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Hand Built Locomotives & Trains

The very first model trains were hand built. In the 1830s, German craftsmen made model trains by molding brass or tin. They added hand-carved wooden fittings. These trains could be pushed along a track, but they were very fragile. French tinsmiths also made model trains, usually very elaborate in design and color scheme. These model trains did not run on rails, but could be pushed along the floor. English craftsmen took their inspiration from the industrial revolution and made toy steam engines by hand.

Many of the craftsmen who made model trains were employed making musical instruments. They came up with the idea of adding clockworks to their trains to allow movement. These trains were made of brass, were very elaborate, and were not made to scale. They were also very expensive. American model trains were made of heavy tinplate and were much more durable than European models. These early model trains usually only included the locomotive, as railroad cars and track were not produced until much later.

While the vast majority of model trains produced in the 1900s were mass produced, craftsmen and hobbyists continued to hand build model railroads. Numerous individuals and companies throughout the world continue to produce handcrafted model trains of all types. These models are often more detailed than their mass-produced counterparts.

Quick Facts

  • Japanese craftsmen hand crafted brass model train sets that were popular with American GIs stationed in post-World War II Japan
  • Hobbyists who do not handcraft their own model trains often handcraft their own scenery and even model train track
  • Hand-crafted 7 1/4 inch gauge model locomotives and tenders of the Great Western Railway Castle class and Great Western Railway Beyer Goods, both built by David Aitken, sold at an auction by Dreweatts in April 2015 for £100,000 each. The models were previously part of a collection owned by Pete Waterman

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