The Antique Toy Train Collector

a blog about old toys and trains from a collector in Canada

Model Train Glossary


Association of American Railroads. Trade association that represents the common interests of the railroad industry in the United States.

Abutment – A foundation which anchors and supports lateral pressure or thrust, such as the weight-bearing piers at the ends of a bridge which hold back solid ground.

A local train which makes all stops along its intended route.

– American Locomotive Company. Manufacturer of steam and diesel-electric locomotives.

A clear track, usually in a yard.

Alternating Current (AC) – Standard 110 Volt house hold current, or low voltage current used in model railroading, usually around 18 Volts; An electric current that reverses its direction of flow at regular intervals. Each move from zero to maximum strength and back to zero is known as a cycle.

American Flyer – American manufacturer of model trains from 1910-1966

Ampere – A unit of measure for determining the strength of electrical flow in a circuit. Most often abbreviated as Amps. The higher the amperage, the greater the flow, or volume, of current passing through the circuit. Technically, the amount of current produced by the force of one volt acting through one ohm of resistance.

An overlapping deck between a locomotive cab and its tender; hinged cover above the locomotive and tender connection.

Armature – The wire-wound rotating part of a motor.

Articulated – An articulated steam locomotive has more multiple steam engines and sets of driving wheels. Articulated passenger cars are adjacent cars which are coupled on a common truck which they share between them. Articulated cars are most often found on streamlined passenger trains.

Articulated Locomotive – Any locomotive featuring two or more sets of wheels and cylinders mounted on separate or hinged frames. Permits large locomotives to snake around curves more easily.

Ash Pan
A tray-like device located under a steam locomotive’s firebox which holds the ashes that remain after coal has been burned. Ashes are removed from the ash pan at an ash pit, usually located in a service yard.

Automatic Block Signal – Signal activated by train entering a block.

Automatic Coupler – Couplers which will couple and uncouple automatically through the use of uncoupling ramps, permanent or electro-magnets; permits remote operation as opposed to manual hand methods.

Auxiliary Tender
A second tender attached to the primary tender of a locomotive; permits longer runs by reducing fuel and water stops.


Baggage Car – American term for luggage wagon.

Ballast – Aggregate stone, gravel, or cinders forming the track bed on which sleepers (ties) and track are laid to ensure stability and proper drainage.

Balloon Stack
A widely-flared steam locomotive smokestack designed to prevent sparks from escaping; commonly used on 19th Century locomotives.

Bascule Bridge – A general term for a counter-balanced lift bridge.

Baseboard – The baseboard is the structure carrying the model railway.

Big Boy – Popular name for largest team locomotive, the 4-8-8-4 Union Pacific.

Blind Drivers – Driving wheels without flanges which permit locomotives to negotiate sharper curves than the wheel arrangement would normally allow; widely used on narrow gauge locomotives.

Block Signal – Indicates whether block is occupied or not.

Bobber – A short four-wheeled caboose.

Bogie – The undercarriage assembly incorporating the train wheels, suspension, brakes and, in powered units, the traction motors. Generally called a truck in the US.

Boiler – cylindrical container adjacent to the firebox in which steam is produced to drive a steam locomotive.

Bolster – Trucks are attached to these cross-members, which are found under each end of a railway car body.  Bolsters are positioned near both ends of a car’s underframe.

Boom Car – The car next in line to the wrecking crane or derrick, used to support the crane boom in transit.

Box Cab
Electric or diesel locomotive with a cab shaped like a box.

Boxcar – A type of rolling stock with a flat bottom enclosed on all sides and top, which is loaded and unloaded from sliding doors on each side.  Called a covered goods wagon in Europe.

Brake Van – A heavy vehicle with powerful brakes which was attached to the rear of goods trains in the days when most wagons were not fitted with a continuous braking system. Its function was to supplement the locomotive’s braking power in slowing and stopping the train and to keep the couplings uniformly tight by selective light braking to avoid snatching and breakages. It also conveyed the train guard, hence its alternative name of “guards van” . Partly analogous to caboose and its synonyms.

Buffer – A device that cushions the impact of rail vehicles against each other. These are typically found on European models and not in North America.

Bumper – A device for stopping railroad cars at the end of a spur track.


– The control room of a locomotive housing the engine crew and their control consoles.

Caboose – A car, usually placed at the end of a freight train, in which the conductor has an office and living quarters. With increasing use of computer controls, cabooses are being replaced with ETD (End of Train Device)

Camelback – A steam locomotive with the cab set astride the boiler. The fireman on this type of locomotive rides under a hood at the rear. Also called a “Mother Hubbard.”

Can Motor – A motor with a sealed motor casing (i.e., an unexposed motor armature).  Can motors typically draw less amperage, and run cooler and smoother than their open frame counterparts.

Catenary – The overhead wire system used to send electricity to an electric locomotive, tram or light rail vehicle.

Chassis – Framework or underbody of a locomotive, or cars.

Chemically Blackened
– Chemically blackened metal is bathed in a chemical solution, which produces an off-black or dark brown finish.  For improved realism, railway models that are equipped with metal wheels are often fitted with chemically blackened wheel sets.

Circa – About or around (e.g., A manufacturing date and/or a product or subject’s era).

Class – Groups into which trains are divided-usually from two to four, depending on the railroad.

Clerestory Roof – Raised center portion along the length of a roof of certain passenger cars featuring “clerestory windows” along the sides to allow natural light into the car.

Climax – A type of geared steam locomotive used primarily by logging railroads. The locomotive’s twin cylinders drive a crankshaft aligned parallel with the axles; power is transmitted to the trucks through an arrangement of bevel gears and a driveshaft; rods couple the axles on each truck.

Coaling Station – A structure for storing coal and transferring it into locomotive tenders.

Coaling Tower – A tall structure where coal is hoisted up to elevated storage bins and dumped through chutes into a steam locomotive’s tender.

Code – Rail code numbers refer to the actual height of the rail, as measured in thousands of an inch.

Command Control – now commonly known as  DCC. Trains are controlled when they receive electronic messages addressed to them through the rails. Decoders in the engines react to the messages that are sent solely to them. Other engines will not respond. This type of control can also be applied to stationary decoders to operate switch machines and other equipment.

Composite – A passenger car with more than one class of accommodation provided (e.g. first and third). In earlier days of three-class travel, first and second class, and second and third class composites were also built. A car with first, second, and third classes was also known as a tri-composite.

Counterweight – In the context of a steam locomotive, the solid weights on the drive wheels which offset the weight of the engine’s crank pins and drive rods.

Coupler – Railroad cars in a train are connected by couplers located at the ends of the cars.

Cowcatcher – An early term for the pointed device used on the front of the locomotive to remove deer, cows and buffalo off the track.

Craftsman Kits – These kits are detailed building kits for experienced modelers. They usually include detailed drawings, strip wood, plastic and metal castings, along with other details.

Cribbing – A layered  lattice of concrete, logs, steel, or timber that is often filled with earth or stones, cribbing is used in the construction of bridge abutments, dams, foundations, retaining walls, etcetera.

Crosshead – The pivot between the piston rod and the main rod on a steam locomotive.

Crossing, Grade – An intersection between a highway and railroad tracks on the same level.

Cupola – A small cabin atop the caboose where the brakeman can scan ahead over the roofs of freight cars in a train.


– An empty car; a passenger riding on a pass; a locomotive traveling without cars.

Depot – A station for passengers and freight; term usually applied to a rather small facility in a town or village.

Die cast – A casting process used to manufacture some products for model railroading, where molten metal is forced into the mold under pressure.

Diesel – Compression ignition, internal combustion engine.

Diorama – Typically used for display, modelers often super-detail these small scenes, or cutaways of structures and/or vehicles.

Directional Lighting – Headlamps that are lit in the direction of travel.  In some cases, red taillights may also be visible at the tail end of a model.

Direct Current (DC ) – Electrical current which flows only in one direction.

Direct Drive – A system of power transmission in which there is a direct connection between the engine or motor and the driving wheels.

Distant Signal – Signal in British practice which provides a warning to approaching trains of the state of stop signals ahead.

Dome – A round protrusion atop the boiler of a steam locomotive; it houses the steam controls or sand.

Drawbar – The part of a coupler that attaches to the frame of the car or locomotive; may be equipped with a pneumatic cushion depending on a freight car’s design cargo. Alternately, the pinned double bars coupling a steam locomotive to its tender.

Driving Gear – The group of rods and cranks which transfer the piston energy to the driving wheels.

Driving Wheels -The large wheels of a steam locomotive connected by rods; And the motorized wheels on electric or diesel locomotives.

Drumhead – An identification emblem attached to the last car on a railroad’s most prestigious, named passenger trains.

Dual Gauge – A mixed track gauge, often seen at interchange points between standard gauge and narrow gauge railroads.


– A reversing device on model locomotives.

Eccentric Crank – A large, forged casting attached to the main drive wheels of a steam engine which allows a rod to rotate in an elliptical path, thereby opening and closing the cylinder slide valves.

End-to-End – Model layout consisting of a length of track with a terminal at each end. Point-to-Point.

Engine – Commonly referred to as the locomotive; is actually the cylinders and their drivers.

Epoxy – Available in a number of different set times, this two-part (hardener and resin) adhesive is durable, and appropriate for porous and non-porous materials.


– Term used to describe models built close to the correct size. Can apply to any scale and gauge.

Firebox -In steam railroading, a chamber in which a fire would produce sufficient heat to create steam once the hot gases from the firebox were carried into the adjacent boiler via tubes or flues.

Fishplate – A metal plate that joins the ends of rails in jointed track.

Flange – The combustion chamber on a steam locomotive for generating heat which is used to convert water into steam in the engine’s boiler.

Flatcar – A type of rolling stock, which can be a flat-bottomed car with no sides on which freight (including intermodal containers) can be stacked. A bulkhead is a flatcar with walls on the front and rear. A center-beam bulkhead is a bulkhead flatcar with an additional wall dividing one side of the flatcar from the other, but still without any sides.

Flextrack – A length of track pre-assembled on ties that can be bent to form a curve. It usually comes in 3-foot or 1-meter length. Flextrack is a common method of laying track quickly in HO scale. It can also be done in G scale with a rail bender tool to curve the rail before slipping it into pre-assembled tie sections.

Freezer – Slang term for refrigerator car; also known as a “reefer.”

Frog – The portion of a turnout which is grooved for the wheel flanges; so-named for its resemblance to a frog.


G Scale – Model railroading in a scale of 1:22.5; often erroneously applied to other scales in large scale model railroading such as 1:20.3, 1:24, 1:29, and 1:32-all of which also operate on #1 gauge (45mm track). See also “Large Scale.”

Gage – An alternate (US) spelling of “Gauge”

Garden Railroad – A form of model railroading which is usually done outdoors. First started in Europe and now one of the fastest growing segments of model railroading world wide. Most Garden Railroads are built on “One Gauge” track which is 45mm. between the rails . This segment of the hobby has become known as “Large Scale Railroading” because of the many scales involved. Some of the scales are: 1;32, 1;29, 1;22.5, 120.1, and others.

Gauge – The width between the inner faces of the rails

Goods – European term for general freight.

Goods Wagon – A flat car with sides and a top, usually with a large sliding door in the middle of each side

Gondola – A flat car with sides used to carry items like scrap, steel, iron and other loose, heavy objects. They can have permanent sides, drop-sides and drop-bottoms depending on their intended use.

Grab Irons – Handholds on the sides, ends, or roofs of railroad cars.

Grade – The degree of inclined elevation of the track’s surface over a given distance, usually expressed as a percentage.


Handcar – A small, hand-powered railroad car used for track inspection.

Head End Cars – Express, mail, and baggage cars, usually run at the front of a passenger train consist behind the locomotives.

Heavyweight (US) – During the period between about 1910 and the mid nineteen thirties, most passenger cars in the US were built with three axle trucks, concrete floors, and riveted, double walled sides and often weighed 90 – 100 tons or more. Heavyweight construction was used to improve ride quality

Helix – A method of gaining separation between lower level benchwork and an upper deck. The track is laid in a rising circle with each level directly above the one below while maintaining the same clearance between tracks. A helix is usually built with one or two tracks side-by-side. Track can exit the helix at intermediate levels through turnouts (switches). To accomplish this a short length of straight track is often inserted at the point where track will diverge.

HO Scale – Model railroad scale in the proportion of 1:87. Pronounced as “aich-oh.” Roughly half the size of O Scale, or Half-O. The most popular model railroading scale in use today.

Hopper – A type of open-top freight car used to carry loose material like coal and rock that don’t need protection from the elements. The material is removed through funnel-like bins underneath the car. Another type is the covered hopper where material needs to be kept from the elements such as grain or even plastic pellets.


Insulated Track Section – In model railroading, a modified section of toy train track in which one of the outside running rails is insulated from the metal track ties by fiber strips or some other non-conductive material, and which is further insulated from adjacent rails by insulating track pins; commonly used to operate accessories.

Interurban – A streetcar/trolley-style car used for passenger service (sometimes including light freight and mail service, and often in multiple units) between cities and towns, as opposed to local streetcar service. The term applied to such transportation systems and service in general.


Journal – The portion of an axle that is contained by a bearing.

Journal Box – The housing, or box, of a journal bearing


Kadee – manufacturer of aftermarket wheels and trucks for model trains.

Kitbash – Building structures by mingling parts from various kits in a manner that departs from the manufacturers’ instructions in order to make a distinctive structure that fits a particular location and doesn’t look like everyone else’s layout.

Knuckle Coupler – Couplers on the ends of railroad cars and locomotives (standard in the U.S.) which, when viewed from above, resemble two hands with the fingers bent to grip one another.


Large Scale – Term commonly used to designate all model railroading scales in the nominal proportions of 1:24, 1:29, and 1:32 which operate on #1 Gauge (45mm) track. Also, the trade name applied to a line of such model train products produced by Lionel Trains. Term encompasses many of the largest of the commercially-available model railroading scales, exclusive of G Scale (1:22.5) which carries its own scale designation. See also, “G Scale.”

Layout – In model railroading, the term applied to an arrangement of tracks on a table or platform; also commonly applied to the complete assembly of tracks, accessories, and scenery. See also, “Pike.”

LMS – London Midland and Scottish Railway, formed in 1923, from the LNW, Midland, Caledonian, Furness, Glasgow & South Western, North Staffordshire and others.

LNER – London and North Eastern Railway – formed in 1923 from the North Eastern, North British, Great North of Scotland, Great Eastern Railways and others.

LNWR – London and North Western Railway amalgamated with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway in 1922 to form a group of the same name. In 1923 at Grouping. Became part of the LMS.

Lockon – A device used to connect wiring to tracks, especially on a three-rail model railroad. Allows the operator to directly connect wires from the transformer to the outside (ground) rail and inside (power) rail.


Mallet – An articulated steam locomotive named for the designer. The term is generally applied to any articulated steam locomotive.

Markers – Lamps displayed on the rear of a train to indicate that the complete train has passed, or to serve as a warning to following trains.

Mineral Wagon – Mineral traffic includes coal, coke, limestone, and similar bulky traffics. Coal has historically outweighed other minerals in tonnage carried and mineral traffic has tended to be thought of as coal traffic. Mineral traffic was the preserve of the Private Owner wagon.


N Scale – Model railroad scale in the proportion of 1:160. The second most popular (after HO Scale) of the model railroad scales in use today.

Narrow Gauge – Term designating railroad track having a rail spacing (gauge) of less than the North American standard of 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches-typically mining, industrial, and scenic railways which most commonly have rail spacing of either 3 feet or 2 feet. In model railroading, narrow gauge is designated by the modeling scale, followed by an “n” (narrow gauge), and then the modeled track gauge-for example, On3 or HOn2.

NBR – The North British Railway. Engineering works was at Cowlairs. Became part of the LNER at Grouping.

NMRA – National Model Railroad Association. A national organization dedicated to the advancement of model railroading in all scales. The organization instrumental in the establishment of standards for model railroading. For membership information, write to: 4121 Cromwell Road, Chattanooga, TN 37421.


O Scale/Gauge – Model railroad scale in the proportion of 1:48 (nominally, 1/4 inch = 1 foot); includes O scale, O gauge, O27 gauge, and On3 and On2 scale model trains and equipment. The standard track gauge for O/O27 measures 1-1/4 inches between the running rails.

027 Gauge – Toy train track which has the same distance between the outside running rails as O Gauge (1-1/4 inches), but is lighter in weight, has a lower profile, and measures only 27 inches over the diameter of a full circle. Also, the term applied to O27 trains, which generally are shorter or somewhat smaller than their true O Gauge counterparts-made so to negotiate the smaller-radius curves.


Pantograph – The collapsible, adjustable, “floating” structure which provides electrical contact with overhead wires on an electric locomotive, so-called for its pivoting capability.

Pike – A model railroad layout.

Pilot – Correct nomenclature for the guard structure at the front of a steam locomotive; often called a “cowcatcher.”

Pilot Truck – (Also lead or leading truck). The truck located in front of a steam locomotive’s drive wheels which, in addition to providing support, helps guide the engine into curves and turnouts. See also “Pony Truck.”

Pony Truck – A two-wheel pilot truck on a steam locomotive.

Power Pack – In model railroading, normally a train control device configured to convert household AC current to low-voltage DC current which is used for the operation of most model trains that run on two-rail track.

Prototype – The real, life-size object on which a scale model is based.

Pullman – A sleeping or parlor car operated by the Pullman Company; also commonly applied to any car of that same type.


Reefer – Slang for a refrigerator car.

Roadbed – Foundation to support track.

Rolling Stock – Freight and passenger cars including cabooses.

Roundhouse – A circular (usually) structure meant to house locomotives during servicing. The roundhouse customarily faced a turntable which was used to direct a locomotive onto and off of one of the roundhouse tracks.

Running Board – The narrow walkway alongside the boiler of a steam engine.


S Scale – Model railroad scale in the proportion of 1:64. Popularized by A. C. Gilbert’s American Flyer electric trains in the 1940s through the 1960s. Today, American Flyer trains continue to be produced on a limited basis by Lionel, LLC.

Sand Dome – A dome-shaped receptacle on top of a steam locomotive’s boiler; filled with sand for distribution to the rails as needed to provide greater traction for the engine’s drive wheels.

Scale – The size relationship between your models and the real thing, the prototype.

Scratchbuild – To build a model from plans or your own imagination using raw materials like brass, styrene, paper, plaster and wood and few commercially-available parts. This may involve casting your own metal or plaster parts. The idea is not to use a prepackaged kit.

Semaphore – A trackside signal which uses a movable arm to convey track occupancy information to the train crew.

Shanty – Slang term for a caboose.

Side Bay Caboose – A caboose with bay windows in the sides instead of a cupola on the roof.

Spur – A divergent track (siding) having only one point of entry; a branch line over which irregular service is offered.

Standard Gauge – In model railroading, toy trains larger than O gauge that operate on track measuring 2-1/8 inches between the running rails. Standard Gauge products were introduced by the Lionel Corporation in 1906 and were commonly produced by Lionel and others up until the start of World War II. In prototype railroading in the U.S. (and in some other countries), track measuring 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches between the inside edges of the running rails.


Tank Engine – Steam locomotive that carries its fuel and water supplies in tanks hung over or placed alongside the boiler, or on a frame extension (bunker) at the rear, instead of in a tender.

TCA – Train Collector’s Association. National organization dedicated to the advancement of the collecting and operating of toy trains of all eras. For membership information, write to: P.O. Box 248, Strasburg, PA 17579.

Tender – The car immediately behind a steam locomotive which is used to store the water and fuel (wood, coal, or oil) needed for the locomotive’s operation.

Tin Litho – Tinplate sheets which have been decorated by a printing process known as lithography. A process commonly used in the construction of toy trains in the period before World War II.

Tinplate – Stamped-steel (usually) surfaces which have been coated with a layer of tin to prevent rust and corrosion. Most toy train track is tinplated, and this term has, by extension, commonly been used to refer to all toy trains and their operators (“Tinplaters”).

Trailing Truck – A two- or four-wheeled truck located behind a steam locomotive’s driver wheels which helps support the rear of the engine.

Train Set – In real railroading, the term applied to a passenger train consist-often including the engine(s)-which customarily is not broken up except for special work on a component. In model railroading, a set of equipment usually consisting, at minimum, of a locomotive, cars, track, and transformer of power pack.

Trolley – Name commonly given to a streetcar which receives its power from overhead electric lines. Also, the name of the pole-like device used to collect and transfer electricity from the overhead lines into the streetcar itself.

Truck – The wheel assembly beneath a railroad car. Also referred to as a bogey.
Truss Bridge – Railroad bridges of various designs principally supported by a structure comprised of rigid steel beams.

TT Scale – Model railroad scale in the proportion of 1:120. Early competitor to HO scale and still being manufactured in limited numbers, but no longer considered a major force in scale model railroading.

Turbine Locomotive – One with power supplied by a steam turbine.

Turnout – A track switch to allow trains to take a diverging route. The term came into use to avoid confusion between a track switch and an electrical switch.

Turntable – A large, pivoted circular apparatus which rotates in a pit and is used to turn locomotives around, or to position them for movement to a different track.


Vanderbilt Tender – A steam locomotive tender with a distinctive, rounded, tank-style compartment behind a squared-off front portion.

Vestibule – Often found on both ends of a passenger car body, travelers enter a car from these enclosed areas.  Vestibules also facilitate passage from one car to the next.


Weathering -Showing the effects of time by “dirtying” buildings and rolling stock by applying rust, dirt, dust and other effects, either through washes of paint, inks, or powders and chalk. Weathering takes away the unrealistic shine from buildings and railroad equipment.

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