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 Buyers Guide to
Wood Trains

Article by
Dave Pecota

Buying Wooden Toy Railways

Generally, vintage wooden railway sets have not received much attention from toy collectors.  (With the humble exception of this author, of course!)  These tiny trains are somewhat overshadowed by larger wooden toys … and of course … by electric and battery-powered trains.  The “collecting” focus for small wood trains is primarily on contemporary trains like Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, and the search for more track and accessories to add to existing layouts for play.

However, finding vintage train sets in excellent condition is becoming increasingly difficult and challenging.  Finding sets with their original packaging and paperwork … more so.  After all, these trains were not purchased to collect or display. They were bought for play!

Complete vintage sets in excellent condition usually sell for $20 to $125.  You can probably add from $10 to $50 for sets with original packaging and paperwork.

Most vintage trains will “operate” perfectly on newer layouts.  But if you are considering buying older sets just for the extra track, make sure the track connectors are compatible with your existing track.  Otherwise, you and your “little ones” may be in for some frustrating play-days.  For example, SH/Playskool and Snap Train tracks are still relatively plentiful, but most will not directly connect to the peg and hole track that is commonly used today.

Also, if you are looking for worthy additions to your collection or layout, don’t overlook the character or “themed” train sets that have been produced in more recent years.

Undoubtedly, some of the most attractive and finest quality themed sets have been produced by Maxim Enterprise Inc of Lakeville MA.  Maxim has been making a wide variety of quality wooden toys for over 45 years.  These sets include the award-winning Tootsietoy Sesame Street Railway series (1995), “The Little Engine That Could” train series (2002), the Coca Cola Christmas Train (2003) and the superb Lionel Heritage Series trains (2006).

The Lionel Heritage Series was particularly noteworthy for giving little railroaders wooden trains made to resemble engines and rail cars which appeared in Lionel’s famous electric train catalogs.  Giving that classic Lionel “look” of realism to any wood train layout.

Some of these great themed trains are shown here in a group photo.  They were in production for a relatively short time, and most vanished from store shelves and into playrooms rather quickly.  In a separate photo is the colorful Looney Tunes “Acme Express” train set (year and manufacturer unknown) ... another author-favorite.

Top quality wooden railway sets … old or new … seem relatively expensive in today’s plastic-filled toy market.  But with only minimal care, wooden sets can “serve with distinction” for several generations.  And each generation can add its own favorite trains and accessories.  These little imagination-powered toys just seem to become part of the family.

Unless otherwise noted, all the trains and sets pictured in this article are from the author’s collection.  Identifying, preserving and documenting these great toys are ongoing efforts.  The author gratefully welcomes any additions and/or corrections to the information provided.  Also, the author wishes to express his appreciation to Hart Larrabee, Sharon Nowlin and Doug Atkinson for their sage advice and assistance in compiling information for this article. 

 

The author also wishes to thank the following companies for the information they provided for these articles:

Brio www.brio.net
Lincoln Logs www.lincolnlogs.com
Maxim www.maximenterprise.com
Micki Leksaker www.micki.se 

  DP