All About Postage Stamp Trains
Is This the Way to Run a Railroad?
By 1975 Aurora was on its third owner and very soon to face extinction; one can only imagine the chaos taking place behind the scenes. Having terminated Postage Stamp Trains a year or two earlier, the powers that be evidently made an attempt to re-enter the model railroading market with Rail Masters, a small, freakishly strange product line.
Rail Masters comprised two compact prefab battery-powered layouts with cheap, primitive train sets. 36 pieces of rolling stock were also offered individually, although these consisted of only three freight cars—a bulkhead flat, a gondola and an auto carrier, each with various loads and road names—and a western-style caboose. Plus one sad, lonely little locomotive. Some people mistakenly identify the rolling stock as Postage Stamp Trains simply because they bear the Aurora name (indeed, they're the only ones that ever did).
Layouts were vacu-formed plastic jobs permanently mounted in shallow cardboard boxes. The "Red Ball Express" was a simple kidney-shaped oval; the "Astro Express" was a more elaborate folded dog-bone. Both featured manually-operated turntable thingies, and the Astro sported—get this—missile silos. Preemptive tykes, anyone? The "throttle" was a slot-car-like pistol-grip affair.
Each train set included a loco, two bulkhead flats, one gondola and a caboose, all stuffed in a blister pack with a plain cardboard back (left). The loco was a six-wheeled Plymouth diesel switcher, or some semblance thereof, made in Hong Kong; the freight cars and caboose were imported from Mexico. For some reason there are bunches of these old blister packs floating around—still factory-sealed, no less—and can often be found on eBay.
The loco, which runs on 6 volts DC only, was released in Santa Fe and Chessie System schemes (actually they're both painted exactly the same and are simply lettered differently). Plus, all of the cars have these strange old-HO-style quasi-mini-horn-hook couplers that are cast together with the trucks in one piece! All in all, this was a pretty dismal end for Aurora's model railroading career.
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Rail Masters is a Trademark of the Aurora Plastics Corporation.