Wooden Trains

Wooden Track Trains – a Brief History by Dave Pecota

For today’s children, the introduction to wooden track railroading likely starts with Thomas the Tank Engine … happily duplicating his TV adventures on the playroom floor.  Along with Thomas, wood trains of all types and a dizzying variety of playsets and accessories are widely available.  Most brands of modern wooden track trains work harmoniously with the trains and track of almost every other brand ... and in many cases, with their vintage brethren, too.  In the highly competitive toy world, this cross-brand compatibility is rather surprising.

However, we can’t really give Thomas and his friends the credit for this compatibility.  Undoubtedly, we must attribute the lion’s share of the credit to two ingenious citizens of Skaneateles NY … Marshal Hart Larrabee II and his wife Elizabeth.

Marshal Larrabee was a graduate of Wharton School in 1931, but was struck down with tuberculosis a year later.  During his lengthy recuperation, he took up woodworking to occupy the long days.  After making a variety of items, he asked his wife what he should make next.  (He had already made large toy trains that children dragged across floors with pull-strings.)

Prophetically, Elizabeth said, “make a little train that a child will hold in his hand”.

So Marshal made “little” trains.  He also devised wooden track sections, with grooves about 1 ¼ inches apart, for the trains to travel in.  Different layouts could be made by putting together various combinations of straight and curved track.  Blocks were used for buildings and for track supports to make bridges.

Larrabee’s train sets became instantly popular with family and friends.  He soon became convinced that the sets could become a financial success.  While traveling throughout the US in the late 1930’s, he began a sales promotion effort for his little trains.  By 1941, he had received a US patent for his train design ... and had landed his first major commercial customer, Marshal Fields Department Stores in Chicago.  He formally started his company (named Skaneateles Handicrafters) in a converted marine engine machine shop.

With the postwar sales success of Larrabee’s expanding toy product line, educators recognized that SH-style playsets helped to stimulate a child’s imagination and creativity … while also developing problem-solving and motor skills.  Wooden track playsets also became very popular in group settings such as pre-schools, church schools and daycare centers.  The sets were safe and durable, and helped to develop socialization and team-building skills during group play. ... On a personal level, these trains were critical to the childhood progress of my developmentally disabled son.

(Reprinted in part from oldwoodtoys.com with permission-pending)

[Ed.-I omit the rest of this as it details out most of the manufacturers and types of small wooden trains......
However, you can read it at the link below if you desire.

The part I was mainly trying to convey here was the last paragraph above.]

Wood Trains


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