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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Prototype Model Railways
From left: Victorian Railways ‘M’ cattle van, ‘Z’ brake van, flat wagon, ‘T’ goods van and ‘IB’ open wagon, made from wood with lead composition and diecast wheels by John May and Alan Budge, Melbourne, in about 1935.
Steam locomotive, made from pressed and cast metals by Leonard John Pugh, Sydney, in about 1950.
Leonard John Pugh worked as a fitter and turner, and repetition engineer during the 1920s and 1930s. During the Second World War he was employed in the production of munitions parts. After the war he began making toy products to fill a void, registering the business name ‘Renown’ in 1945. After first producing toy tool sets, Pugh manufactured a range of working steam toys, beginning with ‘donkey’ engines, then steam windmills, road rollers and finally an O gauge locomotive. By the late 1950s, Renown had ceased toy production.
Vertical steam donkey engine, made from war surplus 57 mm brass shell case by by Leonard John Pugh, Sydney, in about 1947. The steam for this engine rose from a methylated spirit burner inside the boiler, made from a war surplus 57 mm brass shell case, with oscillating cylinder, crankshaft, flywheel, whistle and safety valve attached to the boiler shell.
Victorian Railways ‘Matthew Flinders’ Spirit of Progress locomotive with tender, passenger cars and freight wagons, made with pressed and cast metals by Ron Titchener and associates, Melbourne, in about 1948.
Born in Melbourne in 1915, Ronald Titchener worked as an engineer in various workshops before joining the Royal Australian Air Force in about 1939. After the war, Titchener established a tinplate toy factory in Armadale, a suburb of Melbourne. He began with a clockwork locomotive and a small range of goods wagons. In 1948, Titchener expanded his product line to include a passenger train, using the Victorian Railways Spirit of Progress as his model reference, which operated between Melbourne and Albury with a series of locomotives named ‘Matthew Flinders’, ‘Sir Thomas Mitchell’, ‘Edward Henty’ and ‘CJ Latrobe’, from 1937 until 1962. Robilt also produced a crawler tractor model in 1947, and manufactured O gauge accessories including picket fencing, stations, signals and a level crossing. Robilt became Australia’s largest toy manufacturer as its product range continued to expand. In the early 1960s the company turned its attention to producing small parts for the manufacturing industry instead.
From left: Victorian Railways timber wagon, large goods van, tank wagon, small goods van and crane wagon, made from sheet steel and cast metal components by Ron Titchener and associates, Melbourne, between 1947 and 1949.
Boxed South Australian Railways ‘52 series’ clockwork locomotive with tender and two passenger cars, made from steel by Ron Titchener and associates, Melbourne, in about 1952.
The ‘52’ series was one of Robilt’s most popular products, being available in a number of different colours with minor variations reflecting Victorian and New South Wales railway prototypes. This version, with an ‘SAR.’ decal on the side of the tender, marks it as the South Australian Railways model, introduced in 1952.
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.