How To Timeless Classics The history of Heritage Fleet column and toy trains

The history of Heritage Fleet column and toy trains

By Roger Carp | April 9, 2023

Model Railroader magazine honored great products; items were the forerunner of Classic Toy Trains

Email Newsletter

Get the newest photos, videos, stories, and more from brands. Sign-up for email today!

The history of the “Heritage Fleet” column is an interesting one. This regular feature in Model Railroader magazine between March of 1987 and March of 1990, helped toy train enthusiasts and scale modelers discover classic miniature locomotives, cars, and more designed and sold in the first 50 or so years of the 20th century.

In many respects, those one-page articles set the stage for what became the first issue of Classic Toy Trains magazine in the fall of 1987.

Download the Heritage Fleet Collection 1.


Even before MR Editor Russ Larson and Managing Editor Dick Christianson held discussions with President Jim King and Art Director Lawrence Luser about launching CTT, they were talking about a short feature focused on toy trains for each issue of MR. They wanted something bright and colorful with minimal text.

Dick had already taken the lead at Kalmbach in becoming a trusted voice on the toy train side of the hobby. He had played with Lionel trains as a youngster in Wisconsin during the 1950s and had little trouble reigniting his passion for O gauge railroading after being hired at Kalmbach. Russ had advised his associate to join the Train Collectors Association while exploring train stores in Milwaukee and becoming acquainted with the most prominent dealers in town.

Download the Heritage Fleet Collection 2.

Meeting T & M

While immersing himself in toy train clubs and shows around Milwaukee, Dick learned about the excellent publications being written and marketed by Tom McComas and Jim Tuohy in Chicago. He managed to meet the two and talk about collaboration.

Dick realized that Tom and Jim, besides sharing his interest in Lionel, its trains and history, offered access to a host of train collectors living in the Chicago area. Those diverse individuals concentrated on brands, gauges, and eras of production beyond Lionel O gauge of the post-World War II period.

Little by little, Dick and Russ understood they had gained access to just what they had dreamed of showcasing in Model Railroader.

Getting started

Dick arranged with Jim and Tom to contact collectors living in and around Chicago about sharing pieces so Kalmbach might photograph them for a series of short articles in Model Railroader. Several notable hobbyists responded positively, including David Garrigues, Frank Petruzzo and Mel Nicholas.

In addition, a well-known and highly respected expert on postwar Lionel sets, engines, and cars stepped out and offered whatever assistance and expertise Dick might want. That was the first time Joe Algozzini became involved with Kalmbach Publishing.

black background with red and silver model locomotiv
Heritage Fleet,” a series in Model Railroader magazine dedicated to showcasing the great toy train of the past, made its debut in the March 1987 issue with a beautiful tribute to Lionel’s Santa Fe F3 cab units from the postwar period.

Once Dick and Russ concluded they had secured access to classic models from the first half of the 20th century, they were determined to photograph many of those locomotives, stations, operating models, and much more. Art Director Larry Luser envisioned posing those beauties in lush settings, complete with rich and soft lighting. Art Schmidt, the experienced staff photographer at Kalmbach, followed Larry’s instructions and came up with wonderful pictures of toy trains.

red background with black steam locomotive model
American toy trains from the prewar era, including those manufactured by firms other than Lionel, were occasionally shown. This honoree was an O gauge 4-4-2 Atlantic steam engine and tender made by the A.C. Gilbert Co. in the late 1930s.

Text about when the different items had been manufactured and by whom accompanied the photos. The text included information about the significance of a particular engine or accessory and words about how its influence had been felt.

Time to publish

yellowish background with yellow and silver model diesel locomotive
The magnificent Lionel No. 2023 Union Pacific Alco FA units from 1950 were shared by postwar expert Joe Algozzini, who has been a regular contributor to Classic Toy Trains almost since its premier issue hit newsstands back in 1987.

The editorial and art team overseeing Model Railroader chose to launch the one-page feature it had named “Heritage Fleet” in the March 1987 issue. For the next three years, even after Classic Toy Trains made its debut six months later, virtually every issue of MR contained the popular profile. Heritage Fleet was dropped only after Russ and Dick decided the new magazine was the right place to celebrate vintage toy trains.

You must login to submit a comment