O'Brien's Collecting Toy Trains, Sixth Edition, edited by David Doyle. 400 pages. 2006: Krause Publications, Iola , Wisconsin . $29.99
Reviewed by Dr. Joseph Lechner
TCA member David Doyle's latest project has been to update a classic. Richard O'Brien compiled five highly successful identification/price guides for toy collectors, beginning with “Collecting Toys” (1978), which is currently in its eleventh edition. This was followed by “Collecting Toy Cars & Trucks”, “Collecting Toy Trains”, and two volumes of “Collecting Toy Soldiers”. O'Brien sold three of these titles to Krause Publications in 1997, and is no longer involved with their production. David Doyle edited this latest edition of the toy train guide.
Unlike Doyle's previous three books, which were devoted exclusively to products of “The Lionel Corporation”, this volume covers ten different American manufacturers of the twentieth century. Two of them (Lionel and Plasticville) are still in business; two other names (American Flyer and Marx) have been resurrected by new owners; and selected tooling of AMT, Kusan and Marx have been acquired by other contemporary brands.
Collectors of Lionel trains would say that this volume covers the prewar (1900-1942) and postwar (1945-1969) eras. Marx trains are included through 1975, when that company was sold to Quaker Oats. Plasticville structures are still being marketed today, although the most recent item listed in this book was dated 1989. Other train lines are covered throughout the life spans of their original manufacturers.
The ten sections of O'Brien's Collecting Toy Trains are as follows:
1. American Flyer (1907-1966): separate sections for wide gauge, O gauge, S gauge and HO gauge; 70 pages total.
2. American Model and Toy (1948-1953): O gauge; 10 pages.
3. Buddy-L (1926-1930): 3-1/4” gauge; 4 pages.
4. Dorfan (1924-1933): wide (2-1/8”) and “narrow” (1-1/4”) gauges; 7 pages.
5. IVES (1901-1928): wide and O gauges; 51 pages total.
6. Kusan (1954-1961): O gauge; 20 pages.
7. Lionel (1901-1969): 2-7/8”, Standard, O, OO and HO gauges; 168 pages total.
8. Marx (1927-1975): O gauge; 36 pages total.
9. Plasticville (1947-present): O/S scale and HO scale; 12 pages total.
10. Unique (1949-1951): O gauge; 2 pages.
Each section follows a format that will be familiar to readers of David Doyle's Lionel guides: items are listed in numerical order with very brief descriptions and estimated current market values. This is the first O'Brien's edition to use a new grading system which was introduced by the Train Collectors Association in 2005. In most sections, Doyle provides an approximate dollar value for each item in C5, C7 or C8 condition. These correspond to the grades formerly known as Good, Excellent and Like New, respectively. An exception is the Marx chapter, where prices are given for C6 and C8 grades. Doyle contradicts himself concerning C6; he equates it with excellent on page 6 but then calls it very good on page 9. The correct definition for C6 is in fact very good. Approximately 20% of the listings include a color photograph. The photos are of high quality, and they are printed large enough to be useful.
This guide is remarkable for its breadth of coverage. Ten different manufacturers and 24 distinct product lines are represented – undoubtedly the greatest variety you'll find in a single volume today. Good information on IVES, Dorfan, and Chicago-era American Flyer has become hard to get in the 21st century – guidebooks have been published, but the books themselves have become collector items.
In my opinion, the most exotic treasure in this book is the section on American Flyer HO gauge of the late 1940s and early 1950s – including numerous items photographed in their original packages – a genre that I have yet to encounter in person, even after several visits to TCA Eastern Division's massive York meet.
Devotees of AMT and Kusan will be delighted that each of these manufacturers has been given its own section, even though much of Kusan's line consisted of former AMT products with little modification. These tiny companies profoundly impacted the world of O gauge railroading at mid-century, and their influence continues today. AMT was the first to market extruded-aluminum streamlined passenger cars in O 3-rail; the first with a scale-sized 40' box car; the first with a Budd rail diesel car; and the first to offer 3-rail sectional track with a near-prototypical number of ties. AMT often gets credited for prodding Lionel to develop its 2500 series streamliners, 6464 boxcars, #400 RDC, and Super “O” track. Remarkably, many AMT and Kusan designs are still on the market today. AMT's scale-sized freight cars resurfaced as Kris Model Trains during the 1970s. Williams Reproductions recycled AMT cars as kits, and Kusan cars in ready-to-run train sets during the 1980s. The boxcars, reefers and stock cars currently marketed by Williams Electric Trains are based on AMT tooling. Finally, it was Kusan who originally developed the “Beep”, a diminutive four-wheel diesel switcher that resembles a truncated GP-7. The Beep, as well as Kusan's distinctive square-window caboose, have both been updated for the 21st century by Ready Made Toys.
I was disappointed by the Lionel section of O'Brien's guide, partly because I know that genre well, and partly because David Doyle handled Lionel much better in his excellent two-volume Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains. The “prewar Lionel” chapter will be confusing to users who are not already thoroughly familiar with these trains. Between 1901 and 1942, Lionel manufactured trains in four distinct gauges: 2-7/8” two-rail; 2-1/8” three-rail (advertised by Lionel as “Standard gauge”); 1-1/4” three rail (O gauge); and 7/8” (OO gauge) in both two-rail and three-rail versions. In this volume, all four gauges are jumbled together, listed numerically by catalog number. Except for the OO items (which consisted of just one locomotive and four cars in each of four different trim lines), very few pieces are ever identified by gauge. Other manufacturers' chapters were organized much better: American Flyer material was separated into wide, O, S and HO sections; IVES was divided into wide gauge and O gauge; and even the postwar Lionel section is subdivided into O and HO gauges.
In addition to gauge information, I wish that toy train guides would routinely include a measurement (length or height of an item in inches) with every listing. Toy train manufacturers frequently made three or more distinct sizes of train to sell at different price levels, even though all three operated on the same track gauge. For example, prewar Lionel had similar-looking Stephen Girard, Blue Comet and Transcontinental Limited passenger cars that corresponded to compact, mid-size and full-sized models, all of which ran on Standard gauge track. Granted, the cars' colors and numbers were different; but for those who are encountering these trains for the first time, dimensional information would be helpful.
David Doyle is a walking encyclopedia on postwar Lionel, and he has crammed as much information as possible into this volume. As train collectors know, many variations occurred during toy manufacture, and subtle variations can greatly affect an item's value. Doyle sometimes covers two or even three variations within the same listing by changing the typeface. For example, the #6454 New York Central boxcar came painted tan, brown or orange and could be worth $45-$200 in C8 condition. Did you catch all of that? The italicized value ($45) was for the italicized color (tan) while the much higher bolded value ($200) was for the bolded color (orange). Doyle doesn't say what the brown car is worth. Watch out for the 6464-1 Western Pacific boxcar, which could be worth anywhere from $110-$2400 depending on whether it has blue or red lettering (no colors or prices were bolded or italicized in that entry).
In summary, O'Brien's Collecting Toy Trains is of great interest to me because of the information on prewar Flyer, IVES, Dorfan and Marx, as well as postwar AMT, Kusan and Marx, most of which is not currently in print elsewhere. But for information on Lionel trains, Doyle's two-volume Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains (2004 and 2005) has no equal.