Frank Hornby originally started his company in 1901 after he received a patent for his Meccano construction toy. Almost twenty years later, in 1920, came the first of many model trains, a train that rain off of clockwork design. It was still another five years, in 1925, before the first successful electric train was produced. Since then Hornby Model Trains have been a leader in model trains produced in the United Kingdom.
Hornby Trains come in three basic gauges O, OO, and N. The company started out as strictly O scale trains and didn’t actually start making the OO scale until almost 1940. The N scale trains are relatively new to Hornby. This scale of trains and accessories is only available in their Lyddle End models.
When Hornby began making its O scale train they were only available as clockwork models until 1920. The first attempt at an electric model was met with great approval. These first trains were completely sold out in France, due to under-production. However, they didn’t attempt the electric train again for another 5 years. This higher voltage train was revamped a few years later to accommodate a lower, safer voltage.
Today, Hornby is considered to be the leader in model trains. Thanks to its long history and unique trains they are among the most sought after collections in the world.
Original Hornby trains are popular collector’s items. These trains, if you can find them, are worth a lot of money. Finding one in good condition can be time consuming and difficult but owning one is its own reward for the hard work and diligence of a determined soul.
Hornby trains not only simulate the real working trains seen around the world but recently has endeavored to replicate the movies as well. They are known for their Thomas and Friends collection. This collection recreates not just the famous engines of Sodor, which was created by English Reverend W.V. Awdry, but the island itself. With the many towns and stations that families have come to know and love.
They also replicated the Hogwarts Express. Fans of the Harry Potter movies and books can travel their scarlet engine through the country side. Both of these sets have proven very popular for Hornby collectors.
Hornby is also famous for its steam powered line. Its first and very popular steam powered engine was that of “The Rocket.” This model was released in 1970 on a 3-1/2 inch scale. It wasn’t until 2003 that the first OO scale steam powered engine came into existence, a model of the Mallard.
Failures and Controversy
Not all of Hornby’s endeavors were a hit though, The Zero I that was introduced in the late 70s seemed to be one of their biggest disappointments. Originally marked as a multiple train controller system it was a precursor to the Digital Command Control, or DCC, system used today. The biggest problem with the Zero I was, not only was it expensive, the control made the locomotives run very rough, not smooth like they normally did. Also the engines that had a Zero I decoder in it couldn’t be used on any other system. This meant if you wanted to run your locomotive on your friend’s line, it couldn’t happen, the train just wouldn’t work.
Hornby has had its other complaints as well. One of the biggest complaints is the use OO scale, which is roughly 1:76. Since Hornby is still the UK’s leading OO scale manufacturer it’s no wonder why their name comes up in this issue. Many of the OO scale tracks are the same size as the HO scale tracks even though those trains are marginally bigger at 1:86. The complaint is that the OO scale trains, which can run on the larger HO scale track as well as its own, is not scaled correctly, making the OO scale one of the most inconsistent scales out there. That being said there are many enthusiasts out there that love the fact that you can put both scale of trains on the same track.
Although Hornby model trains have had their ups and downs they are still considered the train to own if you are looking for a quality UK train.