At a glance
- O gauge model trains
- 30 manufacturers from Australia and New Zealand
- 1930s to 1960s
A fine collection of O gauge trains
These O gauge model trains, collected by Bruce Macdonald, were made by more than 30 different manufacturers from across Australia and New Zealand between the 1930s and the 1960s. The O gauge was a popular choice for hobbyists and a number of manufacturers chose to specialise in that scale. The gauge of a train model is measured between the inside edges of the load-bearing rails, with O gauge generally measuring 32 millimetres, at a scale of 1:43.
Slideshow of model trains
Learn more about some of the model trains and scenery on show at the National Museum, with information on each manufacturer, from Bruce Macdonald’s 2005 book Spring, Spark and Steam: An Illustrated Guide to Australian Toy and Model Trains. Photos by George Serras, Jason McCarthy and Katie Shanahan.
Highlights from the Bruce Macdonald collection
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Generic petrol tank wagon, made from tinplate by Donald Cranko of Havelock North, New Zealand, about 1950.
Born in Durban, South Africa, in 1898, Donald Cranko established a small engineering and manufacturing business in Havelock North, on New Zealand’s North Island, in about 1946. There Cranko produced a range of steam-powered toys including steam engines, road rollers and locomotives. By 1950, Cranko’s product range also included several goods wagons, including this petrol tank wagon. Due to reduced demand, Cranko closed his business in 1957, though he continued to make some toys for special orders.
Unpainted generic coach, made from cast aluminium by Edward Esdaile, in Sydney during the 1940s.
As a member of the Sydney Model Engineers, Edward Esdaile made patterns and aluminium castings for simple bogie coaches for the O gauge market. When Bruce Macdonald collected this coach, he decided to leave it unpainted so that the assembly method could be seen and appreciated.
Electric locomotive mechanism, with six coupled wheels, made by Davis Electra, Sydney, in about 1948.
Operating from small premises in the Sydney suburb of Maroubra, the firm Davis Electra manufactured a range of small electrical products, including transformer/controllers for model railways and, from 1948, locomotive mechanisms. The Davis Electra products were available for general sale through agents Richard Noble and Co, and supplied directly to toy and model manufacturers including Maurlyn and Robilt in Australia, and Donald Cranko in New Zealand.
Ferris Bros Pty Ltd
New South Wales Railways suburban electric train set made by Ferris Bros Pty Ltd, Sydney, about 1948.
In 1936, brothers George and Bill Ferris established a business manufacturing radio sets for motor vehicles. After the Second World War, they were joined by their cousin, Jack, and began to diversify their production to include toy trains when a postwar shortage meant they were unable to purchase train sets for their children for Christmas in 1947. Ferris began with a simple set including a motorised car with two trailers based on the New South Wales Railways suburban electric trains. During 1948 and 1949, Ferris improved the set by including track made by Munro and a trailer with lights. The product range gradually expanded to include several locomotives, carriages, goods wagons, and a variety of accessories. Due to the fall in demand for O gauge products, Ferris ceased production of train materials in 1958. Ferris continued to manufacture radio and television products until the brothers left when the company was taken over by the Hawker Siddeley Group.
Ferris Bros Pty Ltd
Model train production in Australia
Following the Second World War, local manufacturers responded to shortages in imported products by creating quality toy and model trains for a growing market. During the 1950s and 60s, the Australian toy and scale model train industries prospered, creating products for children and serious collectors.
Australian manufacturers, including Ferris, O Gauge House, Maurlyn and Robilt, produced trains modelled primarily on New South Wales and Victorian rolling stock. While model trains of the 1930s and 40s were often made of wood or simple tin-plate, by the 1950s and 60s complicated and highly detailed pressed sheet metal trains that ran on electric tracks were being mass-produced.
A lifetime love of trains
Bruce Macdonald received his first train set at the age of five, the start of a lifetime love of trains. As an adult, he was involved in the restoration and conservation of historic full-sized steam-powered engines, including items in the Museum’s collection. During the 1970s, Macdonald returned to his interest in O gauge toys and models and spent decades collecting examples of the main Australian and New Zealand manufacturers.
A member of the Australian Railway Historical Society since 1943, Macdonald is one of Australia’s foremost authorities on industrial railways and steam power in both full-size and miniature forms.