In an ocean of plastic toys, these wood trains seem to have an heirloom quality to them. They "transport" us to bygone eras and imaginary places. But at the same time, trains made in the 1940's, 50's and 60's are still "happy" to share track time with the contemporary trains of today.
From a collecting standpoint, most child and adult collectors probably focus on the Thomas & Friends series of trains and accessories. However, there are also dedicated collectors of BRIO, Skaneateles-Playskool and other wood train producers, as well.
My wooden train collecting journey began years ago on a snowy November afternoon, when I strolled into one of the department stores in our town to do some holiday shopping. While in the toy section, I noticed several Lionel wooden toy trains and track sets. I remembered how my son treasured his wooden trains more than a decade earlier.
So I bought a few of the engines to roll around on my computer desk, along with several of the train sets to donate to the "Toys for Tots" charity. On a whim, I "surfed" the internet, looking for historical data about wooden track trains. To my disappointment, I only found snippets of general historical information scattered amongst several websites. Nor could I find any substantive data about these trains in the many books about toys I glanced through in later months. My curiosity was piqued.
These little trains had been critically important to my son's early development. He suffered a stroke prior to birth, which left him mute and developmentally disabled. As a toddler, he seemed mesmerized by the TV adventures of Thomas the Train ... so my wife and I purchased several different wooden railway sets and a train table for him. He spent hours every day, endlessly pushing his trains around the track. In addition, he liked to watch videos about real trains ... watching them over and over and over again. It was his fascination with trains that provided us with an essential "tool" to focus his attention, assess his development and improve his fine motor skills.
It's been difficult to determine when company-made ready-to-fly toy airplanes first became available. Some model airplane kits were reportedly produced as early as 1910, and ads for ready-to-fly airplanes started appearing in magazines shortly after. However, most of these RTF airplanes were actually company-built versions of their complex kits ... and were VERY expensive. For example, the Ideal Model Aeroplane Co. (which ultimately became the Ideal Toy Co.) advertised airplane kits for $4 to $6. But, ready-to-fly versions of these airplanes sold for as much as $20, which was a good weekly working-class salary at the time.
My interest in aviation began at an early age ... when I was about 8 years old. This fascination with flying machines probably "took-off" as a result of the countless joyful hours I spent flying toy airplanes. I say "toy" airplanes ... not "model" airplanes ... because I lacked the building skills and patience necessary to construct those complicated stick & tissue kits. And I lacked enough money to buy gas-powered airplanes. My aircraft were the "ready-to-fly" (RTF) balsa wood gliders and rubber-powered airplanes that sold for as little as 5 cents in almost every dime-store and hobby shop in the 1950's and 60's.