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The John G. Hubbard Restoration Collection
Part 1: The Acquisition and Restoration Story

By John G. Hubbard, TCA 72-4610  and John S. Halajko, TCA 84-20653
                                                                                          Fall 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE:  There is a story behind every restoration piece. Whether it is in the purchase or skill and rework put into the item, each story is unique. It adds to the legacy and charm of the piece. 

Unfortunately, John Hubbard died while writing Part 1, and we lost the stories behind many of his treasures.

This is the first of two articles for the TCA e*Train featuring John G. Hubbard’s restoration collection. The second will tell the story of display and operation.

So, let us begin this story by turning back the clock to those early days of the TCA when prices for Prewar O-Gauge Restoration Pieces were in the single digits, replacement parts were being fabricated and transfer lettering by Bennett was readily available. Local train meets in the Baltimore area were plentiful. Train stores were doing a reasonable business with New MPC Lionel and the rich diversity of Pre and Post War train sets coupled with American Flyer, Kusan, Marx and other manufacturers.

The big thing in those days was STANDARD GAUGE. Nick Ladd built on the framework of the two Bill Vagell books by providing an illustrated checklist of LIONEL items followed by the cornerstone of our hobby, The Greenberg Price Guides.

John G. Hubbard is and will remain one of the best restoration masters for our hobby. Being from the Southern State of Maryland, he is part rebel and bucked the system restricting his personal collection to O Gauge and much later G Gauge trains. Although he restored many Standard Gauge items, he had no interest in collecting or operating Standard Gauge Trains. The restoration collection which follows is referred to by him as his “children.”

John enjoyed repairing toy trains and writing about them. He also wrote about his family and the neighborhoods that he lived in. His publications for Greenberg are among the still sought after books on eBay. Also, TCA members may consult the online listing for any duplicate copies of some of these books that may be available from our National Toy Train Library (NTTL).

The $20 Rule and Display Before Acting

John had two simple rules that he used to evaluate and restore his treasures.

  • The first rule is the $20 Rule. Pay no more than $20 for the item, parts, and paint. John Halajko (Halajko) does not know how close he stuck to this rule since a paint can be shared for more than one project. Remember that parts were plentiful, and that basket case parts and reproduction wheel sets in O-Gauge were relatively cheap.

  • The second rule is Display Before Acting. John would admire the piece for several days, possibly a few weeks, to consider the possibilities. When called for he would do a minor touch-up job before a strip and total repaint. In the photographs that follow, you will see mostly total repaints. John sold some of his collection before these pictures were taken.

Over the course of our friendship of over thirty-four years, Halajko learned a lot of toy train history and the stories behind several of these acquisitions. The pictures that follow were the start of a toy train history. Unfortunately, John G. Hubbard’s (Hubbard) health deteriorated before he could tell this story by himself.

Hubbard restored Prewar Lionel, Ives, “Chicago Flyer,” and Marklin. Here is some of his collection. They look factory fresh, and they all run. Remember, they are not great pullers. They are best when used with a three or four car consist.

His restorations turned up clean and almost factory fresh. He preserved original paint schemes using reproduction paints. Forward and reverse features were preserved. Alas, he was not big on whistles, choosing to not install them to keep the tenders from future problems.

The Hiawatha above was a child’s favorite toy and was run on a gravel roadbed. Lots of pickups and drop-offs were imagined.  All the wheels were replaced.

You can see the immense diversity in O-Gauge cars and engines.

Samples of his restored treasures.

The Red Comet above won a Best Restoration Award at an Atlantic Division Train Meet around 1980. This competition was at Westover Country Club, and Hubbard should not have won because the motor used was incorrect.  The correct motor is now in this locomotive with the nickel rim trim. His award was a $10 gift certificate good for purchase at the meet.

The yellow Ives set above is a noisy runner. John custom painted the Ives cars to match the electric locomotive. He created a Hubbard Original.


Hubbard captured a nice diversity in O-Gauge Passenger Cars.

The 265E shown above had a roof repair using epoxy resin and is now an accurate restoration. The 150 and 153 electrics are also accurate restorations thanks to the licensed Bennet Transfers.


Here is a great view of the fleet of repaired and repainted Prewar Lionel.

Compare these pieces against Modern Era Engines. They are all a part of toy train history, but the details are spartan on Prewar Engines. The little electrics above used reproduction trim.

John G. Hubbard

The story of restorations is almost over. It is harder and harder to find parts and candidates that are worthy of investing the time and effort. Restoration pieces no longer command high prices at train shows because of the amount of reproduced Modern Era Tin Plate offerings by MTH and LIONEL, along with the loss of demand. Simply put: those who collected restorations are dying off, leaving behind items that family members no longer value.

Perhaps the skill and care that was placed into restorations will be valued in the distant future. They are electrically and mechanically simple, so after a little cleaning and lubrication they will run over forty years from now, unlike Modern Era electronics.

Think of collecting in the future as a renaissance in the folk art of toy trains!

Second Decade.
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