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Hammer & Sickle Introduction to Soviet Union Trains Hammer & Sickle

This Section Last Updated: September 24, 2018

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This page serves as the introduction to the Soviet Union Trains section of our website. The history of these very unusual trains is provided further down on this page and the entire area of this part of our website is organized as follows:

Site Map of our SOVIET UNION TRAINS Section
History The story behind these fascinating trains from the 1950's and 1960's.
Component List Photos and the list of items included with every USSR train set.
Archives Photos and a description of every Stalin-era and Khrushchev-era item.
FAQs & Glossary Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about these trains.
For Sale: Engines & Cars
For Sale: Accessories
For Sale: Other Items (including reproduction copies of the Set Box Artwork)
For Sale: Complete Sets

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History of the Soviet Union Trains

In 1951 the Soviet Union began producing O-gauge model train sets that (until recently) have been largely overlooked by the train collecting community. The sets made during the '50s included an engine with Joseph Stalin's initials on the sides and are known today as "Stalin-era" trains. The sets made in the '60s included a plainer-looking engine without Stalin's initials and are known today as "Khrushchev-era" trains. These rather enormous sets contained a diesel-type locomotive, two passenger cars, two freight cars, three street lights, three signals, a large station, a bridge, three operating accessories and various other items (including a transformer, track, switches and wiring) required to operate the trains -- all packaged in a large wooden crate! Some of the set components are clearly recognizable as copies of items produced by other model train manufacturers while other pieces appear to reflect unique designs created by the Soviets. For example, the engine clearly follows Soviet and Eastern Bloc design. Although these trains are not easy to find, recent magazine articles written in Classic Toy Trains and The TCA Quarterly (a publication by the Train Collectors Association) have helped to spur interest in these trains.

In the years following World War II, the USSR had to focus on rebuilding their country, making food and other essentials available to their inhabitants and strengthening their economy. With housing, eating, clothing and looking for work being foremost in the minds of the Soviet people, it is surprising that the Soviet government would expend time and energy to fabricate what would appear to be a non-essential, luxury item. Thanks to a modest amount of research that has been done over the years, that small mystery has been solved as collectors have learned that the train sets were not intended to be sold -- at least not initially. The first Stalin-era sets were used as gifts to party members, high ranking military officers and foreign dignitaries. They were also used as rewards to adolescent boys who were members of the "Young Pioneers" -- a youth group that was the communist equivalent of the Boy Scouts.

Over the years some of the Soviet trains surfaced in flea markets and street fairs in the (former) Eastern Bloc countries including Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and East Germany. This natural occurrence was probably due to former USSR military personnel having been stationed in and then relocating to these countries afterwards. In addition, travel to the former Soviet Union was made easier with the fall of the Iron Curtain and some trains have been found in the larger cities in Russia, including Moscow. Some individuals believe that the current Russian government now regards these trains as "national treasures" and consequently getting them out of that country has been made more difficult. Stories have been told about aggressive customs officials seizing these trains and either denying their export or requiring a significant sum of money (bribes) to allow the trains to be taken. In more recent times, the Internet has been the catalyst for surfacing the sets as individuals living in the former Soviet Union have sought to capitalize on the growing popularity of these collectibles.

The Soviet trains were made for 19 years and production ceased in 1969. During that time, many variations were created because of the various colors that were used to paint the individual pieces and because of the markings used to decorate the items. However, there were very few design changes and essentially there really was only one set made in two decades and it only came one way -- with everything described above! There were no choices, no add-ons and no upgrades available. The Soviet trains are remarkable in that they can be described simultaneously with adjectives that cover opposite ends of the spectrum: the products are superior yet inferior, the designs are clever but simplistic, and the engineering is both innovative and comical with plagiarism. Overall there is a certain mystique about the Soviet trains that is hard to explain but the handful of passionate collectors who have been charmed by these fascinating trains know exactly what I mean.

. . . to be continued . . .

Articles Written about the Soviet Trains

The above history section represents input from a variety of sources including personal research, communications with knowledgeable collectors and various magazine articles that have been written about the Soviet trains. The best reference documents available at this time are the following:

1.) "Stalin's Model Trains" by John M. Cardwell (The Train Collectors Quarterly -- January, 1998).

2.) "Adventures & Challenges of a Soviet Train Set" by John M. Cardwell (The Train Collectors Quarterly -- October, 2016).

3.) "Russian Dressing" by Sándor Rózsa with Endre Tóth (Classic Toy Trains -- November, 1999).

4.) "The Russians are Coming" by Richard B. Clement (The Train Collectors Quarterly -- Winter, 1975, Vol. 22, No. 1).

5.) "Ersatz Russian Train Set" by Roger A. Rydin (Virginia Train Collectors Newsletter -- March 2002, Volume 25, No. 3).

6.) "Model Railroading -- Soviet Style" by H. Roy Krouse (Model Railroader -- February, 1991).

7.) "Now Hear This" by Jack Herbert (Antique Toy World -- July, 2001).

8.) "A Century of Model Trains" by Allen Levy (Published by Crescent Books -- 1974).

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Trains From the SOVIET UNION
Background: Introduction Component List Archives FAQs & Glossary
Items For Sale: Engines & Cars Accessories Other Items Complete Sets

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