Cranking up the wayback machine

Posted by Bob Keller
on Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Two of my favorite vintage McComas video productions include the history of Lionel and the landmark Making of the Lionel Hudson. These two were good comparisons of the old and new Lionels.

So, for the last year and a half I have been trying to makes order out if the chaos that is my basement. What a quagmire. What to I have to show for it? Not a lot.

I have made some headway in segregating freight car boxes by railroad. I have most of the locomotives, sorted by railroad, on shelving units. I’ve also got a couple of boxes of rolling stock ready to move elsewhere in the Milwaukee toy train ecosystem.

I’ve recycled lots of magazines (non-train, of course) shredded some 15 year old cancelled checks, and cut up a ton of cardboard boxes (actually filling my Saturn Vue). 

I did find a few things on the bubble, such as term papers from high school and college. I mean you never know what might come in handy for The Complete Works of Bob Keller, Vol 1.

One group of relics I discovered was a batch of toy train videos from the 1990s. Wow, what a flashback. These were a great re-introduction to hobby for me!

Today, if someone gets curious about toy trains they have everything at their fingertips. Abracadabra Presto and you can access magazine forums, manufacturer websites, and countless YouTube videos. Not at all the case in the early and mid-90s. 

You had two major magazines and if your local dealer carried them, a few moderately expensive reference books. While the books had photos of trains, the opportunity to see new and vintage trains in action could be limited. Unless you knew someone with a layout, or had local clubs with layouts at shows, you were out of luck.

Enter Tom McComas. He and his TM Books and Videos (TMBV) were the first true cinematographers of the toy train world.

TMBV programs illustrated rare trains and accessories in action. His covered the history of Lionel, and you could even watch a video on how to build a basic O gauge layout. This in particular was helpful for any returning newcomer who had only fuzzy memories of “all that stuff” they did in the basement 40 years earlier.

Two of his video products were particularly important to me. The first was his video The Making of the Scale Hudson. This documented the design and assembly of Lionel’s new-from-the-ground-up modern model of the classic New York Central locomotive.

From what I saw on the video, I had the answer to one of my most important questions of the day. “Why is this stuff so expensive?” The time and labor required for the design, manufacture and finishing of components, and assembly of it all made that case. I still salute the Lionel’s workers in Michigan. They were masters of their craft.

The second milestone video was actually a series of programs called the Toy Train Revue (TTR). I can’t quite recall which came first - the paper TTR or the video. The magazine covered a bit of everything with a little modern content, lot of classic collectible content from Joe Algozzini and this is the spot where CTT columnist Lou Palumbo initiated his chatty Views from the Underground column.

For this new guy, it showed rare trains I knew I’d never own, actually rolling down the track! My knowledge of the scope of operating accessories and cars was limited but I got a great sense of what was out there. 

Perhaps most important of all, it showed I wasn’t alone. It covered train makers, super collectors, and Christmas-only operators. In short, every part of our hobby.

It is tough in these days of virtually instant answers and endless videos to understate the importance of Tom McComas and all his videos!

Oh, and let me give a shout out to Steve Suskin of Eastside Trains in Kirkland, Washington for have had a huge newsstand with magazines, reference books, and VHS videos for his customer’s enjoyment.

I believe most of these tapes were offered on DVD in recent years. Check out to see the current catalog.

Lionel: The Movie featured trains, trains, and more trains. The New Lionel Showroom covered the LTI-era layout at the firm's Michigan headquarters. TMBV also produced a basic video of how to make your own small layout.

Toy Train Revue covered it all: Vintage, modern, and even Lionel's garden railway trains.

Toy Train Revue covered the latest Lionel and American Flyer offerings, outstanding home layouts, and celebrity three-railers.


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