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Historical Wooden Train Sets - Page 2

Last Update: 30 May 2007: added Keystone Wood Toys, Inc., updated Lincoln Log article (Courtesy of Dave Pecota)

Information compiled by Doug A, e-mail: magicref@lycos.com. Much of the information on this site was kindly contributed by Dave Pecota, including several photos of the Maxim trains. 

This History Pages are split into two pages because they are growing quite large. Covered here (so far) are: 

Page 1:

Skaneateles Handicrafters (Haba/T.C. Timber)
Jack-Built Snap-Trains
Micki Sweden
BRIO

Page 2:  (This Page)

Keystone
Lincoln Log
Maxim
Learning Curve
Lionel Licenses
Ertl Hometown Roadway
Strombecker TootsieToy
Lights, Camera, Interaction! 


Keystone Wood Toys, Inc (Keystone Mfg Co.) article by Dave Pecota

A very early producer of wooden toy train and track sets was Keystone Wood Toys, part of the Keystone Mfg Company of Boston, MA.

From approximately 1922 to 1965, Keystone was known primarily for its movie cameras and projectors … and its line of high-quality, pressed steel toy cars, trucks, airplanes and ride-on toys.  However, Keystone actually made a variety of toys including doll houses, garages, fire stations, military forts and other buildings … wooden boats … plastic vehicles … and the Tot Railroad play set shown here.

This particular train set probably dates from the late 1940’s.  Note the rather quaint box art.  Also shown are some of the nicely detailed wood buildings that Keystone made to accompany their train sets. 

Keystone’s colorful trains are made from hardwood and are finished with smooth, glossy paint.  The train couplers are single-piece metal hooks that run through a cavity beneath each car, and are retained in place by thick metal axles.  The wheels are also hardwood.



keystone train

keystone buildings


The tan plastic track is durable and very easy to clean.  But the track connector design … with its triangular shape … allows virtually no “play” in the connection joints.  As a result, the track provides only limited flexibility in layout configuration.  Although the trains will fit on any Brio-sized track … the track itself does not appear to be compatible with any other known manufacturer’s track.

Keystone reportedly ceased making toys in Boston around 1958, and the movie equipment portion of the company was bought by Berkey Photo in 1965.


Lincoln Log Trains (section by Dave Pecota)

A somewhat surprising entry into the world of wooden toy trains and tracks were several railroad play sets made by the folks at Lincoln Logs in Chicago IL. 

Lincoln Logs building sets … utilizing those famous interlocking wooden logs … were first made in 1916, by a company founded by John L. Wright (son of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright). The company was purchased in 1943 by Playschool, and is now under the Hasbro banner.  Amazingly, you can still buy these iconic building sets today.

Aside from the finish on the trains, the Lincoln Logs Tot Railroad set shown here looks virtually identical to the Keystone Tot Railroad set (shown previously).  Even the train set model numbers (#406) are the same.   

Although Keystone appears to be the original designer of this series of train sets, it is not clear how Lincoln Logs ended up producing them.  This particular LL train set reportedly dates from 1958-59 ... about the time Keystone ceased toy production. 
Lincoln Log Trains
Lincoln Log Underside



If you've ever played with Lincoln Logs, the color and finish of the LL train in this set will instantly seem very familiar.  The wood has the same semi-rough texture and flat paint finish that characterizes older LL building pieces, such as their red chimney and green roof slats.  This flat finish is quite different from the smooth and glossy finish of Keystone trains.  

Both the LL and Keystone sets use the same wheel, axle and coupler components … and the same tan plastic track.  The instruction booklets are also nearly identical.  The only significant differences in the booklets are the changes in the company names and locations … and the addition of a mail-in parts listing for the LL train sets. 








The instruction pamphlet says, "the set is complete in itself and can be used to increase the play value of many other items". The pamphlet shows several different sets and layouts, which include some associated buildings. However, none of the buildings were made with their world famous logs. One must conclude these train sets were not necessarily designed to be additions to their extensive line of log building sets. Lincoln Log Catalog page

Maxim Enterprise, Inc. 

http://www.maximenterprise.com

Maxim has been around 45 years in the wood business. Their main factory is in Dong Guan, China, and covers more than 1 million square feet with at peak times over 4,000 employees. They produce trains under the Tumble Tree Woods name, for K-Mart under the Just Kidz branding. They have, in the past, produced licensed products including a Christmas Coca-Cola™ train set and The Little Engine That Could (now licensed in 2007 by Whittle Shortline Railroad). In late 2006/2007, they licensed with Lionel to produce the Lionel Heritage series.
maxim just kidz engines
maxim farmer oval set
Maxim produces a wide variety of trains, track, and accessories at relatively inexpensive prices. They have greatly expanded their quantity and quality of output over the last 10 years or so, judging from comparisons made of some of their older products with the trains they are producing today.
just kidz box

You can find Maxim products from many on-line dealers (see the Train Links page for some examples). You can also find them in stores under the Tumble Tree Woods brand (like pictured at right) and the K-mart/Sears Just Kidz brands (above). The Maxim products offered under these names tend to be of a more simple design
Maxim Tumble Tree Woods
maxim engines More recently (2006/2007), Maxim has begun producing the The Lionel Heritage series trains. These are toys modeled after real trains. They are available in K-Mart/Sears, Horizon Hobby Stores, and on-line.
maxim santa fe maxim lionel black engine


Learning Curve:

Learning Curve is a relative newcomer to the field compared to T.C. Timber and BRIO. Learning Curve was started in 1993 by Mr. John W. Lee, and they have grabbed a significant market share in the United States and elsewhere with the Thomas the Tank Engine licensed products.

Learning Curve is now merged with ERTL and Racing Champions. ERTL began in the 1950's by Fred Ertl, Sr. in Iowa. Racing Champions formed in 1989 specializing in die-cast NASCAR® cars. Racing Champions acquired the ERTL company in 1999. Racing Champions ERTL then acquired Learning Curve in Feb 2003, and in April 2003 changed their name to RC2 Corporation.
learning curve soder fuel
learning curve thomas Thomas track used to be known as "clickety clack" track because it had physical ridges molded into the track that created a "clickety clack" sound as the trains moved over the track. In 2003, however, Learning Curve switched to a new style track that is smooth and has the train rails burnt-in as a graphic. The new track  provides increased traction for battery powered engines. I suspect this was done as a cost savings, as it would seem the clickety clack track would be more expensive to tool and build.
learning curve catalog 1998 At left is a selection from the 1998 Learning Curve catalog, showing a few of the many engines and cars that were available. Some vehicles have been retired, but new ones are always coming out.


Lionel

Lionel, as many of you probably know, has been primarily in the business of electric trains. In recent years (starting in the 1990's, as far as I can tell), they began to license their name to several "wooden railroad" endeavors. These endeavors have included 1) the Little Lionel series, which were a set of small plastic trains; 2) the Great Railway Adventures, which included a book, cassette, and well-made metal-bodied motorized engines; and 3) more recently, the Maxim Lionel Heritage Series trains. A little more detail on each of these is provided below.

Lionel

Maxim Lionel Heritage Series: In 2006/2007, Maxim (see below) has licensed the Lionel name for a series of realistic looking trains. These have been available (on the US East Coast, anyway) in Kmart/Sears stores, though one of my local Sears stores has been out of stock since slightly before Christmas 2006.  Maxim Lionel

little lionel

The Little Lionel series was marketed through Lionel. These were almost all plastic, and were designed for the youngest toy train users. The Little Lionel Preschool Trains series were made of all plastic, as pictured to the left, and plastic track was also available. The trains fit the BRIO/Thomas track, and I have read that the Little Lionel plastic track does connect with BRIO/Thomas wooden track. Some of the products that were available included a Cityscape Set with an oval track, engine with cars, and city buildings, a Traveling Circus Set with animal cars, and others. I purchased a few of these at closeout, because Lionel offered a few sets that came with a nice story book. As compared to the other trains on this page, the Little Lionel series was not very inspiring. The Little Lionel series is no longer available.

Around the late 1990's, Learning Curve had licensed the Lionel name to create the Great Railway Adventures Series. This series offered realistic looking engines, cars, and even realistic plastic track that can be used along with other manufacturer's wooden track using adapters that came with the Great Railway Adventure sets.

The trains are well built; the battery powered engines feel massive and have excellent power. One good feature of the engines is that when turned off, they are in a freewheeling mode so toddlers aren't grinding gears when pushing the engines by hand. The line expanded greatly for a while to include light up caboose cars, passenger cars, coal cars with sound, a drawbridge, and more.

The locomotives were available singly, or in story packs that include the engine, a storybook featuring the engine, and an audio tape narration of the story. These were very well done. 

The downsides of most of these trains was the requirement for batteries. This was supposed to be one of the things you get away from by getting a wooden train set over an electric set! Oh well. I found that my boys enjoyed both the battery trains and the manual trains at different times, with the manual trains having the edge most of the time.

Lionel Mogul


ERTL Hometown Roadway

ERTL has been in the die-cast toy vehicle market for over 50 years. They merged with Racing Champions in 1999, and then with Learning Curve in 2003, and is now a part of RC Corp (see above). ERTL has also been associated with Thomas the Tank Engine (TM) for many years, and produced several die-cast sets (some with the Shining Time Station logo), and a few miniature pocket sized sets (see specific article on Thomas sets). Just before the merger, ERTL had their own Hometown Roadway series, which features road track rather than train track. Rather than being grooved along both edges as a train track, the middle is smooth and designed for "city cars", not trains. I have included this product in the Wooden Railroads page because the track could be used for trains as well, or to add road features to your wooden train layout. These tracks would even be useful for those older die-cast trains that don't fit on the regular wooden train tracks.

Another unique feature of the Hometown Railway is that the buildings were businesses such as a Texaco Autowash, John Deere Barn, Pez Candy Factory, McDonald's Restaurant, and a Texaco Service Station, among others. The vehicles feature Harley-Davidson motorcycles, John Deere farm equipment, a Chevy Corvette, and a few other popular cars.

ERTL Hometown
ERTL Hometown Dodge RAM I purchased the Pez Candy Factory at a local TJ Maxx for only $7, which was a great buy. The quality is not as nice as BRIO/Thomas, but is quite acceptable. One reader (Donna K.) writes, "I've seen this and 'played' with it on display in a Zany Brainy store. The quality is NOT on par with Thomas/Brio stuff. The track is made of a softer wood with the routing not very smoothly done. (It's also nearly on par price-wise, so I don't see the incentive to jump from Thomas roadway to Ertl except to get Ertl's commercial roadway buildings and their vehicles)." She also feels that the buildings are over-priced, and felt the design was "almost primitive, and not very well engineered for little hands, and the graphics are mediocre." Of course, some of these views are subjective, as many people like the simple construction as found in Heros, T.C. Timber, and older BRIO lines. Also, another reader, Jay, states that the cars chip paint easily and are not as good in quality. However, he adds that they do have some unique products not available elsewhere, such as John Deere and a realistic police car.

Contact Information:

Racing Champions Ertl
Highways 136 & 20
Dyersville, IA 52040-0500
Internet:
http://www.ertltoys.com 

ERTL Hometown track

TootsieToy Logo

Tootsietoy is a division of the Strombecker Corp. It began in 1876 as the National Laundry Journal trade paper, published by the Dowst Brothers Company. Samuel Dowst discovered the Meganthaler Lintotype machine that could mass-produce die-cast products at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and in 1906 they developed the first Tootsietoy, a die-cast Model T Ford named after founder's Charles O. Dowst's granddaughter, Tootsie. These die-cast vehicles were found in many dime stores through the subsequent years. The last all-metal car was produced in 1969.

Tootsietoy/Strombecker through the years have offered various character train sets featuring wooden track. Some years ago, I purchased some Sesame Street trains at Toys'R Us. Around 2004, I noticed a similar set featuring Winnie the Pooh is available. The Sesame Street set won the Dr. Toy (http://www.drtoy.com) 100 best children products award in 1995.

TootsieToy

Tootsie Toy Set

These sets present a less expensive alternative to the sets mentioned above, and are a good first choice especially if your child likes the character featured. I'm not sure where to find the set as I haven't seen one in my travels in many years, but many stores carry Tootsietoy products so you may find one locally. If the quality of the Pooh set is the same as the Sesame Street set, I would rate it on par with the Maxim products.

Note: As of Nov 2006, I haven't found any current wooden train products by TootsieToy.

Contact information:

Strombecker Corporation, Tootsietoy
600 N. Pulaski Road
Chicago, IL 60624-1083
USA
Customer Service 1-800-944-TOYS
Internet: http://www.tootsietoy.com

Lights, Camera, Interaction!, Inc.: Puzzle World 

Lights, Camera, Interaction! is known for making high quality wooden puzzles. For a while in the late 90's, they offered a set of train track "puzzle" pieces, that could be arranged in almost any pattern. The puzzle pieces are wooden and laser cut to fit the Learning Curve Thomas and BRIO type trains. Some of the sets included a 42 piece "Ramblin' Railway" set ($40) with a bridge and a two piece wooden train, and the "Big City Adventure" 100 piece set ($100) featuring buildings, road pieces, track pieces, and more. Also available were buildings, "land" pieces, bridges, and other accessories. The pieces could be connected with BRIO and Thomas track at the ground level. Of course, taller wooden trains may not fit under the bridges.

As of July 2003, this product seems to be discontinued. They used to be available at Imaginarium, but I have not seen the products on Amazon.com or at Toy-R-Us.

Contact Information:

LIGHTS, CAMERA, INTERACTION!, INC.
P. O. Box 590
Westport, CT 06881
Tel: (203) 846-8046 Fax: (203) 846-8128
I could not locate an Internet address
lights camera interaction
Note: it seems that the company "Melissa and Doug" may have taken over some of the Lights, Camera, Interaction!, Inc.'s products.
Contact: http://www.melissaanddoug.com


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