|Historical Trains 1
|Historical Page 2
compiled by Doug Atkinson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Update: May 2016. Updated contact information; added Tomy's Chuggington line;
All prices mentioned are US$. Please note that I do not sell anything at this site, this is just for your information!
There are quite a few suppliers of wooden train sets, including many "no-name" import sets from China and elsewhere. At first look, most of the wooden train sets are expensive. I say this from the perspective of the initial sticker shock when I first saw the prices, and from similar expressions I have seen/heard from other parents when first finding out how much they cost. Having said this, the value you get for your dollar is well spent . Wooden trains are a toy you can expect to hand down to your grandchildren when the time comes. The quality and lasting playability of wooden trains is excellent, and several companies offer lifetime warranties. Also, when you start to compare prices, you find that most of the better train sets cost about the same, and there seem to be some efforts recently to produce even more inexpensive starter sets.
There are other sets not listed here; for example, some chain stores carry their own brand of wooden trains, such as Target and Walmart. I have also seen sets by a company called "Battat", though I haven't located any official information on them.
BRIO is a long-time manufacturer of wooden train sets. BRIO started in 1884 by the "BRothers Ivarsson of Osby", Sweden. They specialized in wooden toys, and in 1957, began producing a miniature wooden railway system. Peter Reynolds began importing BRIO trains into the United States in 1977, and continued to run the U.S. distribution until 2002, when he left to form The Little3 Toy Company. BRIO trains and tracks are manufactured in Sweden and China and are very high quality products. Their train sets have become the standard that most other manufacturers compare themselves to.
In June of 2006, K'NEX Industries became the exclusive distributor of BRIO products in the Unites States. Some of you parents may know K'NEX through their unique building block toys that were highly popular a few years ago.
This arrangement seems to have changed at some point over these past 10 years, as I do not see a reference to BRIO at the current K'NEX website (as of May 2016), and there is now a Brio USA site.
BRIO advertising states that BRIO wooden toys are made from beechwood and birch. The wood is free from insecticides and toxic chemicals, and are selected to be free from knots and cracks. All wood is kiln-dried to retain its natural color and finish. BRIO uses paint rather than decals for the train colors (decals are used for logos, etc.), and some trains receive up to 60 coats of non-toxic paint to resist chipping. BRIO warranties all manufacturing defects for as long as you own the toy.
In the past, BRIO trains were fairly plain looking, but in the 1990's (perhaps due to competition from Learning Curve?) they began to expand their lines to include "famous" characters, such as Bob the Builder, Curious George, Richard Scarry, and others. You'll have to check current catalogs for current availability of any of these characters, as many of them were produced for only limited runs. One of the features I like about BRIO is that they also offer many little people that can fit inside the trains, which helps expand the play beyond the tracks.
In the United States, the availability of the BRIO line
to have really dropped off in the last few years (Mid
2000's). I had begun to see
Chinese import versions of BRIO available in stores like
with the demise of many of the specialty toy stores, the
seems to have largely vanished with them. On the US K'NEX
site only a
few items in each category can be
found. For example, under "sets", only a simple circle set
is for sale
(this is as of Oct 2009) and there is only one train under
On the Swedish BRIO site, there are still quite a few
sets, bridges, and track to be found, so it seems to be
alive and well
in Europe, at least. New sets for BRIO include a line of
characters (Mickey Mouse) and a new "Network" line of
characters, that go along with a cartoon. The cartoon is
of a series of
characters that live inside a computer, and have to combat
characters that are always trying to mess things up.
As of May 2016, BRIO seems to be alive and well again as
I have seen them in local stores, and their USA website is
up and vibrant! This is good news for wooden train fans.
My experience with BRIO trains and track has been that
they are very
well made, but this was in the pre-Chinese manufacturing
Chinese trains that I saw in K-Mart still looked good, but
seen them outside of the packaging so I can't say for
BRIO AB/BRIO Toy
Alert! Back in 2007 there was a recall of some Thomas Trains due to excessive lead in the paint. These trains were made from Jan 2005 - June 2007, so use caution if you are buying used Thomas Trains.
Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway has made a few manufacturer/distributor changes through the years. They started out with Learning Curve, and then moved to RC2/Ertl around 2003. At some point they seemed to move under the Tomy banner, and now are under Mattel and Fisher-Price!
|When I first began buying trains for my
two sons and my daughter, the Thomas trains won out in my mind over the
BRIO trains simply because they had more character to them. However,
around that same time, BRIO began expanding their line and also got
into character-related trains. While Thomas characters are the trains
themselves, BRIO combined licensed characters such as Mikey Mouse with
similarly themed train sets.
The wooden Thomas Trains by Learning Curve are manufactured in China. The quality is very good and Learning Curve provides a lifetime warranty. The track is made of maple hardwoods.
|Another popular product by RC2
is the Take Along Thomas
Friends™ series. These are die-cast trains (similar to the old
ERTL die-cast Thomas) that operate on plastic track. They are smaller
in width than the wooden Thomas trains, and DO NOT work on the wooden
railway track. I only mention them here because the two product lines
are sometimes confused.
Personally, I like the wooden railsets better because of the design that goes into setting up the various track layouts. Also, you can get compatible track and trains from a variety of companies as related on these pages. However, if your space is very cramped, you can probably set up the plastic track in a smaller space.
P.O.Box 620978 Middleton, WI 53562-0978
Read a more specific article covering Thomas The Tank Engine systems, including ERTL, TOMY, etc..
I was real excited to learn of an American made product offering "realistic" trains at prices comparable to the BRIO and Learning Curve products. The Whittle Shortline Railroad company is located in Missouri and their massive manufacturing plant started not too long ago out of a garage! They have now expanded their facilities, and also sell BRIO and RC2/Learning Curve trains in addition to their own designs. Their trains and track are US made and most of the trains are modeled after real US locomotive and cars. The prices are comparable to the BRIO and Thomas lines, and a few complete sets are available. They also offer track and a nice roundhouse.
The trains are all American-made out of reforested birch hardwood and designed to outlast a childhood. Whittle Shortline RR makes steam engines, tenders, diesel engines, box cars, hoppers, tank cars, and cabooses, all in a variety of paint patterns such as Southern Pacific, New York Central, Kansas City Southern, Amtrak, SEPTA, NJ Transit, and so forth. They also offer unique 30-inch diameter curved track, along with some bridges and buildings.
WSRR offers a full 30 day guarantee. In some cases, Whittle Shortline RR may even buy back your older railcar if you decide you no longer want it. Some cars are considered "collectibles", and you can call WSRR to see if they would consider buying back yours!
We have purchased one non-realistic train from Whittle Shortline RR; they offered a pink train, which was my daughter's favorite color. The quality is very good, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend their products.
|Whittle Shortline Railroad began with humble beginnings in the garage of Mike Whitworth. He had started making trains for family and friends, and by 1997 started supplying trains to some local retailers. By 1999, the business had grown too large to continue working out of the family garage, and they moved into the old Frisco Hotel, which coincidentally had been built in 1880 for the Frisco Railroad crews! In 2005, the store remains in the hotel, but most of the production (and a 2nd store!) has moved to Louisiana, Missouri.
Whittle Shortline Railroad can be contacted at: , , .
Mega Diesel- Works on the Thomas wooden track (won´t climb steep hills), and BIG - 8" x 2 3/8" x 1 5/16"
Imaginarium used to have their own brick and mortar stores. As of 2004, the separate stores have closed, and the products have been absorbed into Toys-R-Us stores. The Imaginarium line of trains were released November 2001, and a selection of products can be found at Toys-R-Us stores.
The Imaginarium line offers some unique "action buildings" made of plastic and wood. Some of the items include a fire station with fire truck, a railway train with cargo truck, a railway lifting bridge, and a train station with car. The trains, buildings, and accessories are nicely detailed. They do not seem to be quite the high quality of the BRIO/Thomas products, but may be worth your consideration as an add on feature.
See your local Imaginarium or Toys-R-Us store.
(Photo courtesy Dave Pecota)
Imaginarium set recently (2009) on sale at Toys-R-Us
|Tomy Chuggington Wooden Railway
From the website: "Chuggington Wooden Railway combines the classic charm of wooden train play with the modern and exciting world of Chuggington. With tons of collectible wooden engines, unique "2-in-1" buildings and compatibility with other wooden train systems, your child will enjoy hours of imaginative, developmental play."
Heros is a German Company which began over 100 years ago in 1903, starting with the production of wooden toys. The current HEROS-assortment started in the 1950's/1960's and has been expanding ever since. The Heros Wooden Railway range started in the 1980's, after starting with the use of plastic track. Their main headquarters with its administration and production facilities are located in the outskirts of the renown Bavarian Forest climatic health resort of Lam, near the Czech border.
Heros trains look very much like the old BRIO line, featuring plain wooden trains using bright primary colors. A small pamphlet I obtained with a set of wooden blocks showed only two train sets, but Abacus Toys of New Zealand lists other train pieces that are available on their website. The Deluxe Train Set, for example, features an engine with four cars, one automobile, three trees, eight buildings, a signal, and track featuring an elevated trestle and a loading dock.
I have not located any Heros
trains locally, though
occasionally they appear in a discount shop called "Tuesday
On the Internet, Heros trains can be found at Abacus
Toys from New
Zealand, and you can do a search for German locations by looking up
and Heros in a search engine.
Wooden Toys Factory
Lohberger Straße 2
Phone: 0 99 43 / 94 05-0 Fax: 0 99 43 / 33 48
Dialing code for Germany: ++49
Click Image to see a huge closeup!
(use your back button to return here)
The Maxim line is relatively inexpensive, and has been expanding to feature some unique sets. They offer a Mountain Set with a plastic mountain (about $70) and a Western Set with Timber Logs (Lincoln Log® type) buildings. They feature trains with little people, such as a construction car and worker, a school bus, and a tractor with farmer. Some of the import sets I have seen on e-Bay and elsewhere appear to be Maxim sets even though the sellers don't say who the manufacturer is.
Their products are carried by many dealers, including KB Toy and Hobby, Target, Sam's Club, and many of the websites listed on the links page.
I have some older Tumble Tree Woods products and I would rate them as good, especially for the price. The Maxim sets probably make a good choice for those starting on a budget, perhaps with a few BRIO or Thomas trains added for character.
For 2006, Maxim introduced the Lionel Heritage
Series (see left and above), which is
a series of classic, realistic train designs, such as a Pennsylvania
Steam Engine with Sound, and a NY Central Passenger Car.
Their line is constantly changing!
Eichhorn is a German manufacturer of good quality economic trains. I hadn't heard of Eichhorn Trains until I visited the Squirrel Tracks site (the Eichhorn squirrel mascot is where they derived their name). I have not yet seen Eichhorn Trains, but from the photos I've seen they look to be decent. They feature wooden wheels rather than plastic wheels, and have color coded magnets so you always know which way the cars connect. They are similar to the older BRIO trains in appearance, and they have a few modern looking trains as well.
is a relative newcomer to the United States, but I have seen additional
companies adding Eichhorn trains, tracks, and accessories to their
Eichhorn has recently added some characters much like the BRIO line, and features some flexible track much like the Nilo Flexatrack pictured below (near the bottom of this page)
At the bottom in the photo on the right is a unique product: a remote control train! This adds some playability to the battery driven trains that isn't available from anyone else (that I know of).
photo at left shows an older style Eichhorn train along with some
plastic track. The plastic even looks wood-grained, and fits the other
wooden tracks as featured on these pages.
However, most of the track provided by Eichhorn is of the more traditional wooden variety!
Safari Ltd. specializes in realistic animal toys, but they have also produced a line of animal trains that fit the BRIO/Thomas style track system. The engine looks like an animal (either a dinosaur, an alligator, or a frog), and a whole series of cage cars are available, each with a rubber animal inside. The reason they are called the AlphaZoo Express, is that the entire alphabet is (or was) available. Each "letter" car features an animal whose name starts (or in the case of the lynX, contains) the appropriate letter of the alphabet. What is the animal for "Q", you ask? Why the Queen Butterfly, of course! The animals are very realistic looking, since the making of rubber animals is Safari Ltd's specialty.
The trains fit BRIO/Thomas track, though some of the animals may stick up too far to fit under certain bridges or underpasses.
There used to be a few train
packs available (no track).
Reader Jay states that they have lasted over 2 years with his boys, so that proves they are well made!
As of Oct 2010, it seems these trains are no longer available,
as I don't find any reference to them on the company website.
Ltd. Corporate Headquarters
Maple Landmark is a small company of about 30 people and is located in Middlebury, VT (USA). It was started by Mike Rainville back in 1979. In 1993, Maple Landmark re-tooled their NameTrains to make them compatible with the BRIO/Thomas track systems (note: NameTrains are too tall to fit under bridges!). They also produce a unique block/wooden track combination called Railblox. The NameTrains come in "carved" letters in color or plain, or a more simple painted letter train set known as TimberToots(TM).
All Maple Landmark trains are made in the United States of America.
Name Trains allow you to purchase a train set that spells out your child's name, for example, and the cars would work on BRIO/Thomas track. You could even purchase the entire alphabet for creative word games.
Railblox are wooden block pieces and railroad track designed to be used together to combine old-time block building with wooden railroad play. The additional blocks allow you to create bridges, passes, and trackside buildings as your imagination allows. This is a unique product that really lets your children use their imagination for building. (As of 2007, Railblox have been discontinued)
Landmark products are
made from hard maple (thus the name!).
The Maple Landmark track is grooved on both sides for left/right
compatibility, and also etched for a realistic train track look.
The costs are comparable with the other high end systems such as BRIO and T.C. Timber, (for example, an oval track set lists for $39), and the quality appears to be very good. I don't have any personal experience with the Maple Landmark sets, although everything I have heard from others about their quality has been excellent.
|Micki Leksaker, Sweden
|Micki Leksaker is a family-owned company that
in 1944 with the introduction of the first Micki wooden
They currently (2007) have 55 employees, and are located in Gemla,
Sweden. Along with other toys, they also make
toy wooden train
sets. The trains are of the simplistic
design such as Haba and Heros trains. One of the unique features of the
Micki trains are that all the track pieces have only female cutouts,
use small plastic connectors to join the tracks
(see images). If you can find a retailer, these
could be very
helpful in filling those gaps in your own wooden track setups! Of
course, since I don't have any, I haven't verified that they actually
fit the other tracks from Brio, Learning Curve, and so forth, but they
appear to be compatible.
Note: Micki Leksaker is the manufacturer of the train sets found in IKEA stores, which may be the only Micki trains you will find in the United States. (see below)
The trains are listed under "Tuta och kör" on their website.
MICKI LEKSAKER AB
360 32 GEMLA
TELEFON: 0470 - 70 41 50
FAX: 0470 - 673 15
IKEA offers an inexpensive wooden railroad system. The prices are really low, and I've received a few good comments about the sets, though I've also read they are not as high a quality as the Thomas/BRIO sets. I've also been told that the sets use plastic connectors much like the Dixieland sets on the main wooden railroads page. Although this makes for danger for small children who might swallow them, it is great for flexibility. The Ikea website states the trains are made from solid beech wood, and use plastic wheels. They are known as part of the "LILLABO" toy series.
The IKEA trains are manufactured by Micki Leksaker (above).
(text by Dave Pecota)
Early Learning Centre (ELC) was founded in
Most ELC products, including their wood trains and track, are designed “in-house” by ELC staff … but the manufacturing is done by ELC suppliers and partners all over the world. The information on the ELC website emphasizes their dedication to child safety in the design and manufacture of their toys.
The train to the right depicts a subway train used in the London Underground. The train uses color-coded magnetic couplers, articulating wheel trucks and has “ELC” stamped on the large silver wheel hubs. The paint colors are quite striking and faithfully capture the modern Underground paint scheme. This particular train was sent overseas in just a packing envelope and has no paint loss or chips; so it appears ELC products are very durable!
ELC "Wooden World" Engine
KidKraft started in 1968 as a manufacturer and distributor of wooden toys and furniture. They do not sell retail. Kidkraft is an American company, but the manufacturing is done overseas.
The KidKraft train line is known as Playkraft, and are sold in Target stores in the USA under the name Circo. You can click the "buy online" links at the manufactures website to find sites that sell the trains on the Internet.
& Toy Co.
Choo Choo Track & Toy Co. is a small manufacturer of Thomas/BRIO compatible track and other products. They started in 1999, and products include maple track, accessory buildings including a nice roundhouse, a unique stackable display case system "Create-A-Case", and under-the-bed train tables. They also sell Thomas, Whittle Shortline Railroad train sets, and Tomy products.
Choo Choo Track & Toy Co. Engine House
Choo Choo Track & Toy Co.
Unique 6 Door Roundhouse!
BigJigs Toys Ltd
Bigjigs Toys Ltd is another supplier from the U.K. They feature a full line of trains called Bigjigs Rail. It features trains, track, and complete sets for the wooden train customer. I don't know much about the company history, but their on-line presence appears to have started around early 2008.
I don't think Bigjigs Rail is available in the USA (as of Oct 2009)
Bigjigs Toys Ltd
West Park Farm Industrial Estate
Mesko Toys manufactures wooden train track and accessories, often using "tree-cycled" wood that would otherwise go to waste. They offer some unique track pieces not seen elsewhere.
Finally, a commercial source for female-to-female track joints! (see image below)
1983 Craigin Dr
Mesko 3 Lane Curved Station
Various Mesko Train Track Bumpers and Adapters
Mesko 3 Lane Curve
Symplo has developed a unique square track system called HYBO© that has standard-size wooden track cutouts so that it can be used along with or instead of the standard wooden railway. The block style makes it sturdy and likely less likely to be knocked around like the standard track.
Symplo is an Italian Company, and can be found at:
DazyUSA makes an essential product for your wooden train sets. It is a plastic connector that helps keep track pieces together in your BRIO, Thomas or compatible layout. My sons sometimes knock over their bridge connections while playing, and Suretrack can help keep the whole thing from falling apart when this happens. Suretrack is a simple clip that fits underneath the wooden track pieces to hold joints together. This is especially useful on bridges and elevated tracks. The DazyUSA site states the clips work with BRIO, Learning Curve, Playskool, and Sesame Street railways. They are not, unfortunately, compatible with T.C. Timber track. A box of 14 clips costs about $12.50 or less. I have bought some of these, and find them very useful, especially for holding bridges up! Most of the websites that sell wooden train sets will also offer SureTrack.
|Aluminum Train Track
Phil faced the problem of two female connectors on his children's train set one day, and no way to connect them. His wife, Amanda, asked him why he didn't just make a connector himself. He did so, and they later decided to offer them on e-Bay for others to purchase.
They are in Great Britain, so the cost in the U.S. is a bit high, but they are certainly worth taking a look!
e-Bay seller name is: kestag34
(photo courtesy Amanda & Phil)
Note: as of Oct 2009, there were no products for sale
Train Track Connectors
At one time a resourceful person, e-Bay seller name AAASR, had produced a similar product but all in wood. I imagine these were less durable than aluminum, but were also less expensive.
While this product no longer seems to be on e-Bay, you may be able to find a suitable woodworker who could make these for you.
So, where do you play? We usually set up on the floor, but in our small house that always means stepping over all the track and the risk of breaking something as we maneuver through the house! Many people have opted for using a train table, so they can set up the track in a semi-permanent fashion. In some ways, this might have been good for us. While I've always enjoyed making the track setups the most, my children usually would have rather gotten right into the play. Having a table with a setup available all the time certainly allows for playing trains at a moments notice.
Tables can be as simple as a large coffee table or a card table, but specialized tables have been made that have raised edges to keep all the playing pieces on the table. Many tables also feature storage area underneath to keep all the extra pieces tidy. Train tables are made by many of the train manufacturers such as Maxim (like the one pictured here), Imaginarium, and Learning Curve, to name a few. Also, see the Train Links pages for some links to table manufacturers and table plans (both free and for sale).
Photo of a Maxim Train Table
Own Trains and
Cost of trains too high? Can't find that particular train car you want? Why not make your own? Whittle Shortline Railroad started in their garage, and I'm sure many others have gone the do-it-yourself route. Following are a few sites with information on crafting your own trains and track.
Brian K. Donnelly has
extensive website featuring all
information on making your own track, play table, and even your own
cars. See the photo at right to see Brian at work! Check it
out at: http://www.bscandm.com/trains/
Another nice site with information on making your own trains is Hoogerland National Railways. The author, Todd Hoogerland, decided to make his own trains after seeing the high cost of commercial trains, and wanting some more realistic designs. He provides lots of photos, some basic track dimensions, and plans for a Steam Locomotive, as well as lots of photos of his other trains he has made. See: http://pw1.netcom.com/~thoog/hnr/hnr.htmlNEW! I found reference to this site at Dave Barber's site (above):
Thomas D. Stephenson's WTrak site provides highly detailed plans and layouts for narrow wood railway tables and shelves. Highly detailed work and books available with all the details. http://wtrak.org
So, you've got lots of track, but don't know how to lay it all out? Check out the sites on the Train Links pages for several Internet sites that provide sample track layouts.
(image at right courtesy of Maxim Enterprise and SquirrelTracks)
Wooden Railroad DVDs
Of course, the most famous wooden train DVDs are the Thomas the Tank Engine series. These are available almost everywhere, so I don't need to say much about them here.
A unique DVD is The Busy Little Engine (and his friend, Pig). It is designed for the very young (say, 3-5 years) and is presented in a gentle style. It features ray-traced images of toy trains integrated over real landscapes, and with a humorous dialog by Pig (a handheld puppet). My children enjoyed it!
More information, including movie clips, can be found at:
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