St. Louis-based Central Hardware was one of the first big-box home improvement chains. It peaked in 1993 at 39 stores in six states in the midwest, employing 3,700 people. It was once the 19th largest hardware retailer in the United States.
Central Hardware’s motto was “everything from scoop to nuts,” a play on the English idiom “soup to nuts,” which means beginning to end. Their inventory was over 40,000 SKUs, comparable to today’s home improvement stores. Its stores regularly exceeded 50,000 square feet. That’s about half the size of a typical home improvement store today, but it was large for the 1970s and 1980s. Traditional hardware stores ranged in size from 2,000 to 10,000 square feet. Its employees wore orange vests so customers knew who to ask for help.
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.
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.
After talking about scale, Andy Tolch, owner of the excellent Andy’s Toys, asked me about the scale of Tootsietoy cars. I don’t have a ton of Tootsietoy cars but was able to identify and measure five of them. The results surprised me.
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.
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.
A couple of years ago, former Sports Collector’s Digest editor Bob Lemke stumbled across Goudey sales figures for baseball cards in the 1930s and 1940s. He presented the figures while expressing a disinterest in doing the math to try to figure out how many cards Goudey sold.
For some insane reason I decided to take a stab at it. Or, rather, make my computer take a stab at it. And I came to some unexpected conclusions.
Marx made five different type of couplers between 1934 and 1974. If you’ve never seen Marx couplers explained before, here’s a primer on how to identify them and use them together. And I even have a few repair tips if you need them.
Sakai trains were made in HO and O gauge by a Tokyo-based manufacturer and sold abroad, particularly in the United States and Australia after World War II. Sakai’s O gauge product bore a curious resemblance to Marx. I have read speculation that Marx once used Sakai as a subcontractor, and Sakai used the tooling to make its own trains rather than returning it to Marx, but there are enough differences that I don’t think that’s the case.
What I do know is that Sakai’s O gauge product was a curious blend of cues from Lionel and Marx and the trains worked pretty well. They’re hard to find today, but not especially valuable since few people know what they are. They turn up on Ebay occasionally.