Train Collectors Association National Division WEB Site

The Train Collectors Association

Western Division

TCA Western Home Page

[Home]  [Train Collecting Tips page]  [Index of Manufacturers]

Varney Trains

A Varney 2-8-2 Mikado in HO gauge


Varney was a United States manufacturer of model railroad equipment.

Varney HO scale Old-Lady 2-8-0 Consolidation Steam Locomotive & Tender in Southern Railway Livery The Company was founded by Gordon Varney in 1936 in Chicago, IL. Varney's main significance to the model railroad community was his early advocacy of the HO scale (3.5mm to the foot) and the development of a reliable V-1 6 volt motor small enough to power the locomotives of this gauge, and to pull a nice sized consist. Varney's catalogs were vivid, informative and contained editorials and fascinating exploded views that clearly show an understanding of the mind of model railroaders that still rings true today.

Like so many other model train business founders, Gordon Varney started out as a hobbyist. Varney appreciated the fact that you could get 10 hours of entertainment putting together a freight car construction kit for a $2 bill investment. After assembling a dozen kits he had purchased, he looked at his wife and said, "there should be a business here". According to an interview with Varney that appeared in the February 1953 issue of Popular Science magazine, "That was when a perfectly good hobby went out the window. We soon found that there is no such thing as a hobby-business. To pay off, it has to be your business and the other fellow's hobby."

Varney HO #R-2 Santa Fe Woodside Reefer Vintage Built Craftsman Kit wood shell, cardboard sides circa 1940's Varney HO #R-17 Pacific Fruit Express steel reefer craftsman kit circa 1940's wood body, cardboard sides circa 1940's

Varney HO #B-26 Milwaukee Olympian box car craftsman kit circa 1940's In 1936 Varney began manufacturing his HO kits made of paper and wood. The box cars had paper sides which were photographically reproduced from pictures he took in the Los Angeles railroad yards. These early freight cars, including reefers, were pre-printed and sold with the slogan "No paint needed." The photo engraved details of the doors and lettering appeared on the paper, which was then glued to cardboard sides. To make them more prototypical, modelers could glue cast or wooden details directly on the printed cardboard in places where these details would appear, such as roof ribs, grab irons, ladders, ice hatches and brake wheels, in order to give dimension and depth to the cars. Varney believed that his business was to produce miniatures that would not insult one's imagination by failing to resemble the real thing.

Varney HO 4-6-2 die-cast Pacific Loco and Vanderbilt tender circa 1937 One of Varney's early employees was Bob Lindsay who created the first two locomotives. Varney offered the 4-6-2 Pacific and the 2-8-0 Consolidation in the late 30's, through the early 40's. Early sales and distribution was all done via mail order. The majority of the products manufactured were kits. The loco kits consisted of one piece brass castings (cab, stack domes, and running boards) and pressure die-cast zinc alloy parts, using a material called Zamak. Other detail fittings and piping were made of sheet metal and brass, while the early rolling stock kits were wood, paper and metal. Parts and fittings could all be purchased separately. HO scale was just beginning when these famous locomotives made their appearance. The Pacific featured the USRA boiler style and was patterned after the Southern Pacific prototype. There were about 120 parts in the Pacific kit. Instruction sheets with comprehensive pictorial assembly steps shown were included in the kits. The Consolidation was designed after the Reading 2-8-0. Soon the 2-8-2 Mikado followed, and other models were added to the line. These trains were high quality, and this is attested to by the fact that original models are still in operation today. The early Varney locomotives appear somewhat rough and less detailed compared to the modern day mass-produced, laser painted, machine lettered, DCC and sound equipped models readily offered. But, for their time period the Varney products were good looking accurate models and were also of high quality, were dependable and rugged.

Varney kit-built 2-8-8-4 articulated Northern Pacific Yellowstone in HO gauge circa 1939

Varney locomotives in the 1930's utilized the V-1 permanent magnet motor. It featured an Alnico horseshoe tunnel type magnet with integral pole pieces. It had a 3 pole armature and worm drive. It had an exposed brush holding rigging and was designed specifically for the Varney pre-war era steam locomotives with the die-cast zamack frame. This type of electric motor operates on DC power only, with an operating range of 4 to 8 volts at ½ to 1½ amperes. Alternating current could damage such a motor. This open frame motor was developed by Bob Lindsay. Literature from Varney boasted that these motors were commercial grade, not a toy. And that they would stand up under heavy, continuous service. The locomotives were designed specifically for prototypical 2-rail operation, with insulated wheel sets on all cars.

Varney HO Kit-built 4-6-4 Hudson cast brass steam locomotive Gordon Varney earned the name 'Dean of HO' as a result of the multitude of innovations he created. One such was in 1939 when he produced his HO locomotives with fully sprung chassis created by use of a simple dual wire spring system. Through close work with Robert Lindsay, motors and gearboxes were designed that were fully floating, with all sprung wheels on most models. In the mid-1950's this technique was dropped due to cost considerations.

Varney HO Kit-built 2-8-2 Brass & Die Cast Vintage Mikado Steam Locomotive & 12-wheel Tender

Varney HO #2400K 2-8-4 Berkshire Brass Locomotive with #1865-A Brass 12-wheel Tender The locomotive kits produced by Varney were not for the faint of heart, and required reading the instructions carefully to complete a build successfully. Varney wrote the instructions in a wry style, replete with sarcasm, jokes and even insults. An example from the Varney Rigid Frame HO Berkshire Locomotive kit warned, "CAUTION! This is a hobbyist's construction kit. In the interests of economy, the small drilling operations on the boiler are left to the constructor. MOST MODEL RAILROADERS can drill a hole. If you are “not the type” - DON'T BUY THIS KIT! Remember that although [the] mechanism is ready-to-run as soon as the wheels are attached, this kit requires some mechanical gumption to make a good locomotive model. If you are new at the game, READ THE INSTRUCTIONS, because an otherwise good kit can be made into junk in jig time".

By 1939 Varney was using stamped metal, in either aluminum or thin sheet brass for the box car sides and ends in what was promoted as 'Super Detail' car kits. The aluminum sides came painted and lettered, while the brass ones were unpainted, and the metal parts had a gummed backing to fasten them to the wood frames. Another Varney innovation was embossed aluminum car sides. Embossing allowed even more detail, such as rivets. In 1939, complete Varney 'Super Detail' box car kits sold for $1.75. Side and end sets only, were priced at 35¢ The 1939 Varney Catalog proclaimed, "New! Super Detail Embossed Box car side and end sets sharp and clear that even the rivets cast sunlight shadows."

Varney private Owner Woodside Billboard Reefer Kits
Varney HO #RW-1 Old Dutch Cleanser Woodside Billboard Reefer Varney HO #RW-2 Kit-built Blatz Old Heidelberg Beer 40' Woodsie Billboard Metal Reefer Varney Private Owner Woodside Reefer Carnation Milk RW-3 Car Kit HO Scale
Varney HO #RW-4 Fairmont Creamery Co Milk Woodside billboard reefer kit Varney HO #RW-5 Pabst Malt Syrup Beverages metal and plastic woodside billboard reefer made 1954 to 1957 Varney HO #RW-6 Metal Schlitz Beer Woodside billboard Reefer kit

In the pre-war period, Varney offered an unusual HO scale electric outline GG-1-type streamlined locomotive kit for 2 or 3-rail. It utilized their frame and motor mechanism from the 2-8-0 Consolidation, cut to fit. 4-wheel trailing and leading trucks were attached to the frame, making this a 4-8-4. The body casting was aluminum that could be polished or painted. While not to exact scale, it retained the body styling and flowing lines of the prototype, while meeting the model railroad operating parameters of limited space. Many collectors believe that because this wheel configuration was not correct for a GG-1 that Varney was actually attempting to model the PRR R1 prototype, which was a 4-8-4. The Pennsylvania Railroad's class R1 comprised a single prototype electric locomotive constructed in 1934 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, with the electrical equipment by Westinghouse. It was built as a competitor to the GG-1 design, but after trials the GG-1 was selected for volume production on the basis of its superior tracking and riding qualities; the R1 prototype, however, remained in service. For many years, the R1's regular duties involved hauling the westbound Broadway Limited and returning eastward with a mail and express train. The Varney 1939 catalog clearly mentions that its model is a 'Streamline 4-8-4'. And that, "its design is adapted from the Pennsylvania GG-1." Kit price was $22.

Varney HO scale 4-6-0 Casey Jones loco and tender #227 Richmond Fredricksburg & Potomac RR On December 17, 1940 Gordon Varney filed an application with the United States Patent office (US2284998A) for a model railway truck that he designed. In the application he explained that it was an object of his invention to provide a model railway truck which could be easily assembled by anyone, with perfect assurance that the assembled truck would be square and accurate, so that it would rest properly on the rails. Up until this time in the model railway hobby the bolster and the end plates of a truck were typically separate parts. The use of several separate parts was necessary because the ends of the axles, protruding beyond the wheels, were inserted in bearing sockets in these end plates, and this insertion could not be made except when the bolster and end plates were in separate pieces. The axles were inserted in the sockets at the time the bolster and end plates were put together. Varney's invention provided a unitary frame member representing the bolster and end plates, that included grooves or slots in which the ends of the axles could be received, together with means for retaining the axles in the slots after they had been inserted. Varney also found it advantageous to shape the ends of the axles with a point, and to also shape the corresponding bearing slots that way so as to reduce friction. This design facilitated keeping the axles retained in the slots, without the necessity of using additional parts, screws or rivets, and as a result nothing would show on the outer surface of the end plates that would destroy the realism.

Varney was one of the earliest manufacturers to use plastic and made their first plastic kit parts as early as 1940, using a cellulose acetate plastic called 'Tenite'. Over the years Varney offered 50 ton hopppers, 10,000 gallon tank cars, gondolas, stock cars and 40' outside braced wood box cars in HO that featured parts that were made using Tenite. Tenite was an injection molded acetate most often used for tool handles and control knobs of all sorts. The use of injection molded plastic eliminated the need to paint the car parts, as the natural color of the plastic could be mixed to any shade. Plastic also provided excellent detail in the castings, devoid of flash. Varney kits with plastic car bodies still featured a metal fish belly that gave the plastic cars a low center of gravity.

Varney 40' Outside Braced Wood Box Cars - Styrene Plastic Molded Built-up Kits & Ready-to-Run
Varney HO #BW-1 AT&SF 40' AAR Outside Braced Wood Box Car with Kadee couplers circa 1950's Varney HO #BW-4 Seaboard outside braced wood box car Varney HO #BW-5 Southern Pacific Outside Braced Wood Box Car circa 1950's
Varney HO #BW-107 Baltimore & Ohio #165917 Outside Braced Wood Box Car circa 1950's Varney HO #BW-108 M. & St. L. Peoria Gateway Outside Braced Wood box car Varney HO #BW-109 Virginian VGN 40' Outside Braced Wood Box Car circa 1950's

Varney HO Die-cast 0-4-0T 'Lil Joe' Docksider Switching locomotive Varney began selling 5-pole armatures for the V-1 motor in 1940. This modification converted the motor to operate on 12-volts DC. In 1941 Varney introduced their die-cast HO model of the Baltimore & Ohio 0-4-0 Dockside 'Lil Joe' switcher tank steam locomotive. The Varney Dockside switcher is credited with greatly influencing the popularity of HO 1:87 scale during these formative years of the hobby.

During the war, production of model trains ceased while the shop produced military parts, primarily screws. After the war, Varney resumed production with updated versions of many of the pre-war model train kits. Varney, along with Mantua Metal Products, was one of the premier manufacturers of HO gauge trains in the period between 1945 and 1955, offering an extensive line of locomotives and rolling stock. Varney's first postwar locomotive was a die-cast version of the pre-war Baltimore and Ohio RR 'Lil Joe' Class C-16 0-4-0 tank Dockside switcher. It was a very popular seller and featured a Pittman DC-60 motor, and could be detailed using a valve gear kit from Central Valley Mfg. It sold for $15.

Other Varney steam locomotives of this era included a Reading RR-based heavy 2-8-0 Consolidation, a Southern Pacific-based P-7 Pacific 4-6-2, a freelance 4-6-4 Hudson, a freelance streamlined Pacific and Hudson, a freelance 4-8-4 Northern, a Southern Pacific-based 2-8-2 Mikado, a freelance 2-8-2 Mikado and a very similar 2-8-4 Berkshire utilizing the same superstructure casting. The streamlined Pacific and Hudson was offered with a bronze boiler, the only difference between the 2 locos being the trailing truck. Varney HO scale 2-8-4 Super Berkshire & Vanderbilt 12-wheel tender Varney also offered a bronze or aluminum superstructure casting for its 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone articulated, which when combined with appropriate Varney parts, made an impressive model. A Southern Pacific 4-6-0 shared the same boiler and cab as the 2-8-0 Consolidation. The 4-6-4 Hudson used the same bronze boiler as the Mikado. The tenders for all of these locomotives were sold separately. Choices included a Vanderbilt tender with 6-wheel trucks, two long-distance style coal tenders, a wood and cardstock tender for the streamlined Hudson/Pacific, and a die cast slope back tender that could be used with the Dockside Switcher. While several Varney locos are considered to be freelance models, it is believed that since Varney originated in the Chicago area that many were loosely based after prototypes from railroads that serviced that part of the country. The Varney 2-8-4 Berkshire is possibly modeled from the Chicago & NorthWestern J-4A and the Varney Northern could most likely be patterned after the Grand Trunk Western U-3-b. The 1947-48 Varney price list indicates that a #1913-K-4 rigid frame Pacific kit could be purchased for $27.50. The Economy Pacific 4-6-2 kit was $37.50 (without tender). The Super Mikado 2-8-2 was $58.50 (less tender).

Varney HO gauge 2-8-2 Super Mikado 1788K and Vanderbilt style oil tender made 1949-1951

In 1947 Varney came out with its V-2 12-volt DC Super motor. It featured an enclosed brush holder, Alnico permanent magnet and worm gear support. This motor had a 7-pole armature with ball bearing supports on the worm shaft. The Varney Consolidation, Pacific and Mikado were offered in economy versions that were equipped with a Pittman DC-71 motor, one piece brass frame, and non-sprung drive wheels, or in a Super version that featured the new Lindsay-designed V-2 7-pole ball bearing motor, 2-piece brass frame, sprung drive wheels and a more detailed valve gear.

Varney HO F-3 EMD A Unit diesel locomotive cast metal circa 1945 Between 1945 and 1949 Varney produced an HO cast metal F-3 EMD diesel locomotive in two versions. One with 2 power trucks, and one with a single power truck. The loco utilized zinc pressure die-cast parts and featured a high level of detail, including louvered ventilator fan housings on the roof, windshield wipers on the window screens, fuel tank filler caps, visible structual bracing, portholes, number boards, nose grabs, diesel air horns, ladders and doors. The F-3 was also offered in a non-powered dummy unit using the same body castings. B units were also offered, in both powered and unpowered versions. The F-3 was driven by a Pittman 5-pole DC-60 motor. Varney fitted these models with scale diesel truck frames, and gave the modeler the option of either 40" or 36" scale wheels for the dummy units. $19.75 was the cost for either an F-3 A or B powered unit kit, and dummy units were $7.50.

Apart from locomotives and carriages Varney also made a series of HO-scale car and truck models, primarily Fords. The vehicles were solid and had no interiors. Some were made of clear plastic, to encourage hobbyists to paint the vehicles, but leave the windows unpainted. The models had black wheels and were sold both as ready-made painted models and as kits. There was also a brief endeavor to make and market ship and airplane kits. In 1944 Varney produced a wood, cardstock Varney 'O' gauge 4-6-0 kit from 1947 and metal PT boat kit that featured detail parts cast in Tenite. At the end of the war, Varney introduced an LST model in the same mixed materials. In 1946 Varney followed these with a U.S. Fleet Submarine and Stearman PT-17 trainer both made entirely of Tenite. Since Tenite can be used to create very thick, solid parts, the hull of the sub and fuselage of the PT-17 were single solid pieces of plastic. But sales of these products were poor, and Varney wound up selling the molds to O-Lin.

In 1947 Gordon Varney ventured into the 'O' scale (¼" to the foot) train market with the release of an 'O' scale 4-6-0 steam loco in kit form under the Varney name. The catalog stated that it was based on the Baltimore & Ohio RR 10-wheeler. Varney also offered 'O' scale 6-wheel passenger trucks and two kinds of freight trucks. Although considered ground breaking, the loco did not sell very well. This tooling was later purchased by General Models Corp. of Wheaton, IL, who enhanced the dies and created several other locomotive castings from that tooling, including a 4-4-2 Atlantic, 4-6-2 Pacific, 4-8-2 Mountain and a 2-6-6-4 articulated. When GMC went bankrupt the tooling was subsequently acquired by All-Nation Hobbies of Chicago in 1950. This steam locomotive line was later sold to George Sennhauser of Babbit MN, who renamed the brand and added a 4-8-2 to the catalog. Bryce Yates acquired the company in 1993 and expanded it to a selection of 6 locomotives. Eventually, Bill Wade took over this line and operates his company B.T.S. in Belington, VA.

Varney Firewater and Kicking Horse 40' Box Car in HO In June of 1948, Varney issued the Hollywood & Western refrigerator car after deciding that there was a market for private owner car models. The H&W was a refrigerator car from a famous pioneering model railroad layout belonging to Jim Trout, Sam Raymond, and Dick Sutphen. Varney came up with the name and made the sides for the reefer car when he visited the layout at Trout's home prior to World War II. Those car kits, along with the Firewater & Kicking Horse box car were the first recorded mass-produced private owner cars ever made available to the public in HO scale. Bob Lindsay, who was mentioned earlier as a locomotive designer for Varney, began his own business in 1948. He initially produced Lindsay motors and power trucks under the name of Lindsay Products, based in Culver City, CA. He also produced power unit mounting kits, HO and TT scale couplers, and HO die-cast metal Alco passenger and road diesel locomotives under the Quality Line brand name. In 1950 he added an HO EMD 1000 HP diesel cast from solid brass, an HO 0-4-0 Stubby yard diesel switcher cast from Zamac and a Tiny Tim 0-4-0 Dockside Tank switcher in TT scale. The Lindsay line was acquired by Kemtron in 1955.

Varney HO 40' Steel Reefers from Metal Kits
Varney HO #R-34 Swift Reefer craftsman kit Varney HO #R-35 BAR Bangor Aroostook Maine Potatoes Steel Reefer Varney HO #R-37 Burlington Steel Refrigerator Car Built-up Metal Kit
Varney HO #R-40 Kit-built Northern Pacific Steel Reefer Varney HO #R-41 Kit-built St. Louis SLRX Steel Reefer Varney HO Kit-built #R-42 ART American Refrigerator Transit 40' Steel Reefer car
Varney #R-43 Metal HO Santa Fe El Capitan Reefer #8131 Varney HO #R-45 Northern Pacific NP Steel Refrigerator Car kit-built circa 1955 Varney Liebmann Packing Company Railroad 40' reefer

The stamped steel version of the Varney HO 40' box car kit was introduced in 1949. The box car floors were wood, but everything else was metal. The cars were prepainted with baked enamel and the lettering was lithograph screen printed. The box cars featured sprung metal trucks and an operating detailed sliding door. The 1-piece pre-formed roof included ribs. The underframe was die-cast. Complete kits were sold for $3.00.

Varney 40' AAR Steel Box Cars Built from Metal Embossed Kits, Pre-1955 issue
Varney HO #B-40 kit-built early metal Santa Fe The route of The Chief 40' steel box car Varney HO #B-45 Atlantic Coast Line 40’ Metal Box car Varney HO #B-46 kit-built early metal Erie 40' box car
Varney HO #B-51 kit-built early metal New York New Haven and Hartford box car Varney HO #B-54 Santa Fe Railroad 40' single door steel Box Car Varney HO #B-57 Stamped Steel Box Car Kit A.T.S.F. Santa Fe All The Way
Varney HO #B-59 MKT The Katy Serves the Southwest Well Box Car metal kit Varney HO #B-67 B&O 40' box car assembled kit Baltimore & Ohio Time-Saver Service Varney HO #B-68 Pennsylvania RR Merchandise Service Express X29 Box Car
Varney HO #B-69 Missouri Pacific Eagle Merchandise Service 40' Steel Box Car Varney HO #B-70 Metal SL-SF Frisco Box Car #17774 Varney HO #B-72 New York Central Pacemaker Box Car Built Metal Kit
Varney HO #B-73 NC & St. Louis Dixieland 40' Box Car Varney HO #B-74 Santa Fe Super Chief Kit-built Metal 40' box car Varney HO #B-76 Union Pacific Metal body 40' Box Car
Varney HO #B-78 Buffalo Creek 40' Steel Box Car Varney HO #B-81 New Haven 40' metal box car

In 1948 Varney introduced a new V-3 12-volt DC enclosed Super motor similar to the V-2 with the difference being that it had an exposed straight shaft with a different shaft support casting where the ball bearing was visible at the position it was mounted in the shaft support. This motor could be adapted to fit into any pre-war locomotive frames by filing away some casting supports. Any gear could be mounted onto the ⅛" shaft. The V-3 ran at .2 to .7 amps and put out 10,000 to 16,000 RPM. The same year, a V-4 Direct drive 7-pole 12-volt DC motor was issued that was designed specifically for the Varney F-3 diesel locomotives. This direct drive motor was very similar to the V-2 and V-3 motors but had a very short motor shaft adapter casting and included double threaded worms mounted on the motor shaft and gears with a 13 to 1 gear ratio.

Varney Tank Cars From Plastic Injection Molded Kits
Varney HO #T-1 Sinclair Tank Car Built Kit with Sprung Trucks Varney HO #T-3 Scale UTLX #215 Tank Car Built Kit with Sprung Trucks Varney HO #T-6 A.T.S.F. #95007 Tank Car Varney HO #T-7 Koppers Chemicals-Plastics Tank Car
Varney HO #T-8 Bay-Sol Escambia Bay Chemical Corp. Oil Tank Car Varney HO #T-9 Goodyear Single Dome Tank Car UTLX #25149 circa 1957 Varney HO #T-102 Texaco Single Dome Tank Car TCX #6305 Varney HO #T-113 Gulf Oil Tank Car

Varney HO #C-3 Erie Cupola Caboose circa 19501950 was a banner year for HO, as Varney introduced new plastic-bodied, injection molded freight cars. The 1950 catalog announced the new tank car kits that were prepainted and lettered, with all the detail cast in the body and frame. The tank and dome were made of plastic. The underframe was a single die-casting that came completely painted. The simulated Bettendorf trucks were also made of metal. The cars featured lettered sides, sprung trucks, dummy couplers and draft gear. The kits sold for $2.50. The new 2-bay 32 foot hopper cars consisted of a one-piece detailed colored plastic casting and a die-cast metal underframe. They came pre-lettered. Metal sprung Bettendorf trucks and dummy couplers were included. Complete kits were $2.35. A covered hopper was also offered that included a plastic roof with roof walk and 8 hatches. These kits were priced at $2.35. A new plastic cupola caboose and a plastic bay-window caboose were also offered.

Varney HO scale #653 metal New Haven Yard Switcher SW type loco 1950 also saw the release of a new diesel yard switcher kit - a GM 1000 HP model for $19.75. The diesel switcher also utilized the Pittman DC-60 electric motor. It drove a truck worm shaft assembly that allowed both the front and rear trucks to be driven by the motor, which was placed in the forward section of the shell above the front truck. The diesel switcher's cast metal body came pre-painted in black, ready for lettering.

The business continued to grow, and by 1953 Varney was operating 2 glass walled production plants, one located in Coral Gables, FL, and the other in Puerto Rico. At this point the firm employed more than 50 full-time craftsmen, and together the 2 shops were producing more locomotives and cars than Baldwin and Pullman-Standard combined. The use of plastic, as a replacement for metal, became more prevalent during this period. In 1954 Varney introduced a plastic version of the 'Lil Joe' Dockside 0-4-0T loco. It came ready-to-run and featured an injection molded shell on a die-cast metal chassis. 1955 saw Varney make a switch from die-cast F-3 diesel kits to special impact Polystyrene plastic molded bodies. The 1955 catalog announced new F-3 diesel loco kits and a twin drive option that utilized a nylon worm shaft.

Varney HO F-3 Union Pacific A unit diesel loco Varney HO F-3 Missouri Pacific Plastic A unit Diesel Loco power unit
Varney HO F-3 Baltimore & Ohio A unit diesel Varney HO F-3 A Pennsylvania RR dummy diesel unit

Varney HO for A. C. Gilbert Southern Pacific F-3 A EMD diesel circa 1955 In 1955, the by then Miami, Florida based Varney Co. produced a whole new and varied line of HO trains, for the A. C. Gilbert Company, makers of the 'S' gauge American Flyer trains, called Gilbert HO. Varney provided A-B F-3 EMD diesels along with stock, hopper, a cement car, oil tank cars, and a Reading style caboose. Many of the items were standard Varney production, but with A. C. Gilbert numbering and window box packaging. Even though Gilbert had HO gauge trains in its product line since 1938, the 4 year collaboration with Varney brought the highest quality and finest attempts at HO scale offerings. The highlight was the Northern Pacific passenger set that was headed by Varney-produced F-3 diesels. Varney's interest in helping Gilbert was somewhat personal, as Gordon Varney felt that by increasing Gilbert's sales of ready-to-run HO, his line of HO kits would also benefit from the increased market demand. Unfortunately, sales did not achieve the expected results.

Varney for American Flyer HO Freight Cars
Varney HO for A. C. Gilbert Burlington Route CB&Q Hopper #501 circa 1955 Varney HO for A. C. Gilbert The Katy #502 MKT stock car circa 1955 Varney HO for A. C. Gilbert #510 Monon 2-bay cement Hopper circa 1955
Varney HO for A. C. Gilbert #500 Gulf 10,000 gallon Tank car circa 1955 Varney HO for A. C. Gilbert #517 Mobilgas 10,000 Gallon Tank Car circa 1955 Varney HO for A. C. Gilbert #518 Koppers 10,000 Gallon Chemical Tank Car circa 1955

Varney catalogs promoted that by actual count there are 4,000 rivets on the 40' gondola, along with lots of details on the bottom of the car. It came with fully assembled, sprung trucks and sold for $1.90 in 1955. Prior to the change to plastic molded gondolas, the kits featured embossed, lettered and colored aluminum sides and ends that interlocked. Ladders and brake wheel were stamped metal. The air brake system and couplers were made of Tenite. Steps and grab irons were made of formed wire.

Varney 40' Gondolas - Styrene Plastic Molded Built-up Kits & Ready-to-Run
Varney HO #G-1 PRR gondola Built Up Kit Varney HO #G-2 Southern Pacific Gondola #95501, Built Up Kit Varney HO #G-3 Denver & Rio Grande Western Gondola #71429, Built Up Kit
Varney HO #G-4 Michigan Central gondola Varney HO #G-5 Elgin Joliet & Eastern E.J.& E. #34655 Chicago Outer Belt Gondola

In 1957, Varney introduced plastic molded woodside reefer kits.

Varney Plastic Molded 40' Woodside Reefer Built-up Kits & Ready-to-Run
Varney HO #RP-3 Fruit Growers Express Reefer, Die Cast Sprung Trucks circa 1957, Built Up Kit Varney HO #RP-4 Swift Reefer #4200 Built Up Kit Varney HO #RP-101 Santa Fe 40' wood side reefer
Varney HO #RP-103 Fruit Growers Express F.G.E.X Woodside reefer Varney HO #RP-105 Wilson Car Lines WCLX 40' wood side reefer plastic circa 1962 Varney HO #RP-106 Dubuque 40' reefer URTX plastic circa 1962

Varney HO scale PRR #5796 GG-1 Electric Locomotive circa 1970 Gordon Varney sold the company in 1960 to Sol Kramer of Life-Like, and it was moved to Baltimore, MD. Around this time Varney/Hobbyline plastic passenger cars were supplied to Penn Line for their HO train sets. Varney also made the C&O hopper and Sinclair tank car for Penn Line. The 1962 Varney catalog announced a new KM-1 electric motor that was made in Japan. A full 5-year guarantee was also advertised. Many Varney items were now being offered in either kit form or fully assembled, ready-to-run. Gordon Varney died in 1965. In 1968 Mehano of Yugoslavia produced an RS-11 diesel in HO for Varney. It would be the last new diesel release for the Varney line. The model trains continued to be produced under the Varney name until March 1970, when the branding was finally changed to 'Life-Like.' The HO RS-11 was featured as the cover model for Life-Like's first full-line HO product catalog in 1970. Around this time, Varney also put out a nice die-cast HO GG-1 Electric locomotive made from tooling that Sol Kramer had acquired from Penn Line. In 1985, the Model Railroad Industry Association, Inc. named Gordon Varney a Pioneer of Model Railroading.

Versions of many former Varney products remained on the market in the Bowser Manufacturing and Life-Like lines. This includes the Aerotrain in plastic that Gordon Varney created the molds for, and that Bowser has used over the years as a basis for its Aerotrain models in HO Scale. Bowser also continued to produce the Old Lady (2-8-0), Casey Jones (4-6-0), and 'Lil Joe' Docksider 0-4-0T steam locos. Varney's plastic injection molded freight cars continued to be produced by Life-Like and then by Walthers after they acquired the company in 2005.

Varney 40' Single Door Steel Type Box Cars - Plastic Molded Built Up Kits & Ready-to-Run
Varney HO #B-101 SOO Line #45398 40' single door Box Car circa 1957 Varney HO #B-102 Rock Island Route of the Rockets 40' Box Car circa 1957 Varney HO #B-105 Denver & Rio grande steel box car
Varney HO #B-206 Great Northern 40' Steel Box Car Varney HO #B-209 Louisville & Nashville 40' Steel Box Car Varney HO #B-211 Chesapeake & Ohio 40' Steel Box Car Built Kit
Varney HO #B-212 Pennsylvania RR Don't Stand Me Still 40' Steel Box Car Varney HO #B-213 Santa Fe Shock Control 40' Steel Box Car Varney HO #B-214 Bessemer & Lake Erie 40' Steel Box Car
Varney HO #2669 EL Erie Lackawanna 40' Box Car #73510 RTR Varney HO #2669 GN Great Northern 40' Box Car #27024 RTR Varney HO #2669N National Brewing Co. BOH Natty Boh Beer Plastic Box car made 1962-64

Today, train collectors actively seek and prize the Varney products produced during the 10 year post war era. Some engines sell in the $500 range, which is unusual for HO gauge trains. Varney's early brass locomotives are very rare and are highly sought after by collectors, as well as by modellers who take joy in the work of restoration of these antiques. The locos that are rarest and most sought after include the 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone, 4-8-4 Northern, and the 4-6-4 Hudson. Another very rare item from Varney is the streamlined 4-6-2 Varney HO Baltimore & Ohio The Royal Blue 4-6-2 Streamliner Pacific loco with its especially rare wood fiber streamlined tender with 6-wheel Commonwealth tender trucks. The streamlined Pacific becomes an even rarer item when the 8 matching wood fiber streamlined passenger cars are found with it. This set was depicted in a 2-page spread in the 1940 catalog. The cars were offered in 3 color schemes. These were orange and red, for the Southern Pacific Daylight, blue and dark blue for the Baltimore & Ohio, and Tuscan red and maroon for the Pennsylvania RR Broadway limited. The 8 full scale length passenger cars were the PA1 baggage express, PA2 baggage mail, PA3 combination, PA4 day coach, PA5 diner, PA6 Pullman roomette, PA7 Pullman bedroom compartment/drawing room, and PA8 observation. Literature stated that the streamlined cars were developed using actual plans of these trains. A complete set of all 8 cars was offered for $19.50. Individual cars were $2.75 each. The streamlined Pacific could be modified to a Hudson with the replacement of the 2-wheel trailing truck with a 4-wheel trailing truck. The streamlined Pacific kit was priced at $24.50 loco only, $32.25 with tender, or $65 finished, with tender and painted to match any of the 3 streamlined car colors.

Varney 40' Stock Cars - Plastic Molded Built-up Kits & Ready-to-Run
Varney HO #CC-1 Pennsylvania RR 40' Stock Car Varney HO #CC-2 40' New York Central System Livestock car Varney HO #CC-4 Union Pacific 40' Stock Car
Varney HO #CC-6 Atlantic Coast Line Stock Car Varney HO #CC-110 Chicago & Northwestern Lines 40' Stock Car circa 1960's Varney HO #2466 Missouri Pacific Lines Cattle Stock Car
Varney HO #2466MKT The Katy M-K-T Stock Car circa 1960's Varney HO scale #2464S Soo Line Cattle Stock Car #29647 Varney HO scale #2464B CB&Q Burlington Route Cattle Stock Car #52149

The early Varney 40' stock car kits from the 1940's had open work sides made of Tenite molded in a single piece that included the letter boards. The floor, roof and scribed roof walk were made of wood. The airbrake system was also made of Tenite. The stock car featured die-cast metal dummy couplers, end sills, and roof walk end platforms.

Link to Varney Catalogs on line.

Back To Top of Page

horizontal rule

Home ] Train Collecting Tips page ] Index of Manufacturers ]
To request more information about TCA contact any Western Division board member or send e-mail to: