Holidays in Plasticville

A new holiday tradition appeared in late 1940s post-war America: the traditional cardboard buildings of the nation's earlier train layouts and under-the-holiday-tree displays were gradually replaced by—you guessed it—plastic.

Now Plasticville is called "a small piece of Americana that has become a traditional favorite of collectors world-wide."

What began in 1947 with a simple fence to be used under the tree soon evolved into a collection of small, detailed edifices designed for use with the popular electric trains of the period.

 

Train layout with Lionel train and Plasticville, Harrisburg, PA, circa 1959

 

One key to Plasticville's popularity, aside from its cool retro look, was its "no glue" format and the fact that the various structures were assembled with a "snap-together" construction that also meant they could be taken apart and stored more easily and safely (plus, they were a lot of fun to put together).

In 1952 the Philadelphia-based Bachman Industries patented its "snap" format, and the rest is history. Models ranging from ranch houses to super markets, gas stations, and other 1950s essentials quickly followed. 

Several websites devoted to P-ville collectors and the company's history are available.

I remember that my father's first holiday train layouts used the quaint cardboard buildings that he must have spent many a late night assembling (though I'm sure he also enjoyed that). None of these fragile items have survived, but Plasticville made the trip from Harrisburg, PA, to Ventura and now appears, on a somewhat less grand scale, under a California holiday tree, bringing with it a lot of fond and sometimes poignant memories.

 

Lionel train pile-up in front of the Plasticville service station, Ventura, CA, circa 2008. It's the same train and gas station seen in the previous photo.

 

-RetroRoss