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Boxcars, buttons, and Classic Toy Trains collectibles

By Roger Carp | March 6, 2012

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Classic Toy Trains collectibles include the four commemorative boxcars, each of them being decorated to mark a significant anniversary in the magazine’s history. In the front you have the 10th anniversary boxcar made by Lionel. Behind it, from left to right, are the Weaver 5th anniversary, MTH 15th anniversary, and Atlas O 20th anniversary models. Right now, we’re planning the 25th anniversary car.
SINCE I STARTED WRITING THESE EXCLUSIVE ARTICLES for the Classic Toy Trains Web site, I have concentrated on postwar trains. This time, though, I’ll be looking at some items from the modern era – the very recent modern era. From April 1993 through October 2011, Classic Toy Trains handed out pin-on buttons to attendees at the semi-annual train show organized by the Eastern Division of the Train Collectors Association in York, Pa. The series totaled 36 different button designs in 18 years. That got us thinking about CTT-branded collectibles, including the O gauge boxcars commemorating key anniversaries for CTT and the buttons we gave away at the York, Pa. shows that are overseen by the Eastern Division of the Train Collectors Association. So here is your complete (I hope) guide to the large assortment of collectibles associated with Classic Toy Trains.

Let me hastily add that this article is not an attempt to toot our own horn, and it shouldn’t be viewed as evidence of arrogance. Neither is it an effort to pressure anybody into collecting something. But questions concerning CTT items are common, and we though it would be helpful to make this listing available.
I can speak for Editor Carl Swanson and other current members of the CTT staff when I say that we feel great pride in how the magazine has grown.

First issue is the first collectible
When Dick Christianson (working with Russ Larson at Model Railroader) launched CTT in 1987, he aimed to put together a magazine that, on a regular basis, would spotlight great collections, attractive layouts, and significant sets, locomotives, and accessories. He thought readers would save individual issues, but the idea that CTT would create collectible items never occurred to Dick.

Soon enough, all of us associated with CTT (I joined the crew in early 1988, before the second quarterly issue came out) realized that this was going to be a special magazine. The response from the hobby proved to be overwhelming. Thousands of enthusiasts became charter subscribers. And thus was created the very first Classic Toy Trains collectible.

Subscriptions started with the second issue of the magazine, which came out in the summer of 1988. Others hopped on board as new issues came out every three months. But not every reader had managed to obtain a copy of the first issue (Fall 1987). And with the quantity printed having been fairly small, opportunities to acquire the “Premier Issue” dwindled. Then, it seemed, everybody wanted one.

I can’t remember when Kalmbach Publishing Co. ran out of copies of the first issue of CTT. By the early 1990s, though, Dick, Associate Editor Jim Bunte, and I were hearing readers complain that they had every issue except the first one.

Before long, the price of a copy of the Fall 1987 Classic Toy Trains was doubling and tripling. The more issues of the magazine that we published, the more it seemed to gall toy train hobbyists that they were missing that first one.

By the turn of the 21st century, folks were asking – and getting – $125 and even $150 – for a pristine copy of the “Premier Issue.” A decade later, the price has dropped rather dramatically to the neighborhood of $50, which is still a lot.

The Fall 1987 issue of CTT did have some terrific material. The cover feature concentrated on Richard Kughn, a notable collector who had purchased the rights to manufacture and market Lionel trains the year before. The main article highlighted Kughn’s magnificent collection of prewar and postwar trains while discussing his plans for running Lionel and building up its reputation.

Also in that magazine was an article by Tom McComas and Jim Tuohy on some of the finest toy train layouts to be seen (the subject of their then-new book). Ron Hollander revealed the history behind the development of Lionel’s smoking mechanisms in the mid-1940s. In addition, Dick Christianson visited the huge Lionel layout at the Train Barn in Michigan. Many new products were pictured.

Next came a boxcar

With Dick and Jim at the helm, great issue after great issue came out in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Joe Algozzini made his debut as CTT’s top expert on postwar Lionel trains, and John Grams began writing about prewar locomotives and sets. James Flynn shared insights into Marx trains. Ray L. Plummer and Bill Ahrens gave advice on repairing and restoring American Flyer and Lionel items.

Time seemed to fly by, with the number of issues published each year increasing from one in 1987 to two in 1988 to four in 1989. Then Dick announced with a grin that CTT would become a bi-monthly publication in 1990. Issues with comprehensive looks at the Lionel no. 6464 series of boxcars won acclaim, as did interviews with former Lionel employees and more stories on superb collections.

With our fifth anniversary looming, Jim finished a major article on the landmark O gauge display layout that Lionel had unveiled in its New York City showroom in 1949. Along with a detailed track plan, the February 1992 issue of Classic Toy Trains showcased several photographs and the recollections of Lionel’s Robert Sherman, who helped design and construct that model railroad.

Sad to say, the February 1992 issue of CTT also went out of print fairly quickly. So maybe it or the brand-new print that Bob Sherman painted for the magazine should be considered the second Classic Toy Trains collectible.

A better candidate would be the first commemorative boxcar, which CTT offered in 1992. Our sister publication Model Railroader had started the practice of having a manufacturer develop a unique model heralding a key anniversary. In 1959, Kalmbach marketed HO scale boxcars saluting MR’s 25 years in the field.

Dick took the cue and worked with Weaver Models on an O gauge boxcar that was sold exclusively by Classic Toy Trains. The model came painted white with the name of the magazine printed in the same shade of red that Art Director Lawrence Luser had selected for CTT. The typeface on the boxcar duplicated the one Larry used for CTT, which mimicked what Lionel had used in the 1920s.

Three more boxcars

The Classic Toy Trains fifth anniversary boxcar caught the attention of many readers, and the supply in our warehouse shrank fairly quickly. This good-looking model inaugurated what has become a very popular tradition at CTT.

Now, every five years, the editorial staff and members of our circulation department work with one of the major toy train manufacturers to design and produce an O gauge boxcar that marks a major anniversary. Once the model is finished, anybody can order one to display or to operate on a three-rail layout.

For the 10th anniversary of Classic Toy Trains in 1997, Lionel came forward with a boxcar that hearkened back to a Milwaukee Road model it had released not too many years previously. This was fitting because Kalmbach’s offices had been located in downtown Milwaukee from 1934 through 1989.

Both models had maroon sides and doors; the roof and ends of the body were black. A yellow stripe ran across each side, with “Milwaukee Road” on the left. On the right side of the CTT car, the railroad herald had been replaced with a red-and-white emblem with the name of the magazine surrounded by the dates “1987” and “1997.” The “Milw 21027” referred to the street address of CTT.

Five years later, it was time to commemorate the magazine’s 15 years in business. Editor Neil Besougloff turned to MTH Electric Trains for assistance, and that firm developed an O gauge boxcar whose sides were painted cream. The ends and the roof were done in dark blue, while the doors were painted bright red.

Also red was “Classic Toy Trains,” printed in the latest typeface used by the magazine. “Celebrating 15 Years” and “1987-2002” were affixed in black. Best of all were the multi-colored reproductions of two magazine covers on one side of the car and the special oval anniversary emblem on the opposite side.

Most recently, in 2007, the editorial and circulation teams at CTT worked with Atlas O on a boxcar that everyone thinks has been a true winner. Aware of how popular that train manufacturer’s series of O gauge billboard refrigerator cars had become, we contracted for it to produce a special Green Bay & Western wood-sided reefer that would have Classic Toy Trains graphics and details.

This cool car features a brown roof and ends, and its sides come in cream with black lettering. Like the MTH model, this boxcar makes use of our street address (21027 Crossroads Circle) by using that as its number: “W.R.X. 21027.”

Additional decoration includes “Leading the toy train hobby for 20 years!” printed in red on each side. Below that slogan is “Kalmbach Publishing Co., Waukesha, Wisc.” Higher up on each side Atlas O put on “Pick up a copy of …” and followed those words with reproductions of two beautiful CTT covers. Wow!

Don’t forget the billboards

Every layout needs billboards and vehicles. To help readers improve the look of their O or S gauge railroads and to promote Classic Toy Trains, we have included custom billboards in three issues and offered die-cast metal trucks that came painted white or cream with red CTT graphics splashed across their sides.

Jim Bunte deserves the credit for adding the first group of billboards to CTT. He made sure the miniature cardboard reproductions of actual signs were authentic and would fit into the plastic frames that came in every Lionel no. 310 set. You can find these billboards bound into each copy of the June 1992 issue.

Although readers responded very positively to the billboards, especially the one promoting Classic Toy Trains, no more appeared in the magazine for several years. Then Advertising Manager Dean Bennett suggested a new angle.

Instead of using consumer goods or vintage art as the basis for another set of billboards, Dean recommended that current advertisers in the magazine be given an opportunity to have our art department develop billboards that would mention them. Neil endorsed the idea, and Dean proceeded to reach out with it.

The results of Dean’s efforts appeared in the July 2000 issue. There, along with an article on constructing wooden billboard frames, were signs advertising Allied Model Trains, Atlas O, Department 56, Madison Hardware, TrainAmerica, Weaver Models, and, of course, CTT and Kalmbach Publishing’s line of books.

One year later, in the July 2001 Classic Toy Trains, we added eight more billboards. That issue was a special one – the 100th issue of CTT – and we wanted to do something special for our readers. They discovered signs for Allied Model Trains, Charles Ro Supply Co., Diecast Direct, K-Line, Weaver, and Williams.

Die-cast metal trucks

Miniature vehicles that were decorated with the name and logo of Classic Toy Trains seemed to our editorial and circulation departments to be surefire ways to keep the magazine in the minds of folks building or viewing O gauge layouts. We have worked with different manufacturers to produce an array of cool trucks.

The first die-cast metal truck that boasted CTT markings was a tractor-trailer rig developed by Ertl in the mid-1990s. That firm relied on its standard combination and painted it white with red decoration. The rubber tires featured plastic chrome detailing; the grille and lights on the cab were also shiny silver.

The tractor had the name plus an old logo of Kalmbach Publishing Co. plastered beneath the windows of the cab. The trailer came with Classic Toy Trains in its original typeface, along with “For the Collector and Operator.” It also had a slot in its roof, so kids could place coins inside and use it as a bank.

Next came a Divco milk truck, which was marketed by The Ink Well in 2001, on the eve of the 15th anniversary of Classic Toy Trains. This white die-cast metal delivery van boasted red highlights, including the name of the magazine. In black was “The Leading Toy Train Magazine” on each side above the rear wheel.

The Ink Well was also the source of an O gauge replica of a Chevrolet panel truck from 1954. Made by Road Champs, this beige truck had CTT graphics on both sides. Those markings heralded the magazine’s 15th anniversary. Plastic chrome details on the wheels, plus a silver grille and side mirrors, completed it.

Then there was a gap of almost half a decade before the most recent die-cast metal vehicle. This 1:43 delivery truck from Athearn delivered stacks of magazines, just in time for CTT’s 20th anniversary in 2007. The red die-cast metal cab hauled a silver trailer with the magazine’s name and covers and “1987-2007.”

The most popular of all CTT collectibles are the pin-on buttons that staff members have been handing out at each of the semi-annual train shows organized by the Eastern Division of the Train Collectors Association in York, Pa. On the right side are the buttons given out between April 1994 and October 2004. On the left side you glimpse the five special buttons created for visitors and advertisers; beneath them are the buttons dating from April 2005 through October 2009. The Christmas tree ornament in the middle previously hung on a tree standing in the lobby of Kalmbach Publishing Co. before it was donated to Editor Carl Swanson.
On to the buttons!

Time to highlight what have proved to be the most popular of all Classic Toy Trains collectibles. Not the shirts you could have ordered in 2001 or the two different kinds of lapel pins that we gave out in the 1990s and early 2000s. No, what stands at the top of the heap are the buttons that are handed out at York.

In 1993, Dick, Jim, and I spent some time brainstorming about how we might entice more of the people who attended the semi-annual train shows at the fairgrounds in York, Pa., to stop by the CTT booth. “What if we had buttons to give attendees?” one of us suggested. Then we decided to change the look of those “freebies” with a different collectible train pictured on each issue.

Over the next 18 years, members of the Classic Toy Trains staff at the show have spent the first hour or so putting a button in the hand of each person who asked for one. The buttons are always a hit, and the entire supply is quickly exhausted.

36 York buttons

I could reminisce about each button and the story behind the choice of its image. Too bad because that would double or triple the length of this article.

Instead of going on and on, I’ll mention a handful of general points.

Counting two shows every year, and with 1,000 buttons printed per show, that means 36,000 buttons were designed, made, and distributed.

Nearly all the designs featured a toy train product. For five of the buttons, we used images of prototype locomotives originally drawn by one of our artists for Model Railroader.

A few other points to ponder:

First, the original Classic Toy Trains logo graced every button from the first one through October of 1997. We switched to a new one for the magazine cover after our 10th anniversary, and it has been on every button since April 1998.

Second, the slogan, “The Leading Toy Train Magazine,” appeared on every button from the first through October of 2001. For our 15th anniversary, we adopted a new slogan, “We Cover The Whole Hobby,” and used it on buttons in 2002 and 2003. We dropped it in 2004, and no longer put a slogan on our buttons.

Third, buttons began noting our Web site in October of 1998. The name has changed and is now ClassicToyTrains.com. An incorrect Web address was added to the batch we got for April of 1999, so we had to destroy them. A few erroneously pins labeled “classictrain.com” did get out and are considered “rare variations.”

Artwork was used for the first seven years. The first image that was a photo of an actual toy train was the Williams electric on the April 2001 button. Since then, with few exceptions, we have relied on pictures shot in our studio.

Listing the CTT York buttons

April 1994 Santa Fe F3 diesel
October 1994 New York Central 4-6-4 Dreyfuss Hudson steam

April 1995 Pennsylvania GG1 electric
October 1995 Lionel no. 2031 Rock Island FA diesel

April 1996 Milwaukee Road Hiawatha steam
October 1996 Lionel no. 2338 Milwaukee Road GP7 diesel

April 1997 Lionel no. 2331 Virginian Train Master diesel
October 1997 Lionel no. 2379 Rio Grande F3 diesel

April 1998 Lionel no. 2339 Wabash GP7 diesel
October 1998 Amtrak Genesis diesel

April 1999 Lionel no. 2333 New York Central F3 diesel
October 1999 Lionel no. 1700 diesel

April 2000 Lionel no. 400E steam
October 2000 Lionel ZW transformer

April 2001 Williams New Haven electric
October 2001 Gilbert American Flyer no. 470 Santa Fe PA diesel

April 2002 Lionel no. 2245 Texas Special F3 diesel
October 2002 Lionel no. 2356 Southern F3 diesel

April 2003 Lionel no. 2368 Baltimore & Ohio F3 diesel
October 2003 Lionel no. 2343 Santa Fe F3 diesel

April 2004 Lionel no. 2345 Western Pacific F3 diesel
October 2004 Lionel no. 2367 Wabash F3 diesel

April 2005 MTH Union Pacific F3 diesel
October 2005 Williams New Haven F3 diesel

April 2006 Lionel no. 2373 Canadian Pacific F3 diesel
October 2006 Lionel Atlantic Coast Line F3 diesel

April 2007 Lionel Milwaukee Road Hiawatha steam
October 2007 “Classic Toy Trains 20 Years 1987-2007”

April 2008 Lionel Canadian Pacific GP30 diesel
October 2008 “Cast Your Vote For Classic Toy Trains”

April 2009 Lionel no. 2333 Santa Fe F3 diesel
October 2009 Lionel Union Pacific SD70ACe diesel

April 2010 Lionel Corporation Tinplate Brute
October 2010 Lionel Great Northern EP-5

April 2011 Lionel Virginian Rectifier
October 2011 CTT 25th anniversary logo

Five other CTT buttons

In addition to the buttons handed out at the Classic Toy Trains booth at the York shows, we have developed five additional buttons. These collectibles relate to special occasions.

Three times in the early 2000s, Classic Toy Trains was part of the national convention of a toy train collecting or operating organization. We helped sponsor the 2003 Train Collectors Association gathering in nearby Chicago and invited attendees of the 2002 Lionel Operating Train Society and the 2004 Lionel Collectors Club of America conventions to come to our offices and meet the staff.

As a treat for the people who stopped by in July 2002, we created special buttons that featured the CTT 15th anniversary logo and were lettered, “I Visited CTT at the LOTS Convention.” These went over so well that we did it again two years later with button that stated, “I Visited CTT at the LCCA Convention.”

We also handed out special buttons at the banquet held at the TCA meeting. Besides having our name and the date of the event, these buttons depicted the Grizzly Flats station that belonged to the late Ward Kimball, a Disney animator, prominent toy train collector, and beloved member of the TCA.

These three buttons were given to just those folks who attended these conventions. An even smaller group received the last two CTT buttons. Advertising Manager Dean Bennett had two different pins created in the 2000s, which he distributed to individuals placing ads in our magazine. These were tokens of our esteem and reinforced the idea that advertising in CTT pays off.

And the only complete collection of all the Classic Toy Trains buttons resides, not in the Smithsonian Institution or the Library of Congress, but in the office of our editor. Dick started it, passed it down to Neil, who gave it to Carl!

Are there more?

There you have it … or so I think! My list has four anniversary boxcars, three sheets of billboards, four commemorative die-cast metal trucks, two lapel pins, a stylish three-button shirt, and 41 Classic Toy Trains buttons of all kinds.

Are there still more collectibles associated with our magazine? I won’t be surprised if the other members of our staff remember some others or if readers contact us with evidence of additional pins, publications, and what have you.

See how many of these different items you have and good luck acquiring whatever you’re missing. Just don’t call me, because I’ve foolishly given way to friends just about every York button, although I do own each of the boxcars.

16 thoughts on “Boxcars, buttons, and Classic Toy Trains collectibles

  1. I'm happy to say, I've got them all, including, the Premier Issue in CTT binders, in my train room. They have proven to be great reference sources over the years. There are many post-its visible to highlight key articles. The billboards were a neat touch, but I didn't want to damage the magazines by removing them. I even keep some of the subscription/solicitation cards. I have been sending in the sweepstakes cards, but somehow, mine never seems to make it out of the bin. The Atlas commemorative car is frequently seen on a siding at the Lionelville freight station while magazine bundles are being unloaded for transfer to a well maintained 1:43 CTT delivery truck.
    Roger, a very interesting, well-written article. Thanks.

  2. Don't you just love it? Collectors collect everything, including collectibles generated by the magazine about collecting that they read, as well as the magazine itself!

  3. Reissue the premier issue of CTT with a banner across the front clearly labeling it as a reissue and offer it to current or new subscribers. Who cares if the ads are out-of-date? Part of the fun would be seeing those ads!

  4. I wish I could Find the few i missed not meany but 3 i belive Like your Mag. CTT. Very informtive. save all the Issues. Can you tell me what Issue was the badges was in Thank You JIm H

  5. Ottawa. Ontario.
    While visiting Tom McComas in 1991 I noticed he had two copies of the first issue of CTT but not one of the June 1990 issue in which my article, "Plate Rail Railroading" had appeared. If he would give one of them to me I promised I would send the 1990 issue to him a soon as I returned home. I did and now a complete collection of all CCT mags. I am fast running out of shelf space for all those binders!

  6. I think I have all issues except maybe 2. Where can I find a listing of issues/year ie; 87-1, 88-2, 89-4, 90-6, etc?

  7. You're right, Roger; there may be more CTT collectibles. An interesting one that comes to mind is the bound volumes of years 1 and 2 (combined). At one point, Kalmbach set aside hundreds of copies of most of our magazines. At the end of the year, we'd send them off to be bound together. Copies would go to the Kalmbach library and staff members, and the rest would be advertised in the magazine and sold to readers. Eventually, that proved unprofitable and only a minimal number of copies were bound. By early 1989, we felt we had published enough issues to make up a bound volume of the first two years of CTT. Unfortunately, Vol. 1, No. 1 had sold out – almost instantly. We went around the company scrounging personal copies from those willing to give them up. So, that first bound volume has all of the issues – except the first one! In fact, though, 17 bound copies have Vol. 1, No. 1 in it – made up of those scrounged copies. The library has a complete volume, as do some of the former MR and CTT staff members. All other copies sold to the public will be missing that first issue. So, if you find one with Vol. 1, No. 1 in it, see if you can find out which Kalmbach employee sold it!

  8. I also have the first issue, and have a mostly complete set (although I am missing two somewhere in the nineties) from the mailman not delivering them. I donate and recycle all my other train related magazines and I am keeping only Classic Toy Trains.
    Great magazine!

  9. You didn't list the manufacturer's stock numbers for the cars. That is going to make them even harder to track down.
    Any way you can add them to an update of this story?

  10. You missed the issue that had cut-outs to make various types and sizes of freight boxes. I've had them on my layout for years and they still look great.

  11. Good article. I have all the issues as I bought the first one on eBay and the second one at a train show. One of these days I will have to go to York so I can get at least one button.

  12. Thank you for the infro on the york buttons and other items. I do wish that you and seen fit to end the buttons@ york in a more profesional maner than just a note on the table. Even a end of train caboose as the last button. I hope for another great prmo idea.

  13. I hope you add a foot note to the collecting York button article adding the list of stickers that issured like the buttons. I think not all shows that stickers.

  14. Why not issue a button with every yearly subscription to classic toy trains? like the lionel railroader club does.

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