Bruce Macdonald's 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.
Highlights from the collection
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.
Slideshow of model trains
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Mechanical level crossing, made from sheet metal and wood by Bill Munro and company, Sydney, in about 1948.
Baillie ‘Bill’ Munro worked as a motor mechanic in Sydney near the Searle family’s hobby shop. He began supplying O gauge track and accessories to the Searle’s shop in 1947 to fill the void caused by postwar shortages. In 1948, Munro moved his business and employed eight staff in the production of model train accessories, supplying track to the larger manufactures including Ferris, Scorpion, Robilt and Maurlyn.
Munro’s innovative level crossing had working boom gates which were activated by the passage of the train, with the operator able to make adjustments according to the weight of the trains in use. Although he briefly explored making HO gauge track in 1957, Munro decided to cease manufacture of model train accessories entirely in 1960. He made office furniture and equipment until his retirement in 1980.
O Gauge House
New South Wales Railways C36 class locomotive and tender, made with pressed and cast metals by Frederick Steward and associates, Sydney, in about 1938.
Born in Sydney in 1889, Frederick Steward had an interest in building model steam locomotives from an early age and he won a British Model Engineer magazine prize in 1912. During the 1920s, Steward became involved in the Society of Model Engineers and began work at Waddingtons Ltd, which became Commonwealth Engineering. There, Steward worked on the design and construction of new all-metal bodied double decker buses for the Sydney transport system. He pursued his interest in O gauge modelling, starting a small production of rolling stock items in 1937 with an ‘FB’ class flat wagon modelled on a South Australian Railways prototype. Steward’s product range gradually became more extensive and ambitious. By 1946, ‘Fred’s Shed’ had become O Gauge House, and Steward retired from Waddingtons in 1948. At the height of O gauge popularity, Steward’s highly detailed products and attractive exhibitions had broad appeal, and he further encouraged interest in modelling by developing courses in a Model Railway Engineer’s Academy for beginners in the hobby. After Steward’s death in 1956, his son continued the business until Steward’s wife died in 1958 and the property in Curt Street, Ashfield, was sold.
O Gauge House
South Australian Railways ‘FB’ class flat wagon, made from cast aluminium by Frederick Steward and associates, Sydney, in about 1937.
O Gauge House
From left: New South Wales Railways ‘FS’ passenger car, guard van and ‘LHG’ freight brake van, made from aluminium and cast metals by Frederick Steward and associates, Sydney, between about 1938-1947.
O Gauge House
From left: New South Wales Railways ‘MRC’ refrigerator van, petrol tank wagon and ‘K’ open wagon, made from cast metals by Frederick Steward and associates, Sydney, in about 1947.
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. About 155 pieces of rolling stock and scenery from the Macdonald collection are on show at the National Museum.
Bruce Macdonald's model trains are currently on show in the Hall at the National Museum of Australia.