Heljan and where I’ve gone since then

Like most modellers I started out in the hobby with a set of HO scale trains when I was quite young. I had a fantastic layout that my Dad built for me (I was really, really young) and it was on that 4×8′ layout that I experienced so many of my firsts. Gosh that was fun and I played with it for hours. In the three decades since those days I’ve gotten more “serious” about the hobby and these days I worry that I’ve forgotten how to play with trains. I still really enjoy the hobby and lately I feel like I’m discovering new exciting things about it that I can’t wait to experience and share. Always looking forward sometimes I forget those roots. With that sentiment in mind I wanted to share something neat that happened to me this morning.

I hadn’t been on the M.B. Klein website in a long time. By accident I noticed that they were now selling Fleischmann trains. In my opinion Fleischmann are still the makers of the finest N scale trains…bar none. It was fun surfing through the Klein’s website and seeing what other European treats that they catalogued that I’d never seen before in their listings. It was on their HO scale website I saw a drop-list option for Heljan. My imagination instantly screamed out a list of British Rail diesel models that Heljan now produce and I’d like to add to my model collection someday so I hastily selected that option and waited for the website to return it’s wares. What I got wasn’t what I expected. What you get when you pick “HO Scale” and “Heljan” is a great list of their HO scale building kits. These days now that we’re all saturated with so many craftsman kits and it seems like no one even acknowledges things like Revell, AHM and Heljan structures it was really cool to see this list. When I was young we had one of the original Leisure World stores right here in Charlottetown and Gerry would stock all sorts of these kits. I’d steadfastly save paper route and pocket money dollars for the next kit – I’ve always enjoyed making model buildings. Gradually I managed to buy, and build, almost all the Heljan Danish stores and little houses. I even collected some of the American kits that they produced under the guidance of Con-Cor. Some of those kits became fodder for my own Art Curren-inspired kitbashes but I built a ton of them.

What surprised me the most from the Klein website though was how some of first kits I bought were still online. Walk with me down this road for a second (with all the chatter about sharing content I’m going to cower and only share hyperlinks instead of photos from someone else’s website. I’m sure I have my own pictures…somewhere…and I’ll dig them up later!)

This is the first plastic model kit I ever assembled, purchased at Hobby House in Ottawa when they were downtown:
Heljan HO 1772 Tract House Kit

I built that little house with Testor’s plastic model cement, the tube stuff, and a kitchen knife that I had taught myself to hone into a decent model making blade. I was careful and remember only smudging the plastic “glass” a little with glue.

Later on and a move to Charlottetown and now buying the kits from Leisure World:
Heljan HO 1773 Suburban House Kit
That one I really messed up. I was rushing and recall really mucking up the little alcove at the front of the house.

Heljan HO 211 Small Brick House Kit
I never liked that one but it was inexpensive and fit my buy with what I’ve got right now mentality at the time.

Heljan HO 301 American Farm House Kit
That one was my favourite. It’s lines seemed so familiar and almost Canadian and I treasured it dearly. I remember trying to find just the right spot on the layout and it would eventually get quite the fun model backyard and garden added. On a family trip I had purchased an old British model railway magazine and it had contained instructions on how to model garden plants in OO scale with only paper and water colours and I remember making little cabbages and bean poles. What fun!

Here’s the main query from the Klein website to take a look at the Heljan kits they’ve catalogued. I know I’m not alone for these familiar beginnings:

It’s fun to see some kits that I really, really wanted way back when and it’s tempting to order them today.



  1. Yes, Chris those wonderful Heljan kits that I started with for my early layouts and remember the old Pola kits too? Brings back a lot of good memories of layouts now long gone that I built with my late father.

    1. Pola? Boy do I ever remember those. I wouldn’t be much of an N scaler without a tip of that hat to that firm. Like anyone who was involved in N “way back when” I had their station kits and that classic foundry. One of my favourites from their line was a little brown brick storey-and-a-half house kit. I always considered the Pola artwork (on the box) to be some of the finest. I feel like working on a blog post now about Pola. Thanks!

  2. Chris, it’s OK to revel (pun intended) in those early kits. I liked the Superior Bakery kit so much that I was able to order three through a Yahoogroups member and used them in a kitbash of an industrial building in Winnipeg. We too had a Leisure World in Kingston, with Life-Like, Pola, Heljan and the like. The modellers coming into the field now are so spoiled, in that most kits are extremely high quality.

    A friend from school gave me some of his ‘early train set’ equipment and I will be doing a blog post on Trackside Treasure at some point about this Life-Like ‘historic train of the past’ visiting my layout. CP F-units with the wonky multimarks? Classic!

    Thanks for sharing,

    1. AHeM, great to hear from you Eric. No problem, I’m glad you took some time to Revell in some these great kits. These were the kits I always enjoyed trying to Con-Cor as got more and more involved in the hobby. While seldom prototypical in a North American scene, most were so charming it was just to hard to not Faller for them. “Alright, enough with the puns!” I hear you cry. I don’t think I have any more now.

      A friend from school gave me some of his ‘early train set’ equipment and I will be doing a blog post on Trackside Treasure at some point about this Life-Like ‘historic train of the past’ visiting my layout. CP F-units with the wonky multimarks? Classic!

      My first train set may be a kin of the one you’re describing. My first set was made by Life-Like. In addition to the ubiquitous CP Rail F-unit mine also included the white Swift refrigerator car, a CN twin hopper and CP Rail caboose. I still have the caboose, the hopper and the shell from the reefer. Most have changed significantly. Reflecting back now on the state of the caboose I think I should put together a blog post just on it alone. It’s changed a great deal from the car that came out of that train set but it’s a tremendous piece of history for it is marked by every milestone I’ve experienced in the hobby. That F unit met a really interesting fate. When I was little, the only railroading material I had to study was an old Tri-ang Canadian Catalogue. Anyone who knows the Tri-ang Canadian models knows what I was drawing inspiration from and what a scene they presented. Tri-ang Canada stuff was all released as part of Tri-ang’s “Continental” series. The models looked only very little like anything that ever ran here. I fell in love with their road switcher with it’s crazy Baldwin-esque hood unit look. I wanted one so badly but with my very meagre pocket money it would be a long time. I was however blessed with very gifted and creative parents. My Dad, also a model railroader and my greatest inspiration for all things, secretly accepted the challenge to try and kitbash the F-unit into a road switcher. The resulting unit was beautiful and his Sorry Valley shop crews out-shopped a beautiful model resplendent in CP Rail red with full markings. F units to road switchers?? Yup we were just doing what the prototype Santa Fe was also up to. That engine was a tank and a tribute to the Plastruct shapes line and I loved it. I don’t think I have any photos of it but I remember every detail about it perfectly. That same year I was surprised with the another great scratch-bash model when Dad gave me a trolley he had kitbashed from an Athearn end-cupola caboose. He scratchbuilt the chassis from a variety of parts and it was perfect for me. It’s timing coincided with a visit to the Seashore Trolley Museum and the early moments of my love of all things traction.

      Geez Eric. I started this comment to just fire off a stream of puns but it’s turned into a really great walk down memory lane. Reflecting back on the words above I can see why I love this hobby. Corny as maybe it sounds it’s because of the love my parents invested into my early days in the hobby. Anytime you put that much into something it always works out and the people you invest in always carry it forward. Thanks Eric for the moment. I owe you again.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s