The hidden world of wooden model railroading


My 4-year-old daughter has really been into trains lately, specifically her Brio wooden train. She wants to play with it everyday when I get home from work, so for Christmas I decided to buy her some more track, cars and accessories when I discovered something…

Kids of all ages

Brio, like Lego, is a brand that is now synonymous with a single toy, in this case, wooden trains. And much like Lego bricks, I don’t think there’s a child on earth that hasn’t played with a Brio wooden train set (or a Brio-like set). They’re classic, affordable, safe and cross generations.

I don’t remember having a wooden train set when I was little. If I did, it was when I was a toddler and then it disappeared. However, around my 6th birthday I got an electric train set and I couldn’t have been happier. It was a beginner set but I loved it and played with it for years well into junior high. I got some train cars every year along with some track, as well as some scenery. I also made a lot of my own…the whole thing was fun.

I’m not sure if my kid will want an electric train set at all. I’m not too worried about it one way or the other, as right now she’s happy playing with her wooden set. But as happens with toddlers, a lot of her set has gone missing. So for Christmas I decided to load her up with all the goods, from track to trains, hoping we can continue to enjoy our fun together.

But as I was looking online for wooden train ideas and toys, I stumbled across something I didn’t expect – model wooden railroading.

Wooden railroad sure has come far

When a toy becomes a hobby

I came across several web sites discussing a more “serious” way to play with wooden trains by treating them with the same care as an electric set. That means detailed layouts, lots of track and, of course, lots of train cars.

It was something I never thought about in regards to Brio-class wooden trains. I guess I just always saw them rugged toys aimed at kids. You started with wooden trains and graduated to electric trains…seems like a natural progression, right? Maybe it is but you might not need to graduate at all.

I found a website – – that outlines a process for creating a standard for wooden model railroading and it’s fascinating.

A new way to railroad

Like I said, it wasn’t something I would have considered but in many ways it does make sense. For one, it’s cheaper. Electric railroading was expensive when I was a kid and it’s still expensive. From track to cars to scenery, unless you have cash to throw around, it will take years to amass a collection worth playing with.

Wooden trains are also safer and durable. You don’t really have to worry about small parts when kids play with them, nor do you have to worry about anything fragile breaking (when anyone plays with it). It can be left out for adults and kids.

And in many ways, a wooden train set will require you to be a bit more creative. Lets face it, you’re not going for realism with a wooden model train, so you have to be a little more generous with your effects and even landscaping. I also think about the fun of woodworking to compliment the railroad. Woodworking in itself is a fun hobby so now you have a purpose to make toys!

It’s also worth noting that Brio-class trains have come a long way since I was little. Now they even have electric wooden trains with remote control, so you really can treat a wooden train model just like your HO scale cousins.

Only in my dreams...

New life for an old toy

Despite all that awesomeness, I don’t think I’ll be building a wooden model railroad in my house soon if for no other reason that I’ve invested a ton into my other toy-based hobby, racing Hot Wheels diecast cars. I’d love to have both but there are limits.

Nonetheless, my head is now filled with ideas on what I can create for my kid to play with…maybe not to the extreme as some railroaders but enough to be better than your run-of-the-mill Brio setup.


About Author

Brian is a staff writer at TMA. He races Hot Wheels at while watching cartoons with his kid. You can follow @morningtoast on Twitter.

1 Comment

  1. Wooden toys, however, often have a lot more to offer children than the latest trendy educational toys. Agree with you wooden toys is cheaper, safe and durable. I also have wooden train toys for my 5 years old son and don’t have to worry about anything fragile breaking. When I was kid, my parents also gave me wooden toys and one of them was puzzle wooden blocks. Many benefit we can get from wooden toys such as give children the ability to take control. While some wooden toys come in the shape of vehicles, food, or common household items, they still encourage children to use their imaginations to incorporate them into learning and play. Wooden Toys also help children build hand-eye coordination besides build their fine motor skills. That’s why I was looking another wooden toys for my son and came across at It’s an interesting store.

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