Varney was a United States manufacturer of model railroad equipment.
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 gauge 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.
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." One
of his 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, early 40's. Early sales and distribution was all done via mail order.
The majority of the products manufactured were kits. The loco kits were diecast, sheet metal and brass,
while the rolling stock kits were wood & metal.
HO scale was just beginning when these famous locomotives made their appearance.
The Pacific had the USRA boiler style and was patterned after the Southern Pacific prototype.
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.
Varney was one of the earliest manufacturers to use plastic and made their first plastic kit as early as 1940, using a plastic called 'Tenite'. Tenite was an
injection molded acetate most often used for tool handles and control knobs of all sorts.
Apart from locomotives and carriages Varney also made a series of HO-scale car and truck models. The vehicles
were solid and had no interiors. Some were made of clear plastic. 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, but sales were poor, and Varney wound up selling these molds to O-Lin.
Another Varney innovation was embossed aluminum car sides. In 1941,
Varney car kits sold for $1.25. During the war, production of model trains ceased while the shop produced military parts. After the
war, Varney resumed production with updated versions of many of the pre-war model train kits. The stamped steel version of
the Varney boxcar was introduced in 1949. 1950 was a banner year for HO, as Varney introduced the first
plastic-bodied, injection molded freight cars.
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 prewar Baltimore and Ohio RR 'Little Joe' 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.
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.
Varney also offered a bronze or aluminum superstructure casting for a 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone articulated,
which when combined with appropriate Varney parts, made an impressive model. 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. A 1947 Varney price list
indicates that a #1913-K-4 kit could be purchased for $27.50.
In 1947 Gordon Varney released an 'O' Scale 4-6-0 steam loco in kit form under the Varney name.
This tooling was later sold to General Models Corp. and then acquired by All-Nation Hobbies of Chicago in 1950.
In June of 1948, Varney issued the Hollywood And Western refrigerator car after deciding
that there was a market for private owner car models. That car kit, along with the Firewater & Kicking Horse
boxcar 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 produced Lindsay motors and power trucks. He also produced some HO die-cast metal diesel bodies.
In 1955, the by then Miami, Florida based Varney Co. produced
a whole new and varied line of HO trains, for the AC Gilbert Co, makers of the 'S' gauge
American Flyer trains, called Gilbert HO. Varney provided A-B F-3 diesels and the first HO scale boxcars
to ever be offered by Gilbert. They also provided stock, hopper, a cement car, oil tank cars, and a
Reading style caboose. 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. 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.
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.
Gordon Varney died in 1965. The model trains continued to be produced
under the Varney name until March 1970, when the branding was finally changed to 'Life-Like.' Around this time, Varney
also put out a nice diecast HO GG-1 Electric 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. 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
Today, versions of many former Varney products remain 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 still makes the Old Lady (2-8-0), Casey Jones (4-6-0), and
Little Joe Docksider (0-4-0T) steam locos.
Varney 40' Steel Box Cars
Varney 40' Outside Braced Wood Box Cars
Varney 40' Stock Cars
Link to Varney Catalogs on line.