Antique Model Train Buying Guide

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Antique Model Train Buying Guide

Model trains have long been popular, among modellers and collectors. Many different types of train are available, from models powered by electrical rails, to those featuring small functioning steam engines. Model trains are also available in a number of different sizes, suiting them more for different situations.

The hobby has a long history, and a range of antique models are available, and can include anything from simple wooden toys to elaborately detailed scale models based on real engines. A wide variety of antique model trains can be found on eBay.

Model Train Scales

A key factor in buying an antique model train is the scale of the model. This can have an impact on the accessories available for the model, as well as where it should be used. There are a number of commonly available scales for model trains.

N Scales

The N scale is perhaps one of the most popular model train scales, and collectors of this size will be able to choose from an enormous range of engines, accessories and scenery. The N scale takes its name from the fact that many of the models measure at around nine millimetres long. Highly suited to indoor use, N scale trains are a popular choice among collectors, whether ready to run models, or kits that require assembly, are desired. These models often feature a good level of detail, and due to their longstanding popularity, antique models at this scale are not as hard to obtain as other scales.

TT Scale

TT scale trains, often referred to as ‘table top’ or 3mm scale, are between1:120 and 1:100 in scale, often depending on the country of manufacture.  This scale is popular in Europe, particularly in Germany and throughout Eastern Europe. Some TT scale models have been produced in the UK. These trains bear similar characteristics to the N scale, and are most suitable for indoor use. Many antique models can be found at this scale, though they are not as widely available as other scales.

HO Scale

HO,, or ‘Half 0’ scale, is the most popular scale of model train all over the world, with the exception of the United Kingdom, and is around 1:87 in size.  Due to the widespread popularity of this scale, HO scale trains, accessories, scenery and track is widely available, and a huge choice of themes, ready to run and kit models are offered. The level of detail of HO scale models can vary greatly, depending on type and whether they are intended as toys or as collectable models.

OO Gauge

The OO gauge,, 1:76.2 in size, is the most popular scale of model in the United Kingdom. OO gauge models are widely available, as are the carriages, track and scenery for use with them. OO gauge models can often use HO scale track, offering an even wider choice of model track. Models available include highly detailed collectors models, simpler and more durable toys, as well as a wide selection of kit and ready to run models.

O Scale

The O scale of trains, often ranging from 1:43.5 to 1:48 in size depending on the country of manufacture, are another popular choice. Perhaps the most widely available type of model in the O scale are those designed for use as toys, which are often less intricately detailed, but more durable and suited to repeated use. Scale modellers have also taken an interest in the O scale, and are often differentiated between ‘hi-railers’, those who run the toy models on an oversized track, and scale modellers who run scale models on scale track.

G Scale

G scale covers a number of different sizes, and G scale models are most often used for outdoor sets and garden railways. Due to the fact that it is easier to make working steam engines in larger scale models, the G scale is where steam powered models become more widely available. These trains are often larger and more durable, able to withstand the rigours of outdoor use. This increased durability means that older, antique models may be easier to obtain than more fragile scales. 1 gauge models, of 1:32 scale, are of a similar size to G scale trains, and G scale trains can often use 1 gauge tracks. Sometimes, larger G scale models are available, and some can be large enough to be classed as ‘ride on’ trains. These are an unusual scale of model.

Power Sources

A number of different types of power source are commonly available, and can include very small, functioning steam engines to electric motors or even clockwork.

  • Clockwork power is one of the oldest methods of powering a model train, and many of the older antique and vintage models available may use this method.  Some manufacturers produced stopping and slowing tracks for use with these models, which could then allow for station shops. These accessories can be difficult to obtain, and clockwork trains are often sought after collector’s items. Clockwork models are more commonly found in the O scale than others.
  • Steam, sometimes referred to as live steam, is another popular and longstanding power source used with model trains. Many older antique and vintage models will feature this power source, particularly those in the larger scales. These models can be more difficult and expensive to maintain and use than other types, requiring fuel to burn and heat the water to steam. More recent steam models use electricity to heat the water.
  • Many more recent models make the use of electricity for power, though antiques featuring earlier forms of this technology are also popular. Early electric models made use of the ‘third track’ system, whereby a skid placed under the model would make contact with an electrified central rail, powering the model. Other methods make the use of conductive wheels or overhead lines. Some early electric models used battery power, as many homes did not yet have access to electricity.

Kit or Ready to Run

Model trains are often divided into ready to run and kit models. The main difference between these models is that ready to run models arrive with much, and sometimes all, of the work required to make them operate completed, meaning they can be used immediately. Kit models, on the other hand, can require a great deal of time and effort to complete. Both built and un-built kit models are available on eBay, and many antique models may be available in built kit form.

Model Train Accessories

A wide range of accessories are available for use with model trains of various different sizes, power source, and both antique and modern model trains. Track is necessary to run a model train, and the right scale and gauge of track should be matched to the right model. Furthermore electric tracks will be needed to run electric trains. Flexible track is a good option for train sets which are intended to be permanent, such as garden railways. Carriages, often referred to as rolling stock,, are a widely popular option and can add a great deal to a model engine.

Another popular kind of accessory is scenery,, which can include, trees and shrubbery,, as well as buildings such as houses and stations, along with smaller pieces such as figures including pedestrians and animals, and smaller incidental details. Antique scenery can also be found for use with model trains. Steam models also have unique requirements, and can need fuel such as methylated spirit or fuel tablets to run. Cylinder oil is another useful accessory for steam powered models, and can help maintain the engine and keep it running smoothly.

How to Buy an Antique Model Train on eBay

  • A wide variety of model trains are available on eBay, including antique models featuring various scales and power sources. The full listing of available models can be found under Trains/Railway Models, under Collectables. Some steam models may also be found under Steam in the Toys &Games section. Results can be arranged by categories such as condition, price, manufacturer and scale. Auction and Buy it Now buying options are also available, offering flexibility in how an antique model train can be purchased.
  • Key specifications such as the scale and type of a model train are generally prominently displayed in the item listing, making it easy to quickly identify whether a model train meets any specific requirements. More detailed information about a particular model can be found on the item page, which also features information about the seller such as feedback ratings and item reviews. This ensures that a purchase can be made with confidence. If any further information is needed it is also possible on this page to ask the seller a question regarding the item.
  • If a specific antique model train is required, it may be easier and more effective to use the search function available at the top of every page. Searches can be made to return results from the entire site, or from within specific categories. Further information on using the search function is available on the Search Tips page.


Model trains have long been a popular hobby, and a wide range of antique models are available. These can include electric,, steam or clockwork models, and a range of scenery made to fit with different scales of model. It is easy to find an antique model train on eBay.

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