Toy Trains

The Noble Biddinger Collection

Noble Biddinger was an investment banker by profession, but a toy train enthusiast by passion. In fact his north side Indianapolis home was as much a depot as a family residence, housing close to 2,000 toy locomotives, freight and passenger cars, and accessories. An elaborate layout in the basement featured multiple trains running past tiny towns, over bridges, and through mountain tunnels. It was a dreamland for train buffs of every age.

74.325.1A-G, Girl’s train, Lionel, USA, 1957

Of course only those fortunate enough to know Biddinger or someone in his family ever got the chance to see what his passion had wrought. Then his friend and Children’s Museum trustee Jack Rauch Jr. suggested that when Biddinger was ready to part with his collection he consider giving it to the museum. After visiting the museum and talking with director Mildred Compton, Biddinger decided the time had come to turn his trains over to the museum where they could be enjoyed by many more people than would ever see them in his home.

For its part the museum agreed to build a special gallery where Biddinger’s trains could be displayed, including the 18-by-24-foot layout with its eight operating lines and 450 feet of track. Initially installed in a remodeled garage behind the adjacent Rauh Library—to which Biddinger donated an air conditioner to protect the trains and visitors during hot Indiana summers—the train exhibit was an instant hit from the time it opened in June 1970.

Robert Vickers Collection

74.913.1AB, No. 42 Trolley & Trailer, Carlisle & Finch, USA, 1904–1909

Robert Vickers was just as avid a toy train collector as Biddinger, having acquired thousands of locomotives, cars, and accessories over a 20-year period. In 1974 Vickers’ collection joined Biddinger’s at the museum. Included in the collection are rare pieces by such famous makers as Lionel, American Flyer, and Ives, as well as pieces from lesser-known American makers and examples of British, French, and German trains.

Following the museum’s move into its new building in 1976, the train gallery was installed on the Level 4 next to the carousel where it remained popular with visitors until the gallery was closed to make way for Carousel Wishes and Dreams. Today some of the museum’s extensive train collection can be seen in All Aboard! on the Lower Level, while others are safely stored in the museum’s collection area.