Mini Backyard Train

I found this backyard train designed and built by Robert Woolson, who works as a Chicago TV advertising man and makes toys in his spare time.

I would love to build one if I had the time and funds. Even so, the plans are no longer available. Fortunately, the sketches have enough detail for me to at least make a drawing of the parts.

Which is what I have done, as you can see from the 3D model.

I would like to say it was relatively easy to make the 3D drawing part, but that would not be entirely true.

It would be fun to make a scaled down version. I found a tin can of roughly the same proportions as the 44 gallon drum, and used that to calculate the scale.

Here is what I have made so far. Still have to add the bell and the chimney stack.

At first I thought it would be a true scale version of the real thing, but reality bites. In order to do that I would need to be a proper model maker.

So the version I did manage to make is nothing like the full size version.

A photo of the lower half of the model train. 

Sketchup model of the cow catcher. The chassis is shown gray.

Photo showing the underside of the train.

Showing the pilot truck.

Sketchup model of the pilot truck.

I have included a few of the illustrations from the article in the August 1965 edition of Popular Mechanics.

Illustration showing the parts and how they fit together. Each part is numbered, but in the original article, there is no reference to these numbers.

Illustration showing the unique solenoid propulsion system for the original toy train.

What makes this riding toy unique is its method of propulsion. Today we would expect a toy of this nature to be driven by a battery powered electric motor.

In fact, this riding toy train is propelled by magnetic power in the form of a pair of battery powered solenoid pistons. 

Just like a pair of steam powered pistons, but instead of using steam to drive the pistons, this engine uses electromagnets.  There is a detailed circuit diagram with the plans, if that is the way you would decide to go.

Personally, I would love to make one. If I decided to try the solenoid piston driving mechanism, I think it would be wise to make a scaled down prototype first to see how it would work: I have no doubt it would.

I have seen many a solenoid motor on YouTube, even one made from paper clips. They tend to run really fast for some reason that may be obvious, perhaps because they are not governed, if that’s the right world.

The front page of the 1965 edition of the Popular Mechanics magazine.

Free Download Backyard Train

Download a copy of the article on how to build this toy train.

The original drawings are very basic, something I would call technical illustration.

Sketchup model from my collection at the 3D Warehouse.

I am also making a basic 3D construction to see how the pieces fit together. One day I hope to find the time and the money to make one myself.

This model is in fact quarter scale of the Popular Mechanics version.


Here is part 1 showing how the 14 foot backyard train toy was made.

Instead of using the propulsion system as described in the article, Keith Mills used a wheelchair motor instead, which strikes me as a far more practical choice.

backyard trainBackyard Toy Train by Iron Horse Railroad

Read the journal of this backyard toy train project.

Did You Know

Robert Woolson, who designed and built this toy train, also designed and built this half scale roadster replica.

More Toy Trains

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