While wooden toys have been around for centuries, the wooden toy train market didn't develop until the 1930s. If you are a train aficionado or have a child who is a "choo-choo" fan, there is a plethora of projects you can undertake to enhance your enjoyment that range from collecting to building.
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Collect Classic Wood Trains
If you like trains and you like to collect, a classic wooden train collection could make a nice addition to your den or hobby room. Skaneateles Handicrafters is credited with being the first wooden train manufacturer, beginning in the mid-1930s in Skaneateles, N.Y. The BRIO company from Sweden started building wooden toys in the late 19th century, but didn't start making wooden trains until 1957. California-based Jack-Built Snap Trains entered the market in the 1950s as well. They were one of the first companies to make wooden train accessories such as water towers, tunnels, trestles and signage. Many of Jack-Built trains found their way into schools because of their durability. Entire vintage wooden train sets can be found for between £13 and £81. If they have the original packaging and paperwork, you can add another £6 to £32 to the value.
Build Your Own Train
If you have woodworking skills, instead of buying a factory-made wooden train set, consider building your own. You'll need some balsa wood or basswood blocks, wooden wheels, glue, paints and brushes, sandpaper, wooden sheets, a saw, rivets, eye screws, pliers and a drill. You can make an entire train set or just build your favourite type of train car such as a locomotive, coach, coal car or flatbed. There are myriad free plans for building your own wooden trains available online.
Create Elaborate Layouts and Designs
Just because you are working with wooden trains doesn't mean you can't create a layout as elaborate as those used with electric HO-scale model trains. Find a piece of plywood (as large as you want your display to be) on which to construct your layout. There are myriad layout designs available online for wooden trains that incorporate figure-8 and pretzel-shaped track configurations, bridges and tunnels. You can create an urban or countryside environment using prefab buildings and trees or you can make your own. Create buildings and tunnels from old shoe boxes, milk cartons, cereal boxes -- whatever your imagination dreams up. Paint them to resemble rail stations, skyscrapers and tunnels with stone facades.
'Peanuts' Train Collection Project
If you are a fan of the "Peanuts" comic strip featuring Good Ol' Charlie Brown, consider starting a collection of the Bradford Exchange's heirloom wooden train set featuring the entire "Peanuts" gang. There are two different sets available -- a Christmas-themed set and a New York Yankees-theme set. The starter sets come with a locomotive and a tender car along with hand-carved figurines of the "Peanuts" characters such as Lucy, Linus, Snoopy, Sally and, of course, Charlie. A new train car with more characters is released each year, so the project can last a lifetime and become a heirloom gift that can be passed down to family members.
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