dollar at the last train show I attended, and the vendor wanted to sell me a box full of them for $5.

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How to tell if a Lionel tender has a whistle

One of the things Lionel did that set its electric trains apart from its competitors was integrating a whistle in the tender that was included with its steam locomotives. Because of the added play value and charm, the whistling tender is a sought-after feature, even in this era when electronic sounds are so inexpensive that even dollar store toys sometimes have them.

Here’s how to quickly tell if a Lionel tender has a whistle.

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Marx windup 490: An unexpected rarity

Marx windup 490: An unexpected rarity

I’ve written before about the Greenberg Pocket Price Guide for Marx, and I frequently recommend it, especially to newcomers, because it’s very easy to end up spending $30 on a car that’s only worth $10. I know when starting out we prefer to spend our train money on trains. But by saving you from overpaying, the guide quickly pays for itself. Here’s how I use mine. The guide isn’t perfect, though. One of the items it omits is the Marx windup 490 steam locomotive.

Marx made clockwork locomotives longer than anyone else and they typically aren’t worth a lot today. But the 490 is different. There are always exceptions with Marx. Read more

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