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.

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