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A Look At Joy Line Trains

by Barbara Jones

Joy Line Trains, by Girard Model Works of Girard Pennsylvania, are not well known in the toy train collecting world. Their span of production was short, from about 1927 to 1934 or 35. They looked a lot more like toys than trains, and the selection was limited. But they did run on track, with both clockwork and electric locomotives. However, Joy Line Trains sparked the beginnings of a toy and toy train empire that warranted Louis Marx the cover of the December 12, 1955 Time Magazine, as “Toymaker Louis Marx.” Girard Model Works hired an energetic salesman named Louis Marx to sell their trains. When they went bankrupt around 1934 Marx eagerly bought the company and began marketing and designing more trains and toys.

The earliest Joy Line trains had a blue frame with soft, curved lines. They were made of very light weight tin, so it is amazing that the trains above survived. The cars in the photo above were all the freights offered. To have them all is uncommon. The engine, pictured here with its weak spring motor, is hard to find in any condition.

The Joy Line couplers were made of very thin, fragile metal, and the tops of them were painted.

The thin painted coupler is on the left in the photo above. Many of the wheels had red disks on the inner side, perhaps using up excess tin that had already been painted.

The earliest passenger cars, truly rare, had a yellow roof shaped differently from later orange and red roofed passenger cars. Below is a picture of these yellow cars with a cast iron engine and short tender. The square shaft and key appear to be found on early windup engines, later ones had a screw in key. There were no observation cars with blue frames. These coaches are considered the rarest Joy Line pieces by many.

Here is the train packed with 4 curves and 2 straights, and a picture of the top of the box. These boxes were very flimsy, so it is good news that any of them still exist.

By 1930 Girard was changing the shape and color of the car frames to a more squared, black shape with a bit heavier steel. The roof of the passenger cars also changed shape and color, to orange or red. The car windows were usually outlined in black and gold. Below is a starter set with an all red locomotive and a threaded key. The engine has a bell that goes ding ding, ding ding all the time it is running. There is a start and stop lever in the cab.

Notice the small metal tab just in front of the front wheel. We’ll mention this stopping tab again later. This starter set was packed with just 4 banked curves making about a diameter of 18” circle of track.

Here is another starter set, also with an all red engine, bell and screw in key. However, this set has a passenger car roof of red, much harder to find than the orange roof. Have you noticed that the frame of the short tender is the same curved design as on the original blue cars? It is heavier metal, but uses the old design with the need to fit it to that very short tender body.

Again, being a starter set it has just 4 banked curves of track, and the same box style and size as the train above with an attached cover.

Our next passenger train is definitely not a starter set. The first thing that caught my eye was the bold type on the cover of the box saying “The Joy Line Mechanical Train” followed by “Electrically Lighted” on the next line. Huh? This I gotta see!

This train features a red over black engine, a long tender with the upgraded frame, and an observation car has been added to the two coaches. The coaches and observation cars have the usual gold and black window trim. The engine is indeed “mechanical”, winding with the usual key, but it has a headlight bulb in front. Note that this engine has a flat bulb as a Marx engine should have. I don’t know if Joy Line used the flattened bulbs or not. In addition, at the back of the engine is a “C” size battery stuffed into and under the cab.

The top of the battery rests against a fiberboard piece that slides from one cab window to the other, with a piece of wire just wrapped through a hole for the positive connection to the light by way of that wire running inside the boiler to a socket that accepts the bulb. A bracket that swings out of the way to remove the battery serves as the ground completing the circuit. I do not have an example of a U shaped bracket that came on some locomotives.

The box for this set is considerably larger than for the starter sets. Besides the additional cars and the longer tender, it holds a full figure 8 of track, including 6 curves, 4 half straights, and a 90 degree crossover. It is the smallest crossover I have ever seen in 0 gauge.

I hope you enjoy the box cover below as I did.

Next up is our second freight set. It does not have the hard to find side dump car nor the box car. As you can see it is also clockwork, and has the short tender. The percentage of Joy Line coaches to freight cars seems weighted toward coaches when you peruse Ebay. I suspect this is because there is more play value in freight sets that have the gondola or the side dump car, so they met more tragic ends.

Look carefully in front of the front wheel, down low. There is a lever there, as there was on the locomotive in the first starter set. This lever is shown in the “stop” position. Push it forward to run, along with the cab lever. The track for this set has a copper bar that can be raised running across a piece of track. When the train comes, if that copper bar is raised, it stops the train. Stopping the train there prevents you having to reach for a stopped locomotive on the back side of an oval.

This is the only boxed set I have so far that has a somewhat sturdier box and a separate lid that drops down over it. It also has the instructions. Because of the box and the stop lever, this is probably a later set in the production. The cover now has wonderful graphics, as seen on this box top.

Tired of winding clockwork engines? We have run out of boxed sets, but this next set is electric with a black over red engine with headlight. The windows are trimmed only with black, no gold, and there are 3 coaches.

My other electric set is much harder to obtain, with the cast iron locomotive and the fanciest observation car.

The two electric locomotives have different motors, best seen in the next picture. This picture and my knowledge of Marx motors leads me to believe the cast iron engine is the earlier one.

This observation car has an electric pickup similar to those found on Marx cars which lights up a metal rear drumhead with Joy Line cut in the metal. Below is a picture of the rear of the two observation cars we have mentioned.

The Joy Line transformer was called a “Power House” and is quite hard to obtain. It came with a boxed set that included a cast iron locomotive, short tender and 3 coaches that I know of. A fellow TCA member has allowed me to use this picture of that set.

For further reading on Joy Line trains there is an excellent article at about the Girard Model Works. Another resource is

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