All About Aurora 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 five years earlier, the powers that be evidently made an attempt to re-enter the model railroading market with Rail Masters, a very small, freakishly strange product line (click the catalog thumbnail to see the entire catalog). Although ballyhooed as "the most innovative development in train sets in the last fifty years," Arnold did this very thing back in 1961, right down to being 6V battery-powered—plus they looked better and probably ran better, too. Incidentally, Rail Masters train sets shared the same DNA with Aurora's Scre-e-echers and Road Burners battery-powered race car sets; they all appear on Aurora's Wall-Pak battery replacer.
The line consisted of two compact prefab battery-powered layouts with cheap, primitive train sets. (Originally there were supposed to be three, but apparently the "Detroit Fireball" never made it to the market.) 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.
Layouts were vacu-formed plastic jobs permanently mounted in shallow cardboard boxes. The "Red Ball Express" was a simple kidney-shaped oval, while 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. Loads of these old blister packs are floating around—many still factory-sealed—and can often be found for sale online. 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.
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!
Evidently the layouts were an utter disaster—for one thing, the rails would not stay attached to the base no matter what they did; they also missed the 1977 Christmas season. According to a manager at Aurora, a huge number of sets were returned, and a person present at the Aurora bankruptcy sale said there was a tractor trailer fully loaded with Rail Masters sets. All in all, this was an embarrassing end for Aurora's model railroading career.
If you see any of these products listed as Postage Stamp Trains, know that they aren't. Also, running one of these locomotives on a regular pack will burn it out, while rolling stock won't roll on regular track properly and won't couple with anything else.
Rail Masters is a Trademark of the Aurora Plastics Corporation.