Today, most folks use the word tinplate
when referring to toy trains made by Lionel,
IVES, American Flyer and the like. Tinplate
is steel that has been coated with tin to
protect against rusting. Most prewar toy
trains were built from stamped sheet metal,
so the term tinplate eventually came to
mean toys made of that material. The tubular
track used for O gauge, S gauge and standard
gauge trains is still made of tinplate today.
Postwar trains that run on those tracks
are called tinplate too, although nearly
all of them are made of die-cast metal and
Louis H. Hertz, who is better known for
his books on toy train collecting, also
wrote "The Complete Book of Model Railroading"
(1951: Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation).
In it, he distinguished between scale and
tinplate, but not in the same way most hobbyists
do today. Tinplate for Hertz meant ready-made
equipment sold by companies that were primarily
engaged in the toy business (even if a significant
portion of their products were used by adults).
Scale meant a model that was assembled from
a kit or built from scratch. While the original
motivation for building a scale model was
to achieve greater realism than possible
with tinplate, the boundaries soon became
blurred. Hertz contended that much of the
tinplate available at mid-century was as
well proportioned as scale equipment.
In 1953, Lionel began using the term "scale
proportioned" to describe its new 6415 tank
car, #6464 box cars, #6468 automobile car,
#6511 flat car, and the #6417 N5c caboose
(see Figure 2). Other "scale" adjectives
used in catalog copy included "scale modeled"
(see Figure 3), "scale designed" (see Figure
4), "scale detailed" (see Figure 5), and
"scale length" (see Figure 6). Those items
were still tinplate according to Hertz's
definition, but then so are the exquisite
HO and N trains made by Bachmann, Life-Like
and Kato today.
Louis Hertz regarded tinplate operators
and scale enthusiasts alike as "model railroaders".
He wrote, "There is no onus associated with
operating a system with tinplate equipment
rather than… scale models... Tinplate and
tinplaters, far from being terms of disparagement...
are honored words in model railroad phraseology."
Throughout his book, Hertz showed examples
of scenicked model railroad systems that
were realistically operated by their owners.
Tinplate and scale equipment appeared on
an equal footing. There were photos from
John Allen's HO "Gorre & Daphetid" and from
Frank Ellison's O gauge "Delta Lines"-two
of the most renowned scale model railroads
of that day-but there were also layouts
featuring the standard gauge products of
Lionel, American Flyer and Ives, and prewar
Standard gauge layouts of that era strove
for realism: closely spaced parallel tracks,
scratchbuilt signals, lichen trees, painted
backdrops. A pike by Hugh Newsom featured
towering mountain scenery that extended
at least 30" above eye level, a convincing
alpine glacier, and forced-perspective structures
in the distance. A standard gauge scene
by Walter Bellis showed a long freight train
on a graceful "S" curve, appropriately sized-vehicles,
and telephone poles with individually strung
wires. The builders of these layouts had
assembled working miniature railroads from
the mass-produced equipment that was available
to them during the 1930s. They used tinplate
equipment to re-create what they saw on
prototype railroads. In contrast, many of
today's standard gauge layouts seem to re-create
store displays where those toys were sold
seventy or more years ago. Not that there's
anything wrong with that; the emphasis is
just different today.
Louis Hertz saw no contradiction in presenting
scale and tinplate side-by-side as examples
of model railroading. He showed imported
brass locomotives and scratchbuilt interurbans,
but he also showed Lionel's 2330, 2343 and
773 as representatives of electric, diesel
and steam power. He discussed hand-laying
two-rail track, but he also explained how
to wire block signals for three-rail track,
and how 022 switches could be interconnected
to achieve automatic train routing.
Likewise, at mid-century, The Lionel Corporation
didn't just sell toy trains; it sold "model
railroading". Postwar catalog illustrations
rarely showed benchwork, control panels,
or human operators; and they never showed
the package the equipment came in. In these
wishbooks, we saw railroads climbing mountains
and crossing rivers to deliver freight and
passengers to their destinations. Catalogs
showed ultimate realism, then explained
how to achieve it using Lionel equipment.
The message of Louis Hertz's book, and
of Lionel's postwar catalogs, was clear:
toy trains were made for model railroading.
Lionel® is a registered
trademark and is used with the permission
of Lionel® L.L.C. Copies of Lionel® copyrighted
materials have been used in this publication
with the permission of Lionel® L.L.C."
on a thumbnail image to enlarge.
Lionel was the leader in model railroading,
according to this spread from the 1958
This assortment of new-in-1953 Lionel
freight cars was described as "scale-proportioned".
The 6464 series boxcars, introduced
in 1953, were billed as "scale modeled".
Lionel's marketing adjectives included
"Scale" (#3484), "Scale-proportioned"
(#6415), and "Scale-designed" (#6468).
This new-in-1955 operating dump car
Also new in 1955, the 3662 operating
milk car was advertised as "scale length".
It was about 1½" longer than its predecessor