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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O Gauge House
New South Wales Railways suburban electric train motor car, made from wood and cast metals by Frederick Steward and associates, Sydney, in about 1942.
O Gauge House
New South Wales Railways 38 class locomotive and tender, made from pressed and cast metals by Frederick Steward and associates, Sydney, in about 1943.
O Gauge House
New South Wales Railways 58 class locomotive and tender, made from pressed and cast metals by Frederick Steward and associates, Sydney, in about 1947.
Railway tunnel, made from painted cardboard and plywood by Olympic Products, Sydney, during the 1940s.
Operating in Sydney during the 1940s and 1950s, Olympic Products manufactured wooden educational items and toys, including railway stations and tunnels.
New South Wales Railways suburban passenger car, made from tinplate in about 1940, attributed to Leonard Pluck.
Prototype Model Railways
From left: Victorian Railways CW guard’s van, second class and first class passenger cars, made from wood with lead composition and diecast wheels by John May and Alan Budge, Melbourne, in about 1935.
John May, a fitter and turner by trade, began making O gauge rolling stock modelled on Victorian Railways prototype vehicles from 1935, with colleague Alan Budge, under the business name of Prototype Model Railways. The Prototype products were sold by several Melbourne retailers, including Meadmore and Model Dockyard. With chassis made from wood and tinplate bogies, the rolling stock was painted a red colour similar to that used by Victorian Railways, and exhibited a high level of accuracy. Prototype ceased manufacture when May enlisted to serve in the Second World War, and was not continued after the war.
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.