Category Archives: Holiday Trains

Holiday Gift Guide for Railroad Modelers

With the holidays upon us it’s time to start thinking about appropriate gifts. While it’s always the most fun to give a gift that will be appreciated, treasured or used regularly, gifts for model railroaders, or any hobbyist for that matter, can be tricky. If you’re not a train modeler or enthusiast it can be especially challenging, so if you would like to save a lot of time, consider a Walthers gift certificate, or to put more effort into the giving experience here are some tips to make gift giving for your favorite railroader a rewarding experience.

To begin with, make an effort to observe where your gift recipient’s interests lay within the hobby. Are they getting, or did they just get started with a train set? Do they only set up their train around the tree at Christmas? Do they have a small layout? Do they have a large model railroad empire? Is there a specific railroad, location or era (steam locos, diesel, modern/current era, somewhere in the middle) he or she is interested in? Do they only collect models? Finally, and this one is very important, what scale trains do they have interest in? Asking some questions upfront can go a long way towards holiday success.

Starting out – Holiday gifts for beginners

A train around the Christmas tree, winding its way through a Christmas village is a long standing tradition that dates back to the 1800s. It’s also a fun part of decorating a Christmas tree and it’s where many kids see their first toy train set! As a starting point for purchasing a train set check out the Walthers Holiday Gift Guide. This selection of kids’ sets, starter sets as well as train-only sets offers trains in all scales covering a variety of interests. Not sure of some of the features and benefits of the sets? Check out the Train Set advisor for some tips and information about train sets.

Train sets are also the most common way people get started in the hobby. They provide the basics – a train, track, power pack and perhaps some accessory buildings and scenery. Often, interest in model trains starts with toy trains at the holidays. Thinking of giving a train set as the beginning of a layout or long-term hobby? Make sure the train set is compatible with supporting products like extra locomotives, cars, track, buildings and scenery.

Does your railroader already have some trains?

Beginning hobbyists and those building their first layout are relatively easy to buy for since they don’t yet have a lot of materials for their railroads. They already have some trains or know they want something more than a starter set. Extra locos, cars, track, vehicles as well as scenery materials and other accessories are all fun gifts. If you’re looking for these add-ons, the MOST important thing is to find out the scale of trains they already have – trains of the wrong size simply won’t work.

Again, train-only sets are a great option since they provide extra locomotives and cars without the track. Another great choice for those who have interests beyond their train set is a how-to book about various modeling subjects. There is no end to the options for reading about trains.

Beyond beginners

So, your favorite modeler has been into trains for a while. Model railroaders who are past the beginning stage have already developed an interest in the hobby. Do they keep their trains set up all year long – a permanent layout? By now they know what they want or need. If not, are they in a train club that has a layout where they run their trains?

As far as gifts go, again, choosing the correct scale is very important. If they are already building a layout perhaps scenery, details and other accessories will be appreciated. Of course, more trains always make great model railroad gifts. Model railroaders in this group will also tend to be replicating railroads from specific parts of the country or even road names, locations, and periods in time.

Longtime modelers

Seasoned model railroaders typically know exactly what they need for their collection, layout or other railroad interest. Chances are they may have even refined their interests to a specific kind of train, era, location or railroad name. The train-only sets, Christmas-themed items and accessories are a whimsical way to give a dyed-in-the-wool model railroader a gift. If you know their specific railroad interests there are plenty of books about real railroads.

Not a modeler, just likes trains?

Anything train related is a sure bet for the train lover on your list. They enjoy real railroads, seasonal trains, railroad themes, history and motifs, but may not have model trains. Books, puzzles, calendars and more are shown on our Books, Videos and Railroadiana pages. Anything train related is a sure bet for the train lover on your list.

Something for everybody

Finally, there are some gifts that all train enthusiasts will like. The Walthers 2018 Reference Book is the source for all kinds of HO, N and Z Scale trains, buildings, vehicles and accessories. But, thousands of all-scale products such as adhesives, tools, scenery materials and scratch building supplies usable in any modeling scale as well as for some crafts and diorama projects are also shown. Still unsure of their interests? Walthers also offers gift certificates usable for anything we make or sell.

So you see, there are literally millions of options when buying for the model railroader on your list, visit your local hobby shop, go to a model railroad show, or to buy the gift that makes their holiday special.

The Train Under Your Tree – Toy Trains Make Great Gifts

Walthers Toy Trains - Holiday Trains
Remember that magical Christmas morning you came downstairs to find your very first train set? For many of us, the holidays still officially begin only after our trains are up and running under the tree! Model trains and Christmas have gone together like red and green for generations, and there’s a fascinating story of how it all came to be.

Setting up a Nativity scene started one Christmas Eve in 1223, and was one of many Christmas traditions that came to us from Europe that are still popular today. Although these started simply, by the mid-1800s some expanded into what we’d recognize as a Christmas themed village, including hand-made replicas of homes and farms. Trains were an essential part of daily life by this time and along with wooden and cast iron toys were soon added to these scenes. Things really got moving with the introduction of affordable wind-up engines (Bill Walthers first train was actually a wind-up locomotive received as a boyhood Christmas gift in 1899) running on a circle of tracks that were just the right size and shape to fit under a tree. Märklin wowed the world with the first train sets in 1891 that included everything needed to get started, but also introduced the idea of future expansion by adding more cars, locomotives, track, and buildings.

In 1901, Joshua Lionel Cowen unveiled his first electrically powered model train, not as a toy, but as a display piece for store windows. At least that was the idea until one of his clients suddenly ordered six of them – customers came in demanding to buy the train instead of his other merchandise – and a year later, Lionel was in the toy train business to stay.

Given the size of motors at the time these early electric model trains tended to be pretty big, roughly the size of today’s G Scale models, in an era when rooms in most homes were rather small. Many homes of the time did have a parlor, used only on Sundays or special occasions and playtime was usually limited to weekends as well. As toy trains were pretty easily combined with other holiday décor and added a lot of excitement, mom and dad could usually be persuaded to allow them to remain set up until the holiday celebrations were over.

Demand for trains at Christmas would soon lead to another tradition, department store display layouts. The shopping malls of their day, these flagships of the downtown business district pulled out all the stops for Christmas, especially in the postwar years. Lionel was especially persuasive at getting stores to showcase new train sets and accessories on huge operating layouts, and also ran colorful magazine and newspaper ads suggesting model trains as gifts, prominently displayed under a very finely decorated Christmas tree….

That timeless image cemented the relationship of model trains with the holidays, but there were more and more folks taking down the tree but not the trains at the end of the holiday season. As model railroading gained more popularity, many of the innovations seen on toy trains found their way into scale models. Things gradually came full circle as the larger toy-makers moved on to other products, and smaller firms catering to model railroading took over production of model train sets.

There’s no better way to rekindle those feelings and memories or start making new ones than with a holiday train set of your own. While the model trains themselves may have changed, you’ll find the magic of model railroading is still the same.