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Big indoor trains

The two largest kinds of trains that are most practical for folks to display indoors are also the ones that look best around Collectible Villages. These are:


    On30 – On30 is a fairly new kind of train that was originally invented to look good with Collectible Villages. Though they seem “old-timey” and maybe even “cute,” they are actually accurate, detailed models of real trains that ran in many parts of the United States between 1840 and 1930.

These trains are nearly as big as some Lionel trains (below), but they run on the same kind of track that HO trains use. On30 trains require a minimum of a 38″ x 38″ space to run, although most “starter sets” come with enough track to make a 56″ x 38″ oval. If you don’t have enough room for that, Bachmann makes an On30 streetcar set that can run back and forth in almost no space at all.

Most Collectible Trains , such as those by “Hawthorne Village” fall into the On30 designation as well (except for the Hawthorne Village Sports Trains). As a result, many people who start with a Thomas Kinkade(tm) or other collectible train find themselves adding Bachmann On30 trains, or vice versa – they all play together very nicely (in fact the mechanism for most of them is built in the same factory).

O Gauge/O27 – These names generally signify the old-fashioned trains that run on three-rail track such Lionel(tm) trains. O27 actually designates a kind of track that certain O gauge trains run on. In fact, many people use the terms O-gauge and O27 interchangeably when they are discussing Lionel train sets such as those shown in the Big Christmas Trains catalog. So don’t get discouraged if vendors or articles seem to jump back and forth between the terms.

O-gauge/O27 trains are made to look right with accessories that are 1/48 the size of the real thing, so they’ll look good around your Holiday Village as long as your table is big enough to hold a circle of track. Any set of Lionel (or even an old set of two-rail American Flyer) will look good around your Christmas tree. Most Lionel(tm) trains require at least a 40″ by 40″ space to run, though they come with enough track for a 40″ x 60″ oval.

Three other sizes of big trains are also run indoors, although they require a lot of room to run and display properly:

  • Large Scale – these are trains made to run outside. They look great around a Christmas tree, but almost none of them work with collectible villages. If you want more information about them, the Family Garden Trains web site is almost entirely devoted to these trains.
  • O Scale – Although Lionel trains run on O gauge track, they are actually a little smaller than they “should be” – that’s how they can fit in fairly tight places. O scale trains that “serious” model railroaders use, are actually much larger and require much larger curves. So, while O scale is a great hobby, you probably won’t be using O scale trains with a collectible village or display railroad.
  • S Scale – This scale was introduced by American Flyer and is barely available today except in well-used trains on eBay. I mention mostly in case you have an American Flyer or other S Scale train and was wondering if you could use it with a collectible village. The answer is that you can if you have room for the track, but most American Flyer track circles were too big to let the trains run on ordinary table-tops. “Pikemaster” track has smaller curves that will fit on your table better; a few other companies have made track from time to time that may work for you, as well.

All of the trains described above are fun, attractive, and useful in certain circumstances. If you have any question about the usefulness of one piece of equipment over another, please contact me.

For More Information


    Scales and Gauges – They’re not the Same – A detailed description of the difference between scales like O and HO and gauges like O gauge, On30, HO gauge, HOn36, and so on.

Sizes and Scales of Big Christmas Trains – Contains similar content to this one, but focusing on trains for Christmas trains for trees, public displays, and holiday villages.

  • Which (Garden Train) Scale Should I Model? – Scale and gauge issues for “Large Scale” trains – the kind that run on 45mm (1.775″) track outdoors – are much more complicated than they are for indoor trains. For that reason, our Family Garden Trains™ site has a whole article dedicated just to that subject. If you aren’t planning to get into Large Scale trains, this article won’t be much help. If you ARE planning to get into Large Scale trains, and you want some straight answers to complicated questions, check it out.
  • Note: Family Garden Trains™, Garden Train Store™, Big Christmas Trains™, BIG Indoor Trains™, BIG Train Store™, and Trains-N-Towns™ are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications (www.btcomm.com). All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically prohibited. Big Christmas Trains(tm) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

    For more information, please contact us

    Just for Christmas – Collectible Decorations and Gifts – Visit any of the links below
    to see quality collectible Christmas gifts and decorations that have been popular with our
    readers. Many are designed by Thomas Kinkade and other world-class artists and designers.

    Big indoor trains The two largest kinds of trains that are most practical for folks to display indoors are also the ones that look best around Collectible Villages. These are: On30

    Big indoor trains

    What happens when you combine collectible villages with toy or model trains? – O gauge trains (such as those made by Lionel®) have been around for over 100 years. Christmas display villages, such as those made by Department 56 have been around since about 1976. Both represent hobbies in their own rights, with many magazines, web sites, clubs, and other resources serving their respective hobbyists. This web page is about what happens when the two hobbies converge – when collectible display villages (such as those from Dept. 56®, Lemax®, or Hawthorne Village®) are being “served” by toy or model trains.

    As a garden railroader myself, I usually model in larger scales that are suited for backyard railroads. But since I established the Big Christmas Trains™ web site in the fall of 2004, I began to realize just how many people were combining holiday display villages with toy or model trains. The advantage is that this combination of hobbies gives you literally thousands of choices for what to buy and how to do things. The disadvantage is that the two hobbies have two distinct cultures (you could almost stay that most model railroaders are from Mars and most display village collectors are from Venus), and few resources are available for people who want to do both at the same time.

    This page has been started to help you sort through the choices you face when you start planning some sort of indoor display railroad and village, whether it will only be set out during the holidays, or whether you want to have it available all year long. It is meant to help you borrow ideas from both the collectible village and the model railroad hobbies to create something that meets your specific needs.

    Many Choices of Trains

    The first thing you should know is that, of all the kinds of toy and model trains sold, only a few kinds are suitable for most indoor display villages:

    On30 trains are about the same size as Lionel® trains, but run on the same kind of track as HO trains. These trains are mostly made by Bachmann, a very large model railroad manufacturer. They are available painted for either holiday or for year-round use.

    Many beautiful collectible versions of these trains are also available from Hawthorne Village®. They tend to be very realistic models, which to my mind makes them very well suited to serving collectible display villages, which tend to have excellent details. They also fit in a slightly smaller space (about 38″) than O-gauge or O-27 trains.

  • Traditional O-gauge or O-27 trains of the sort made by Lionel® and K-Line®. These trains run on 3-rail track and have been around for a century. They tend to be very solid, but some of them look more like toys than models. O-gauge trains got a boost in 2004 by Lionel’s issue of the Polar Express™ train, a very charming and fairly realistic-looking train that can run on a 40″ circle of track if it needs to.
  • If you have something else on hand already, by all means, try it out and see how it works out for you. But if you are looking to make a new purchase, think about On30 trains (my first choice for display villages) or O-gauge or O-27 trains. Note: Don’t let the fact that some Lionel® trains are described as O gauge and others are described as O-27 bother you The main difference between the two is the kind of track they run on, and if you use the track that comes with your train set you won’t encounter any difficulties.

    The good news is that whichever kind of trains you choose to run, you will have no trouble finding buildings, figures, and accessories to create the community (or communities) that your trains will serve.

    Many Choices of Buildings and Accessories

    Just as you have many choices of trains, you have even more choices of buildings and accessories you can use to create your communities.


      Display Village Accessories – Makers of collectible villages, such as Hawthorne Village® supply many products that were intended for seasonal displays. These tend to be hand-painted porcelain or resin. They usually have enough detail to establish a strong sense of place and time, such as a 1890s New England countryside, or a 1930s big-city street. (The On30 Trains and Display Villages page shows several examples.)

    O-Scale Railroad Accessories – Hobby shops sell many products that were designed to go with O gauge trains. These products go with On30 scale trains as well. They tend to be plastic and generic-looking, but they give you a wide variety of choices. (The O-Scale Accessories page shows several examples.)

  • Putz Houses – The original Christmas village houses came from Japan and were made from pasteboard. They were called putz houses because the German-Americans who built large communities around their train sets, trees, or nativities called them “putzes” (related to our word for “putter,” because you “putter around” with the houses and accessories until you like the way they look). Our articles on collecting and building “glitterhouses” describe the growing hobby of using antique or reproduction putz houses in your displays.
  • The best part about this variety is that you can choose the best of both worlds. You can always start out with a “display” featuring mostly collectible pieces and pick up some modeling and railroading skills as your miniature world expands. Or if you have been a model railroader all your life and now you want your railroad to look like it belongs to a more specific place and time, you may take advantage of all that the “collectible” pieces manufacturers have to offer – in many cases they’re more reasonable in price than you might think.

    Many Layout Options

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    Note: Family Garden Trains™, Garden Train Store™, and Big Christmas Trains™ are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications (www.btcomm.com). All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
    Halloween Trains(tm) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

    For more information, please contact us.

    Big indoor trains What happens when you combine collectible villages with toy or model trains? – O gauge trains (such as those made by Lionel®) have been around for over 100 years.