All About Aurora Postage Stamp Trains
Postage Stamp train sets constitute the messiest part of Aurora's product line and history. Remember that the Internet was still decades away, and no one was carefully documenting everything that transpired at Aurora Plastics; indeed, former employees often express surprise that anyone is still interested in what went on. Unfortunately, I've found that memories can be faulty on occasion, but slightly incorrect information is still better than none at all.
Locomotives, passenger cars and track were all made by Trix in Western Germany, while freight cars were made by Roco in Austria and branded for Trix. Power packs were made by K-F Industries in Philadelphia, and set packaging was made in the US by Aurora.
1967: An Organized Start
Aurora started with four sets: Fast Freight, Little Donkey, Cannon Ball and the Transcontinental Express. (Incidentally, these train set names appear in a catalog of copyrights.) Each set was available in one of four road names: Union Pacific, Santa Fe, Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio. Packaging was exclusively the iconic bookshelf box.
Aurora used the same catalog number for all sets of a given type, and added a three-digit suffix (what I've dubbed a "road code") to indicate
the road name. They applied the same numbering scheme to locomotives and rolling stock.
1968: Scaling Back
Aurora revised their train set line in 1968 by modifying existing sets and adding a new one. The Fast Freight rolling stock was switched around; the Cannon Ball and Transcontinental Express double-headers became single-headers; and the Little Donkey lost a freight car. The O-Six-O Freighter was the newcomer. Also, a number of Canadian train sets were released in Canada.
Road name options were cut in half: Fast Freight, Cannon Ball and Transcontinental Express sets came in Santa Fe and Penn Central only (evidently the switch from Pennsylvania to Penn Central was done to reflect the transition in real life). The new O-Six-O Freighter was offered only in Pennsylvania, and the Little Donkey had no road name options at all. Plus, Aurora significantly reduced the amount of track included in sets, slashing the straight section count from ten to three, plus a new rerailer.
Aurora also changed their numbering scheme: each set type and road name combination now had a unique catalog number. This change was carried over to their locomotives, but not their rolling stock. Packaging was still exclusively bookshelf boxes.
1969: Entropy Wins
In 1969, likely to stir fresh interest in the face of diminishing sales, Aurora went in the opposite direction from the year before, adding a whole slew of new sets featuring the three new locomotives Trix had introduced. However, none of these sets were released, possibly owing to production delays. Adding to the confusion, they changed the names of existing sets having power packs.
Aurora later released a number of sets not listed in their 1969 catalog. These have road codes grafted onto existing road-specific catalog numbers. My suspicion is that this was done because Aurora was overstocked with train sets in road names from their 1967 line-up. There may be more of them than are listed; I've only included those I've seen either in person or in photos online. Meanwhile, the 1969 order sheets tell an interesting story: evidently Aurora soon dropped the new sets that didn't have power packs, but kept the rest on the books, even though they were never released.
Packaging was still bookshelf boxes, although the 1969 catalog revealed a new flat box for a pair of Canadian train sets packaged by and sold through Aurora's Canadian distributor, Aurora Plastics of Canada, Ltd.
1970: The Big Chill
On March 1, 1970, Aurora abandoned Postage Stamp Trains. Sales were poor as public interest in N Scale waned; plus, numerous other American hobby companies had been importing N Scale products by this time. American Tortoise had taken over distribution of Minitrix products in North America, and started marketing their own product line, which was virtually identical to Aurora's, save for any Faller products.
Yet Postage Stamp branded train sets were still available, now in big yellow flat boxes. It seems that C.J. Bubla, Inc., a long-gone hobby and crafts distributor in Long Island, had taken over distribution of the train sets. Most of the sets from this era were the same ones as before, still packed in Styrofoam trays, just in different boxes. However, the C.J. Bubla order sheet included four unusual "P.S.T. Special Sets," which were packaged in boxes with yellow vacu-formed plastic trays, and contained unique combinations of locomotives, rolling stock, track and accessories. The order sheet also confirms that none of the new 1969 sets had been released by Aurora. But because C.J. Bubla evidently had access to the new Minitrix Pacific steam loco, they released two sets with it.
1973: The Last Hurrah
In 1973, Postage Stamp Train sets reappeared on the market in nice new white flat boxes bearing a big American 4-4-0 and Aurora's new block letter logo, a visual reminder the company was under new ownership. Evidently Nabisco was doing their best to shed an enormous stockpile of train sets and other products they'd inherited, and even offered a special promotional set to employees. All of these "new" sets were still the same as those from 1968-69, right down to the original names and Styrofoam trays.
Although this marked the end of Postage Stamp Trains once and for all, Aurora made one last very brief, strange reappearance in the N Scale model railroading market just before the company finally died in 1977.
1986: A Ghost from Japan
In 1984, the enormous Japanese toy conglomerate Tomy became the owner of Aurora's AFX model racing line. With it came rights to the Aurora name, which they used for their newly-retooled AFX products released in 1986. Tomy is also a major model railroading manufacturer, and so they also released a small series of train sets under the name Aurora Model Railroading.
Train Set Index
*NAME CHANGES: Beginning in 1969, sets with power packs received new names, while sets without power packs retained their 1968 names.
Most people have no clue what should be in one of these train sets, so unless you're just interested in the box, carefully compare the set's contents with what's shown on the detail pages in this section to be sure it contains what it should. More recommendations here.
Postage Stamp Trains is a Trademark of the Aurora Plastics Corporation.