model train set on track

Vintage Train Layouts: Pre-WWII through the 1970s

Creating layouts—small-scale worlds centered around toy trains and model railways—is a part of the hobby that grew right along with collecting the rolling stock itself. Following the disruptions of World War II, creating train layouts in basements, gardens, attics—anywhere enthusiasts had spare space in their homes—became a popular pastime. Discover more about the earliest days of train layout creation. 

Layout Building in the Pre-War Period 

In the early days of the 20th century, layouts were more often built in public spaces instead of in private homes. Families may have erected train sets under the Christmas tree each year, and model railroaders may have collected and built trains from kits, but it was costly to create full-blown layouts on one’s own—especially with electric trains. 

The 1930s saw the introduction of several new gauges, including HO, but World War II really ushered in the “era of the home train layout.” 

Layouts After WWII through the 1970s 

When the War was over, new manufacturing processes and materials completely changed model railroading—and layout creation along with it. No longer were toy and model trains primarily made from metal, but plastic, which made them more affordable to produce. And many new materials for scenery and accessories began to be produced and marketed, too. 

WWII also radically altered consumer attitudes, especially in the USA. Beginning in the 1950s, the distinction between toy trains marketed to children and scale model railroads grew even more—and the popularity of both playing with toy trains and being serious about model trains exploded. As a result, layouts became more vast and even more intricately detailed during this time. 

What is your preferred era of toy trains? Find excellent examples in our database! 

Search the Database 

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Examples of model trains from every possible brand abound in our database. Search by manufacturer, gauge, and/or year to return results from our National Toy Train Museum collections and more.

See Our Layouts at the National Toy Train Museum! 

Visitors to the National Toy Train Museum will experience one of the world’s most extensive toy train collections. This includes a variety of meticulously maintained model train layouts, which we refresh every winter. Can’t visit us in person in Strasburg, PA? You can explore our layouts from the past and present right here on our website! 

More Model & Toy Train Information for Collectors 

About Model Trains & Toy Trains 

Do you know all the differences between model trains and toy trains? Here at the Train Collectors Association, we support and celebrate both toy train collectors and model railroaders from all walks of life, and you can explore more right here on our website. 


Toy trains (including model trains) come in different sizes, reflecting different rail gauges—the distance between the main rails on the track—and scales. We have information for you about some of the most popular toy and model train gauges. 

Grading Standards 

TCA has adopted standards to help guide toy and model train collectors and encourage common terminology usage when describing things like item categories and conditions. Visit our Grading Standards section of the website for more information. 

Grow Your Love of Model Trains with Other Enthusiasts. Join TCA Today! 

If you are not yet a member of the Train Collectors Association, you’re missing out. TCA Members receive a long list of tangible benefits that put them on the toy train collectors’ inside track! These include free admission to the National Toy Train Museum in Strasburg, PA, as well as access to special collections of material in the National Toy Train Library, among other great perks and benefits our TCA members enjoy.  

Ready to get involved and join our excellent organization with thousands of other model and toy train enthusiasts around the world?