Old model-railroad books

A list of Editor Marc Horovitz's favorite old hobby books
Marc Horovitz
Here are a few of my favorite old model-train books, all published before 1960, in chronological order. There are many more. These are a mix of US and British books. I’ve tried to give a very brief synopsis of each. If you have a favorite old book, drop me a line at mhorovitz@gardenrailways.com and tell me about it.

The Internet is a vast resource when looking for old books. My favorite used-book site is http://used.addall.com, which incorporates most other sites in the USA and some abroad. Happy hunting!

Greenly, Henry, The Model Locomotive: Its Design and Construction, Percival Marshall, 1904
Henry Greenly was, perhaps, the best-known model engineer of his time. He wrote extensively on all aspects of model-railway and steam-locomotive construction. This is the first edition of one of the definitive (even today) works on model steam-locomotive construction. It abounds with drawings and photos.  

Greenly, Henry, Model Railways, Cassell and Company, Ltd. 1924   
This book describes railway planning (indoors and out) in detail, including trackwork, signalling, and structures.

Coolidge, Albert Sprague, Building a Model Railroad, The MacMillan Company, 1929
Mr. Coolidge was a teacher at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He decided to use a model railroad to teach his students a variety of useful things. Deliberately choosing a gauge that no commercial train would run on, he and his students built the entire railway—everything!—from scratch. This wonderful book chronicles the process.

Bassett-Lowke, W.J., Model Railway Handbook, The, Bassett-Lowke, Ltd., 6th edition, 1930s (?)
For decades, Bassett-Lowke was one of Britain’s primary manufacturers of model-railway equipment in a variety of different scales. They published their Handbook in many editions, which saw changes over time. Any edition is worth having. Although the volume is (obviously) slanted toward their own products, it has a wealth of information and is very steam heavy.  

Hobbs, Edward W., Model Railway Making, Cassell & Co. Ltd, 1934
A charming little book aimed at the beginner and apparently written for a youthful market. No photos but lots of drawings. Garden railroading is briefly discussed.

Walthers, W.K., Simplified Trackwork for Model Railroad Builders, A.C. Kalmbach & Co., 1935
This amazing book would be of great value to anyone serious about track laying today. Despite its title, the material presented here is anything but simple. It’s heavy on the math and really tackles the problems of realistic trackwork.

Editorial staff of Popular Science magazine, Model Railways, Popular Science Publishing Company, Inc., 1936
A comprehensive overview of the hobby at that time, with an emphasis on construction. No photos, lots of drawings.

Model Railroader Cyclopedia, The, 1937, The Modelmaker Corp, 1937
This is the second edition of a book that saw several editions. The book contains a wide variety of prototype railroad information aimed at modelers. Any edition of this book is a valuable reference, even today. Includes several fold-out drawings  

Carter, Ernest F., Model Railway Electrification, Model Railway Constructor, 1938
How did electrically powered railways work just prior to WWII? This book covers it in great detail. Ernest Carter was the editor of Model Railway Constructor, a leading British publication of the time.

Loose, Harold V., How to Build a Model Railroad, Model Craftsman Publishing Corporation, 1938
The author was a former managing editor of The Model Craftsman and Miniature Railroading magazines. This is another introductory book with a fair number of good photos and drawings. Much of the information can be found in other books but this one is still nice to have.

Yates, Raymond, Making and Operating Model Railroads, D. Appleton-Century Company, 1938
Raymond Yates was a generalist in the hobby world, not specifically a model railroader, before tackling this book. He’s put together a thick and creditable volume on the hobby. Among interesting chapters are a discussion of tinplate vs. scale, and converting tinplate trains to more scale models. There’s a great introduction, too.
May, Earl Chapin, Model Railroads in the Home, Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1939
Though not aptly named, this book is very readable. It is more the author’s take on the hobby of this time, based on his experience in it. There’s some hard information and a lot of observation. Model-railroad societies figure large in this quirky book.

Alexander, Edwin, Model Railroads: Planning • Construction • Operation, W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1940
Ed Alexander was one of the mid-century model-railroad gods. He was an early proponent of scale model railroading and his work shows it. This is an excellent book aimed at the high-end model railroader.  

Beale, Edward and Frank Taylor, Model Cars and Locomotives, The Modelmaker Corporation, 1940
An interesting collaboration between a Briton and an American, this book mostly covers different types of (American) locomotives and rolling stock for model makers. Some construction techniques are covered.

Taylor, Frank, 20 Model Railroad Projects, Kalmbach Publishing Company, 1941
Frank Taylor, then editor of Model Railroader, compiled 20 MR articles, all written by himself, into this book. Projects include lots of rolling stock and some miscellaneous things (structures, bridges, trackwork, etc). Lots of meat for the retro-modeler.

Handbook for Model Builders, The Lionel Corporation, 1940
While slanted towards Lionel trains, this is an excellent beginner’s book from the immediate pre-war era. Lots of high-quality drawings and photos. Good info for experienced modelers, too.  

Marshall, David, Model Railroad Engineering, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1942
An excellent treatise on model-railroad design, though somewhat short on illustrations. My copy has a taped-in tag in the back that suggest that the original owner was in prison someplace.  

Sagle, Lawrence W., Book of Rules for Model Railroaders, Model Craftsman Pub. Corp., 1943
If you absolutely can’t do anything in your life without rules, this book’s for you. Actually, it’s a well-written book on model-railroad operations, based on prototypical rule books.  

Thornburgh, M.D., Building a Model Passenger Train, Kalmbach Publishing Company, 1944
Mel Thornburgh was an excellent and well-known modeler. His construction articles appeared for many years in Model Railroader magazine. This book is a compilation of several articles that cover, in depth, the construction of a 4-4-2 locomotive and three passenger cars, entirely from scratch and mostly from brass—a gold mine of information on metal working.

Pete, Boomer, How to Run a Model Railroad, Kalmbach Publishing Company, 1944
A.C. Kalmbach, writing under the name of “Boomer Pete,” produced this excellent book on railroad operations, based on prototype practice.

Kalmbach, A.C., Model Railroad Track and Layout, Kalmbach Publishing Co., 1946
Excellent book on track planning, much of which is still relevant today. My copy came with a hand-drawn trackplan on a piece of scratch paper, evidently by the first purchaser of the book. Cool.  

Thomas, Gilbert, Paddington to Seagood: The story of a Model Railway, Chapman & Hall Ltd, 1947
A charming, obscure little book that chronicles a model railway operated entirely by clockwork trains. The author was evidently a well-known writer of his day (on other topics), making this quite a readable and entertaining volume. Photos are by W.J. Bassett-Lowke.

Binstead, M.H., Model Railway Hobby, The, Percival Marshall & Co. Ltd., 1948
This is a handbook-size volume that gives a comprehensive overview of the hobby without going too much into depth on any one topic. I particularly like it because he used the first chapter, entitled “Why a Model Railway?,” to justify one’s interest in it.  

Tustin, R.E, Garden Railways, Percival Marshall & Co. Ltd, 1949
The first and only book of its era exclusively on the topic of garden railroading. Lots of pictures of the author’s 0-gauge line as well as lots of good information that holds up well today. A groundbreaker.

Walthers, W.K., Handbook for Model Railroaders, Kalmbach Publishing Company, 1949
Although aimed at beginners, there is lots to interest the experienced modeler as well in the overview of the hobby. The book covers most of the different aspects of it (though narrow-gauge modeling is conspicuously absent) and goes into depth on some topics, particularly electricity.  

Ahearn, John H., Miniature Building Construction: An Architectural Guide for Modellers, Percival Marshall & Co., Ltd., 1950
John Ahearn, a well-known British modeler, expounds on the subject of making structures for the railway. Each chapter covers a different type of structure (residential, industrial, pubs, , etc.) as well as methods of construction. A fascinating look at techniques from over a half century ago.  

Carter, Ernest F., The Model Railway Encyclopædia, Burke Publishing Company Ltd., 1950
As the title suggest, this book has it all. It’s right up to date for the time and approaches the hobby of model railways (particularly the smaller scales) from an advanced and technical standpoint. My copy is inscribed, “To Ernie, With love & best wishes. From Mum. June 30th, 1950.”

Editorial staff of the Lionel Corporation, Model Railroading, Dell, 1950
A not-even-thinly disguised treatise on how to use Lionel trains when building your model railroad. Still, some good information and lots of nice pictures. This book appeared in many editions over the years.

Hertz, Louis, Complete Book of Model Railroading, Simmons-Boardman Publishing Company, 1951
Hertz, Louis, New Roads to Adventure in Model Railroading, Simmons-Boardman Publishing Company, 1952
Hertz, Louis, Advanced Model Railroading, Simmons-Boardman Publishing Company, 1955
Louis Hertz, famous train collector and model railroader, wrote this trilogy in the 1950s. He was a fine writer and an authority on the subject. All of the books are very interesting (he discusses outdoor model railroading in the second one) but the third one is especially so. An excellent set to own.  

Beale, Edward, West Midland: A Railway in Miniature, Percival Marshall & Co. Ltd., 1952
Edward Beale was one of the best-known British railway modelers of his time. He wrote extensivly on all topics concerning the hobby. West Midland is the story, in great depth, of his own 00-scale model railway, a line designed and operated on prototype principles.
Morgan, Warren F., Model Railroad Book, The, Fawcett, 1953
Fawcett published a series of books on model railroading around this time. This one is a good how-to book with a lot of emphasis on Lionel tinplate but with much HO material as well. Lots of hard info and construction techniques.  

Ellison, Frank, Frank Ellison on Model Railroads, Fawcett, 1954(?)
Frank Ellison was another model-railroad deity from the 1930s through the 1950s. His Delta Lines railroad was famous. Coming from a theatrical family, he looked upon a model railroad as a stage and the trains as performers. This interesting but not-very-well-produced book is a compendium of Ellison wisdom in the form of projects and approaches. Excellent reading.  

Mallery, Paul, Electrical Handbook for Model Railroaders, Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation, 1955
A comprehensive manual on all things electric concerning model trains. This is how it was done until the advent of modern electronics.

McClintock, Marshall, How to Build and Operate a Model Railroad, Dell, 1955
A book for beginners, similar to Dell’s Bantam book of five years earlier, but this one features American Flyer trains.

Zarchy, Harry, Model Railroading, Alfred A. Knopf, 1955
A beginner’s book aimed at kids. Good information but basic, with emphasis on tinplate (Lionel) trains.

Davis, Barton K., How to Build Model Railroads and Equipment, Crown Publishers, 1956
This excellent book takes you through the construction of a variety of different projects. The techniques shown can be applied to any scale. This book’s a treasure trove for retro-modeler’s.

Carter, Ernest, Boys’ Book of Model Railways, The, Burke Publishing Company Ltd., 1958
Another volume by the venerable Mr. Carter, this one is aimed at kids. However, it’s not as dumbed down as you might think. Good photos (including some garden railways) and lots of useful information.

Mallery, Paul, Bridge and Trestle Handbook for Model Railroaders, Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation, 1958
The title says it all. This is an excellent reference on all types of bridges and trestles, and their construction in model form.

Pollinger, Gerald, Model Railways as a Pastime, Souvenir Press Ltd., 1959
An interesting book, poised on the threshold of the modern era of model railroading. This one is aimed at the absolute novice.


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