- The information on this page has been largely assembled from observation of the track in this museum. It is recognized that this is only a fraction of what was made, although I hope that the track in this museum is reasonably representative. It needs to be noted that it is often necessary to "connect dots" in arriving at a conclusion, and it is recognized that this can have limitations for totally accurate information. Any viewer who has new information or corrections to offer, is welcome to contact me, and I would be most happy to correct or update any information presented here.
- The identification of Gauge 2, Standard, Wide and Gauge 1 is usually made readily from embossed, stamped or decalled markings, or distinctive design features, on the track pieces.
- With the advent of Gauge 0, most manufacturers ceased to mark their track with embossed or stamped markings, with the result that its identification often becomes deductive based on one or more identifying features. "Track identification" is therefore substantially a toy train era Gauge 0 (and 027) issue. For additional identification information for Gauge 0 track, visit the Museum itself and scroll down to "Gauge 0".
- Inevitably, there are pieces that are a mystery in one way or another. Please check the Mystery Department.
Embossed Manufacturer Identification
Labels and Nameplates
The Track itself
Embossed or stamped Track Identification
Tie (sleeper) Design
Tie Design (Camber)
Distinctive Tie Holes
Distinctive Track Clips
Distinctive Third Rails
Today, all manufacturers of track imprint the make somewhere on the track, and with plastic as a major component of all types of track, this is of course much easier. In the toy train age (down through to Gauge 0), however, when tin ruled the rails, identification can be rather more difficult. Some major manufacturers, such as Märklin, Bing, Lionel, Ives and Hornby did use a variety of means to identify their track, but the American Flyer family (Hafner, Edmunds-Metzel, Chicago Flyer, American Flyer) is substantially by association (other than for American Flyer's Wide Gauge), although some versions of the American Flyer turnouts and crossings had labels, from which it is possible (in some cases) to make deductions about their track designs. Similarly Dorfan turnouts had distinctive throw-levers, and again by association it is possible to identify their track. A complication is that early manufacturers freely copied each other's designs, and also some toy firms, notably Bing, had alliances with other firms such as American Flyer, Ives, Hornby and Bassett-Lowke that can make real origins difficult to trace without reference to early catalogs that are now very scarce, if not nigh impossible to obtain.
Embossed or stamped manufacturer identification:
This form of identification was almost universal with all major manufacturers with the exception of American Flyer (other than their Wide Gauge), Lionel 027, Marx and Dorfan, although all of these usually identified their turnouts and crossings, from which it is often possible to deduce related track design by the shape of the ties and clamps holding the rails. It was less usual, if not rare, with lesser manufacturers.
These are less common than embossed identification, but were used by American Flyer, Dorfan, and more extensively by Lionel, Hornby, and later Hornby-Dublo. Where they appear on track formations, they can by extension provide empirical confirmation of the corresponding track's make, especially in the case of American Flyer and Dorfan who did not ordinarily identify their track (except for American Flyer Wide Gauge).
Hornby (Meccano Ltd.) and Chad Valley
The Track itself
In the toy train era, the use of pins to connect tracks was universal. There were two basic approaches - pins at the same end of the track and pins at opposite ends (2-0 or 1-1). Earlier designs favoured having the pins at the same end (Hafner, Märklin 2 and 1, Bing 1), but at some point migration occurred to having the pins at opposite ends, likely around the advent and increasing popularity of electric trains that universally required three rails. The North American Standard/Wide Gauge makes Lionel, Ives and Dorfan all favoured the 2-1 arrangement, whereas American Flyer was 3-0. For North American Gauge 0, Lionel (and subsequently Marx and K-Line) favoured three pins at the one end (3-0); whereas American Flyer went to, and Ives and Dorfan stayed with, 2-1 (two pins centre and one running rail at one end, and a pin for the other running rail at the other end). In Europe, both Märklin and Hornby electric favoured 2-1, whereas Bing remained with 3-0.
As to the track pin design itself, the end of the pin could be "straight stub", "rounded stub", "full point" or "short point". ("Rounded stub" and "short point" are only marginally distinguishable.) Lionel track pins are uniquely distinguishable by a single notch in the exposed portion of the pin. For the reasons stated below, (with the exception of Lionel) track should never be identified from the pin itself, but the pin design could be additional confirmation.
It should be noted that identifying track solely from track pins can be unreliable because the pins were often moved around for "out-of- circle" connections, e.g., to form an S-curve, and also to connect track from different makes; as well as being interchanged with other makes of track. Clues as to this possibility are loose pins, pins of different designs on the same piece of track, a pin out of position, a pin not fully inserted or inserted too far into the track piece.
Embossed or stamped track identification:
This can help for identifying otherwise anonymous track. Features useful for this purpose are the design and shape of the tie itself - width, depth, camber, the shape of any flange or lip (i.e., straight or tapered), track connection, if any, any holes that are punched into it, and the location and design of the track pins (although this has to be treated with care since these can be easily moved around or changed). It should also be noted that ties of the early toy train era (1900 - 1920) were usually manufactured without any lip or flange, and that this became a feature for those manufacturers who came to rely on sliding tie connectors (notably Ives, Lionel and Hornby) rather than clips or hooks. For these various components of track identification, please scroll down.
Tie Design - Camber:
As illustrated below, notably Carette Gauge 1, American Flyer Gauge 0, Bing Gauge 1 and 0, Märklin early Gauge 1 and Märklin's Gauge 2, were cambered. This usually applied to the straights as well as to the curves, resulting in a slight inward tilt of the popular layout oval. Camber appears to have been generally abandoned by the 1930s, probably because of the complexities arising from more sophisticated layouts. American Flyer was unique in designing a "step" in the tie to counter the slope of the camber for the third rail. Presumably for simplicity of production, this "step" also appeared in its clockwork track.
These are essentially of four kinds - switch stand - lever throw - ground throw - stub. Noted that some manufacturers, especially American Flyer, Ives and Lionel, went through several design stages, also with variations as between gauges, some simultaneously, some successively, so that the illustrations below are strictly representative.
North American manufacturers
North American manufacturers
Turnouts of the toy train era (Standard/Wide, 1, 0 and S Gauges) major manufacturers were essentially of five types:
Bar-type, consisting entirely of longer and wider ties as required to support the diverging rails (early Lionel Standard, Bing 1 and 0, Märklin 1 and 0, Hornby 0 Meccano and Hornby Series [clockwork].)
Partial plate-type, a hybrid design where the toe of the turnout at the throw-bar end would have solid plate support. (Ives and American Flyer Wide and 0 Gauges.)
Open plate-type, where all the rails of the turnout have a base support, with open spaces between the rails of the diverging tracks (Lionel Standard, 0 and 027, American Flyer 0, Dorfan Wide and 0, Märklin electric 3-rail and clockwork 0, Hornby electric 3-rail 0.)
Solid plate-type, where the solid tin base follows the contour of the turnout with no openings (Gargraves, Lionel Standard and pre- and post-WWII 0.)
Full plate-type, where the entire turnout, including the throw lever or solenoid is part of a solid rectangular tin (or in the case of American Flyer S - bakelite) base with no openings (American Flyer 0 and S, Marx 027.)