All About Postage Stamp Trains
Postage Stamp train sets constitute the messiest part of Aurora's product line and history. At best, the information I've accumulated so far is sketchy and incomplete—I feel like a paleontologist trying to piece together some prehistoric creature. While I acknowledge assumptions are risky, I don't have much choice, and I've done my best to make the most reasonable and defensible assumptions possible.
Locomotives, passenger cars and track were made by Trix in Western Germany, while freight cars were made by Roco in Austria and branded for Trix. Power packs were made in USA by an unknown source. Set packaging was made in USA by Aurora.
1967: An Organized Start
Initially four sets were offered: Fast Freight, Little Donkey, Cannon Ball and the Transcontinental Express. Each set was available in one of four road names: Union Pacific, Santa Fe, Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio. Packaging consisted exclusively of the iconic bookshelf box.
Aurora used the same catalog number for all sets of a given type, and added what I call a "road code" (a three-digit suffix) to indicate the road name. They applied the same numbering scheme to locomotives and rolling stock.
I'll presume that the Canadian National freight sets (green rows) were sold through Aurora's Canadian distributor, Aurora Plastics of Canada Ltd. Presently, however, this is mere speculation because they're rare sets I've only ever glimpsed in passing online; at least I can confirm they exist.
1968: Scaling Back
Aurora revised their train set line in 1968 by modifying existing sets and adding a new one. The consist of the Fast Freight 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. Packaging was still exclusively bookshelf boxes.
Road name options were cut in half: Fast Freight, Cannon Ball and Transcontinental Express sets came in Santa Fe and Penn Central only. The new O-Six-O Freighter was offered only in Santa Fe, 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 four pieces.
1969: Entropy Wins
In 1969 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: the FM switcher, the GE U-28 and the 4-6-2 Pacific. However, it appears these sets (grey rows) were never released, possibly owing to production delays and/or Aurora's change in ownership and management. Adding to the confusion, they changed the names of sets having power packs.
Although details on this era are murky at best, it appears that Aurora released a number of sets not listed in their 1969 catalog (highlighted in yellow). These have road codes grafted onto existing road-specific catalog numbers. There may be more of them than are listed below; I can only include those I've seen either in person or in clear, unambiguous photos.
1970-1972: The Great Unknown
Piecing together Postage Stamp Train sets in the early 1970s is akin to reconstructing an entire skeleton from a few teeth. I'm going out on a limb by assuming 1970 marked the appearance of the big yellow-and-black flat boxes. I'm going further out on said limb to suggest C.J. Bubla, Inc., a long-gone hobby and crafts distributor in Long Island, took over distribution of the Postage Stamp Train sets.
Most of the sets from this era were the same ones as before, just in different boxes. However, a dealer order sheet from C.J. Bubla includes four unusual "P.S.T. Special Sets" (tan rows), which were packaged in customized yellow-and-black flat boxes, and contained unique combinations of locomotives, rolling stock, track and accessories.
The order sheet is telling in that it confirmed my suspicions about the sets that were never released (grey rows), save for one: 4760, "Mighty Mammoth," was not crossed off the order sheet. Since their 4752 Special Set featured a Pacific, it's possible C.J. Bubla was able to make these sets. However, I've yet to see evidence it exists, and until I do, the row will remain grey.
1973: The Last Hurrah
In 1973, Postage Stamp Train sets reappeared on the market in nice new boxes bearing an American 4-4-0 and Aurora's new block letter logo, a visual reminder the company was under new ownership. The sets themselves were still the same as those from 1968-69, complete with the same foam trays and even the old set names, like "Rattler." It was something of a return to form, if only briefly; afterward, the trail abruptly runs cold.
Likely this well and truly marks the end of the line for Postage Stamp Trains (although there was one last very brief, strange reappearance in the model railroading market). Once again, please note that, out of necessity, much of this information is speculative. As always, I welcome feedback.
Train Set Index
NOTE: Set types that are checked (√) indicate they've been confirmed to exist, not their official release status. There will almost certainly be additions in the future.
*NAME CHANGES: Beginning in 1969, sets with power packs received new names, while sets without power packs retained their pre-1969 names.
Buyer alert: 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.
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Postage Stamp Trains is a Trademark of the Aurora Plastics Corporation.