My Best Christmas Train Memory

Posted by Bob Keller
on Saturday, July 27, 2019

Aurora's Postage Stamp trains were the hot new thing – small, nice graphics, and a kid could cary a train in his pants pocket!

I was fortunate to have an amazing uncle when I was growing up. The year I was born he got me a Lionel starter set. He ran a store that seasonally sold trains (Lionel, American Flyer, and Marx) and he added to my fleet every year until about 1967 when the store stopped carrying Lionel.

I still have all my postwar trains and they all still run. In fact, in about 1992, I took my gear out of the box. When I fired up my no. 1033 and hit the juice, and my Seaboard NW2 lurched to action, it change the path of my life. Fun was back and a few years later I found my was to Classic Toy Trains in Waukesha..

Now this may surprise you, but my best Christmas train memory doesn’t involve O gauge, but its little cousin, N scale.

Where I grew up in Florida Lionel was pretty tough to find. Oh, Sears sold sets at Christmas, but the only hobby shop I ever found just carried trains that were beaten up and used pretty hard. I remember thinking that other kids didn’t take as good a care of their trains as I did.

So along came a revolutionary train. Okay, maybe not revolutionary, but certainly one benefitting from an ad campaign in magazines, comic books, and television: Postage Stamp Trains by Aurora.

At the time I still set up my O gauge once a year. It stayed up until my mom got tired of stepping over it cleaning my bedroom. The Aurora trains seemed to be, to this 12-year-old, the perfect answer to an apartment dweller like me.

Like I said glitzy ads and a lot of word of mouth among my few friends who admitted that they had trains! Trains were cool again.

Like Ralphie seeking his Red Ryder BB gun, I made a full court press on my parents. There was no “you’ll shoot your eye out,” but there was a bit of static like  “You don’t have room to set it up!”

“But Mooom, it’s small.”

Well, the box has a pretty distinctive oblong shape. As the big day approached and more packages materialized under the tree I didn’t see it. Dang, panic swept in and I eventually sank into despair (well, okay, maybe not despair but a kind pre-Christmas funk). But as you might suspect, the joke was on me.

My mother was one of those parents who think kids should get some clothes for Christmas, whether they think they need them or not. My mother always packaged them the same way: shirt boxes. It was easy to spot them and the shirt boxes always got opened last.

Well, along came Christmas morning. I have no real memory of what else I got because I was focused on wanted the set. Holy smokes, I didn’t see the small coffin like shape under the tree.

Well, as you’ve guessed, my mother simply opened the set like a book and packed it in a shirt box. I was ecstatic. My family noted I had never been as surprised – before or after – the Aurora set.

A few weeks later my dad found a prefab N scale layout that fit right on top of my dresser, so I had a full-time layout.

And the O gauge trains would still come out a few times a year until around 1970, when they were carefully packed away, awaiting their inevitable return to service!

But a train is a train, and they make for great memories.

Some 50+ years later, here is my Postage Stamp Train set. Oh, the lack of wheels is entirely the fault of the horrid design of N-scale at the time. Plastic pins shoved up through the trucks to connect with the frame of the car. Frequent use and Mr. Gravity usually assured they would pop out.

This is my N scale fleet from Back-in the Day: The aurora F unit, the UP FA has a die-cast shell and I think was by Con-For. In the back are two Atlas engines, an ACL Geep and an Monon Alco. The Atlas engines were my first-ever mail order from an ad in Model Railroader. They were from a  hobbyshop in the Carolinas.

I still have the battered manual for the set. Manuals were much less complex back then!

The mini-catalog in the service manual showed some the the aurora offerings. I had a vision of a transcontinental featuring Santa Fe and the B&O. But finding an Aurora dealer with any inventory where I lived was impossible.

This is a link to a good Postage Stamp Trains tribute page by David Smith.

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