Era Focus: Modeling the Golden Age

Era Overview

Following the explosive growth of railroad technology and routes during the Pioneer Era, the Golden Era (1910 – 1940) was arguably the finest era of classic railroading. Trains had solidly established themselves as America’s primary transportation method, and it was during this time that the United States would hit it’s peak of 254,000 miles of railroad. No town or community of respectable size was without a train station, and you could pretty much get anything shipped anywhere for the first time in US history. With this newfound connectivity, the transformation of the US from frontier nation to consumer society had begun.

This era wasn’t without it’s trials however, as the 1910’s brought the First World War. While no battles were fought on US soil, the effect on US industrial resources was massive, prompting temporary consolidation of all railroads into the federally operated United States Railroad Administration. After the war, the US enjoyed a period of prosperity and growth, but barely a decade later, the Great Depression would again put a strain on the resources and population of the US.

The Trains of the Era


As railroading became increasingly intrinsic to the daily functioning of American society, the need for larger and more powerful locomotives was apparent. While many of the designs developed during the Pioneer Era were simply built upon, several new arrangements also made their debut on US rails, such as the 4-8-2 Mountain type, 4-6-4 Hudson, and the iconic 4-8-4 Northern. These powerhouses were able to haul a long train of new heavyweight passenger cars at speeds of up to 70mph or more, while also being able to haul a 100 car freight train (albeit at a lesser speed).

Steam wasn’t without it’s problems however. Long tunnels created ventilation issues, and there was no denying that while impressive, steam locomotives contributed to a general decline in air quality in heavily populated areas. Towards the end of the Pioneer Era, steam locomotives had in fact been banned from Manhattan, which coincided with the opening of the unventilated North River Tunnels under the Hudson. The solution in this case, and in many, was to adapt electric technology, seen only in streetcars and short commuter lines until this time, to mainline use. By the close of the Golden Age, all routes into New York City were electrified, as well as mainlines extending as far north as New Haven and as far south as Washington, however with the exception of some outliers, electrification didn’t take off in much of the rest of the country.

While steam technology continued to advance, another form of motive power was quietly being developed. In 1917, General Electric produced several experimental diesel locomotives for the industrial market. It wouldn’t be until the US emerged from the Great Depression in the late 1930s however, that this new technology would begin to make appearances on the mainline. In 1937, General Motors’ newly established Electro-Motive Division launched the E Unit series of streamlined passenger diesels. Faster, cleaner, and easier to maintain, these revolutionary new locomotives would be the beginning of the end for steam.

Models Available for this Period

N Scale

Broadway Limited Imports 2-8-2 Mikado
Model Power 2-6-0 Mogul
Model Power 4-4-0 American
Bachmann Baldwin 4-6-0
Bachmann USRA 0-6-0
Bachmann PRR K4 4-6-2
Bachmann PRR GG1
Kato PRR GG1

HO Scale

Bachmann 2-10-0 Decapod
Bachmann 2-8-0 Consolidation
Bachmann 4-6-2 Light Pacific
Bachmann PRR GG1
Broadway Limited Imports PRR GG1
Broadway Limited Imports PRR P5A
Broadway Limited Imports 4-6-2 Pacific

Passenger Cars

At the close of the Pioneer Era, passenger railroading was viewed as a major improvement from stagecoaches, however there was still much room for improvement. One of the main issues was crashworthiness. Until this point, the majority of passenger rolling stock was constructed with wood, which didn’t tend to fare well in even minor derailments, in-part due to their gas lighting, which would often ignite the wood. In the early 20th century the heavyweight car was developed, using riveted steel construction, a poured concrete floor for a smoother ride, and typically six-wheeled trucks. These cars generally came with substantial improvements in passenger comfort, with more comfortable seating, and more creature comforts such as private bedrooms in sleeper cars and fully functioning kitchens in dining cars. The heavyweight car was a common sight on most passenger trains until the late 1930s, when new advancements in steel manufacturing brought about the development of the stainless steel lightweight car.

Models Available for this Period

Micro Trains heavy weight sleeper car Micro Trains heavy weight sleeper car

N Scale

Micro Trains Heavyweight Single Window Coach
Micro Trains Heavyweight Mail Baggage Car
Micro Trains Heavyweight Baggage Car
Micro Trains Heavyweight Sleeper Car
Micro Trains Heavyweight Dining Car

Freight Cars

Freight Rolling Stock Freight Rolling Stock

Freight rolling stock shares a similar development story to passenger cars of the era. Also being built out of wood during the Pioneer Era, manufacturers of most new freight cars switched to riveted steel construction in the early 20th century. In addition to improving the durability and safety of the cars, this new development also allowed for a wider variety of materials to be hauled. The development of larger and more powerful locomotives meant that the sizes of loads could also be increased. Despite these developments however, wooden freight cars lasted much longer than their passenger counterparts, with many remaining in operation through the end of the Golden Age. The caboose also took on a more tame role during this time. With outlaws and robbers no longer a serious threat, the caboose became a rolling office, allowing the conductor to monitor the equipment while completing train-orders and other paperwork.

Golden Age Freight Car Models

Athearn 3-Window Caboose

N Scale

Micro Trains 3-dome Tank Car
Bachmann Wood Side Refrigerated Boxcar
Broadway Limited Imports K7 Stock Car
Athearn 3-Window Caboose

HO Scale

Accurail Fowler Wood Boxcar
Rapido USRA Boxcar
Rapido NP-10000 Boxcar
Tangent GATC 8000 Gallon Tank Car
Bowser PRR X31F Boxcar
Bachmann 55 Ton Outside Braced 2-bay Hopper
Roundhouse 3-Window Caboose
Roundhouse Single-Sheath Boxcar
MTH USRA 55-ton Hopper
Broadway Limited Imports Stock Car
Walthers Single Sheathed ARA Boxcar
Walthers USRA Wood Boxcar

O Scale

Lionel Lionscale Stock Car
Atlas Steel Refrigerator Car

Industries and Scenery

20th century rapid industrial development in the US. 20th century rapid industrial development in the US.

The early 20th century was a period of rapid industrial development in the US. With the taming of the landscape and a general sense of establishment, cities began to be planned out in more thoughtful ways, with symmetrical street grids, featuring designated parks, landmarks, and zoning. Thanks to the development of concrete and advancements in steel production, skyscrapers were springing up, and structures were generally being built with more permanence in mind. As early automobiles gained popularity, dirt roads were paved with concrete.

While many industries were similar to those of the late Pioneer Era, their scale was vastly increased to meet the demands of a growing population. The increasing need for oil led to rapid industrialization of certain areas of the south and west, and the development of the production line led to release of consumer products on a scale that had never been seen before. Railroad infrastructure was also advancing, with more heavily constructed right of ways allowing for less curves and grades, equalling faster speeds and greater efficiency of operation. Signaling came into widespread use in this era, with a mix of colored light signals and semaphores depending on the region.

Industries and Structures Available for this Period

Woodland Scenics HO PF5185 O'Leary Dairy Distribution, Pre-Fab Building Kit Walthers Cornerstone HO 933-3778 Row House Kit

N Scale

Tomix 8 Story Thin Profile Vintage High Rise Kit
Life Like Downtown Hotel Kit
Walthers Merchant Row Kits
Lunde Studios Kits
Bar Mills Billings Bread Kit

HO Scale

Life Like Belvedere Hotel Kit
Life Like National Oil Company Kit
Walthers Reliable Warehouse
Walthers Merchants Row
Walthers Columbia Feed Mill
Walthers Trackside Post Office
Walthers Row House Kit
Design Preservation Models Kits
Carolina Craftsman Kits

Golden Age Railroad Infrastructure

Walthers Cornerstone N 933-3871 Urban Steel Overpass Kit Walthers Cornerstone HO 933-2945 Elevated Crossing Tower Kits (2)

N Scale

Walthers Urban Steel Overpass Kit
Walthers Art Deco Highway Underpass
Walthers Water Street Freight Terminal
Atlas Passenger Station Kit
Atlas 3-stall Roundhouse
Atlas Station Platform Kit

HO Scale

Walthers Coaling Tower Kits
Walthers Mission Style Depot Kits
Atlas Elevated Gate Tower Kit
Atlas Signal Tower Kit

O Scale

• Atlas Riverton Station Kit
Lionel Station Platform
• Bachmann Plasticville Loading Platform and Shanty

Do you model the Golden Era? Send us some photos of your railroad on Social Media – we’d love to share your work on a #TrainLayoutTuesday post!