Miniature Train Company

These railroads in miniature all owe a debt to Sears, Roebuck and Company. No, you couldn't buy one of these from the Sears catalog, but it was a Sears executive who recognized the potential for a kid-sized railroad.

Paul Allen Sturtevant of Glen Ellyn, Illinois owned a successful tool and machine shop. He built a model railroad for his 3 year old son, the motive power was a model of a steam locomotive but it was actually powered with an electric motor. It ran on tracks around the back yard, and being large enough to ride on, the train was soon the hit of the neighborhood.

One of Sturtevant's neighbors was an executive with Sears, and he asked Sturtevant to lease the train to Sears to run in the store at Christmastime. It was an instant hit, and other Sears store managers immediately wanted trains to run in their stores, too.

That's how the Miniature Train and Railroad Company came to be.

At the World's Fair in 1934, the Burlington Zephyr was introduced. The streamlined, stainless steel train was powered by a Winton diesel engine. Sturtevant also had neighbors who worked for the Electro-Motive Engineering Corporation, about to introduce the E1 diesel locomotive. Sturtevant was fascinated by the designs and began to model the Zephyr and E1 locomotives. The designs proved to be very popular, and attracted the attention of amusement park owners.

To satisfy the needs of the new park market, Sturtevant increased the size of the trains in order to accommodate longer trains and increase passenger capacity. The engines were powered with Wisconsin engines and the larger trains, now on a 16" gauge track, also more closely resembled the prototypes. Called the G-16 series, many of the amusement park G-16 trains are extant and some are still in everyday use.

In order to produce G-16 trains, Sturtevant bought property in Rensselaer, Indiana and in 1948, a new plant opened with the new name of the Miniature Train Company. In 1956, the Miniature Train Company was purchased by Allen Herschel Company, best known as builders of carousels and amusement park rides. The entire Miniature Train Company operation was moved to New York and although owned by Herschel, continued under the MTC logo. In turn, in 1970, Allen Herschel Company was purchased by Chance Rides. Although Chance Rides still makes C.P Huntington trains (that's how Chance started in the first place) the famous little trains from MTC are no longer manufactured.

Of the approximately 250 MTC train sets built over the years, it is estimated that at least 70 locomotives still exist and about 50 of them are still in use.

One of the extant MTC train sets is in use in Canada at the Bowness Park in Calgary. This video was provided by Massey Jones, who was kind enough to share the video with us.

You can learn more about Miniature Train Company production and the marvelous little trains at the Miniature Train Company Owner's Website. (Edited to add: This website appears to have disappeared. If anyone knows anything about this group, please let me know. -JRM)

Edited by JRM 11/16/20

Bay Beach Amusement Park (Brown County, Wisconsin)
Amusement Park along the shore of Green Bay
Chippewa Valley Railroad (Eau Claire County, Wisconsin)
1/2 mile loop of track supporting a 1/4 scale recreational railroad
Lakeside Limited (Lakeside Park) Amusement Ride (Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin)
G-16 Miniature Train Company dogbone out-and-back amusement ride.
Marathon Junction Railroad (Marathon County, Wisconsin)
Miniature Train Company 16" gauge amusement park railroad.
Menomonee Park Miniature Railroad (Winnebago County, Wisconsin)
Miniature Train Company dogbone out-and-back amusement ride.