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

Locomotives

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 UP FEF-1 4-8-4
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

N Scale

Micro Trains Santa Fe Fast Mail Express Train Pack
Micro Trains Heavyweight Single Window Coach
Micro Trains Heavyweight Mail Baggage Car
Model Power Heavyweight Observation Car
Model Power Heavyweight Combine Car
Micro Trains Heavyweight Baggage Car
Micro Trains Heavyweight Sleeper Car
Micro Trains Heavyweight Dining Car

HO Scale

Walthers Proto Heavyweight Railway Post Office Baggage Car
Con Cor MP54 Multiple Unit

Freight Cars

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.

Models Available for this Period

N Scale

Micro Trains 3-dome Tank Car
Model Power Cattle 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
Atlas Steel Stock Car

Industries and Scenery

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

N Scale

Tomix 8 Story Thin Profile Vintage High Rise Kit
Tomix First State Bank Kit
Life Like 5th Precinct Police Station Kit
Life Like Downtown Hotel Kit
Walthers Merchant Row Kits
Walthers Parkview Terrace Tenements Kit
Woodland Scenics Post Office
DPM Cricket’s Saloon Kit
DPM Corner Apothecary
DPM Bruces Bakery
DPM Eriks Emporium
DPM Hayes Hardware Kit
Lunde Studios Kits
Bar Mills Billings Bread Kit

HO Scale

Life Like Belvedere Hotel Kit
Life Like National Oil Company Kit
Woodland Scenics Post Office
Woodland Scenics JW Cobbler
Woodland Scenics Planters Feed and Seed
Woodland Scenics Corner Emporium
Woodland Scenics Feed Mill
Woodland Scenics Clyde and Dale’s Barrel Factory
Woodland Scenics Chip’s Ice House
Woodland Scenics Main Street Mercantile
Walthers Katie’s Candy Creations
Walthers Ashmore Hotel Kit
Walthers Reliable Warehouse
Walthers Vic’s Barber Shop
Walthers Merchants Row
Walthers Vulcan Manufacturing
Walthers Brook Hill Farm Dairy
Walthers Columbia Feed Mill
Walthers Trackside Post Office
Walthers Brick Office Building
Walthers Row House Kit
City Classics 105 Baum Blvd Kit
City Classics Grant Street Iron Front Building
Design Preservation Models Kits
CMR Empire Printing Kit
Carolina Craftsman Kits

O Scale

Woodland Scenics Lubener’s General Store
Woodland Scencis JW Cobbler
Woodland Scenics Morrison Door Factory
Woodland Scenics Feed Mill
Design Preservation Models Kits

Railroad Infrastructure Available for this Period

N Scale

Walthers Urban Steel Overpass Kit
Walthers Wood Coaling Tower Kit
Walthers Gateman’s Tower Kit
Walthers Art Deco Highway Underpass
Walthers Santa Fe Style Brick Station Kit
Walthers Water Street Freight Terminal
Atlas Passenger Station Kit
Atlas Signal Tower
Atlas 3-stall Roundhouse
Atlas Station Platform Kit

HO Scale

Bachmann Central Junction Switch Tower
Walthers Coal Trestle Kit
Walthers Urban Steel Overpass Kit
Walthers Urban Concrete Overpass Kit
Walthers Butterfly Platform Shelter Kit
Walthers Coaling Tower Kits
Walthers Trackside Structures Kit
Walthers Union Pacific Style Depot Kit
Walthers Cinder Conveyor and Ash Pit Kit
Walthers Mission Style Depot Kits
Walthers Wood Station Shelter Kit
Walthers Interlocking Tower Kit
Walthers PRR Block and Interlocking Station Kit
Atlas Elevated Gate Tower Kit
Atlas Passenger Station Kit
Atlas Signal Tower Kit

O Scale

MTH Railking Passenger Platform
Atlas Passenger Station Kit
Atlas Riverton Station Kit
Atlas 3-stall Roundhouse 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!