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Bachmann G-Gauge Christmas TrainsIn this article, I'm using the phrase "Christmas Trains" to describe operating toy or model trains that are painted, labeled, and othewise designed with Christmas themes.
I first got interested in Christmas-themed trains in 2007-2008 when we started hosting Christmas-themed open railroads on our first iteration of the New Boston and Donnels Creek.
At the first event, we ran our "ordinary" trains - mostly AristoCraft Pennsylvania steam pulling freights or varnish of the same brand. They were great, and I doubt anyone cared that they were labeled "Pennsylvania" instead of, say, "North Star and Southern," one of Bachmann's favorite Christmas train labels.
But in the years following, I couldn't help notice some very cute - yes, that's the word - Christmas-themed offerings from several vendors. After careful shopping, I now own Christmas trains from AristoCraft, Lionel, and Bachmann.
The purpose of this article is to help you with your research if you want a big impressive Christmas-themed train running around your tree or on your garden railroad. Say you want to see if anything is missing from a set you've come across, or you are wondering if pieces from different sets will look good together.
That said, none of these trains are considered collectors' items. I only buy trains to run myself, and that's true of 99.9% of the folks who've bought these Christmas trains. Consequently, you're shopping a used market that often includes people who have no idea what they're selling, and - worse yet - people who know exactly what they're selling and don't tell you the "whole story."
So, despite the fact that I enjoy the Bachmann Christmas trains I own, there are a lot of potential "gotchas" you should also be aware of. So sorry if I list the "gotchas" first. I want you to go into any investment with your eyes wide open.
Just for fun, I'm including a photo from 2018, when I had two Bachmann Christmas locos running on a snowy day. The North Star
Cold Weather and Large Scale TrainsAt this point, I confess to having more Christmas trains than I can run on the railroad at the same time. But that's a necessity when you have cold-weather-open railroads as we do. Because things are that much more likely to go wrong, and you're that much more likely to need to put a backup on the track quickly.
Not to mention that many of the trains are over thirty years old, which introduces another level of risk to operating them in cold weather. Soft plastic parts that are already turning brittle from age can disintegrate with normal handling. Lubricants getting thicker as the temperature drops can put extra stress on gears, and so on.
That said, the vast majority of customers over the years have bought these to use around their Christmas trees or on indoor display layouts at banks, etc. So, hopefully, they don't have as many weather-related issues as typical used Big Haulers.
Buying Discontinued TrainsThe good thing about Bachmann's Christmas trains is that they made so many of them. The bad part is that they are all discontinued (although one still shows up in their online store from time to time).
That means that you pretty much have to buy on the used market, and you run a risk of the pieces having damage that doesn't show up in the online ads, etc. A locomotive that is "tested" and "runs fine" might still be on its last legs. Handrails may be intact but brittle, and so on.
Even the trains that have been mostly used seasonally indoors may suffer damage from rough handling or clumsy storage. After all, folks who only set up trains once a year seldom know how to handle or pack them away appropriately.
Bachmann's repair department gets overwhelmed easily, and often runs out of commonly used parts, so you may not be able to get a piece you like repaired. If you send them a locomotive and pay for repairs, and they can't fix yours, they might send you one with another road name. And they almost never repair cars, though they do sell some replacement parts.
So you might find yourself buying two sets to get one complete set, or doing repairs, or both.
If all of this makes your nervous, you should remember that LGB and PIKO are both still making brand new Christmas-themed trains. (You can see some examples here.)
The main reason to buy a used Bachmann train is if you prefer the look, not to save money, because you may not. And there were some "dandy sets"
Typical "Big Hauler" Christmas SetsMost Bachmann Christmas train sets include
Besides these trains, Bachmann also made two "self-propelled" Christmas products:
Also worth noting: Most of these sets - whatever the name on the box - are labeled for North Pole and Southern. So you often see them listed that way on auction sites. Which can be confusing, but it also means that you don't generally have to worry about mixing pieces from different sets. They mostly share the deep green and dark red color scheme as well.
The one major exception is the locomotive from the North Star Express freight set; it's brown for some reason. But you probably won't come across one in working condition anyway. If you do, don't run it in cold weather.
Premium Sets - There were three notable variations on these standard sets.
The rest of the sets I've come across have exactly the same chance of being intact and useful as any other Bachmann Big Hauler train set made in the same year.
About Missing AccessoriesSeveral - but not all - of the sets came with plastic Santas and elves. Most of the gondolas came loaded with "Christmas presents." A couple premium sets came with other accessories like railroad crossing signs.
When these trains turn up used, most or all of the accessories are missing. So I haven't bothered to document them. I hope that's not an inconvenience.
The Problems With ShippingWhen you buy any used train online, you will have to pay to have the thing shipped. Not only could you wind up paying $50-$100 just for shipping, but if the set has the track that came with it, you might wind up paying an extra $20 to get track you will never use.
In addition, most of the boxes for most of these trains are falling apart by now, but if the seller has the box, they almost always get more for the train and you always pay more for shipping. Furthermore, many folks don't know how to get these things back in the box after they've played with them or taken photos, so a train in the box isn't much more likely to be in running condition than a well-packed train that is missing the box.
None of these are considered collectors' items. If you see a set that is complete and intact, but missing the box and track, don't let that hold you back.
Notes on Bachmann's Passenger Cars
For more information about Bachmann's passenger cars, visit our article on Buying Passenger Cars (Old-Timey).
Notes about Christmas, 2021I realize that publishing this article this late in the years will frustrate folks, because by now Christmas trains of all sorts are demanding a premium. Plus some of the trains on this list only turn up on eBay every few years, and they usually need at least some repair when they do. So getting your heart set on a particular train a month before Christmas will almost inevitably lead to disappointment.
But nobody ever reads Christmas train articles I publish in July. So, please enjoy the photos, learn from the descriptions, and bookmark the page for reference in case it motivates you to start keeping an eye out, say, in January.
The TrainsI've owned a few of these, and had my hands on a few more, but I can't say I've owned, or even seen them all. So some of the comments are based on photographs, general knowledge, or other folks' input.
In no particular order, though I tried to put the earlier ones first.
In other words, the only thing "Christmassy" about these was the phrase "Holiday Express" on the tender.
The original "Santa Fe" version (#90101) was our first Large Scale train, bought the year they came out (1988). In spite of its issues, we got a lot of "play value" out of it, so I may be unduly prejudiced toward this class of trains.
If the Bachmann Holiday Express has any outside exposure, due to its age, there's a high likelihood that all of the handrails are brittle, and there's the possibility that the traction "tires" on the last set of drivers have disintegrated, rendering the train unusable until you find rubber bands that fit.
That said, a high proportion of these was only used around a Christmas tree, and not in everyday play, so you're more likely to find them in good shape than their non-Christmas twins. A few years ago I picked up one of these that showed no signs of abuse, and I could run it today if I didn't mind spending money on batteries.
Technically, the coaches should have been "heavyweights," not wooden coaches, but Bachmann never made heavyweights in Large Scale.
Why So Rare? - Trains like this are made in batches, ordered by February, shipped by July, in warehouses by September. So manufacturers have to "guestimate" how many of each set they are likely to sell. Bachmann underestimated this set by, say, a factor of ten. The shelves emptied very quickly and within a few weeks people were offering them for $1000 online - and getting it!
That said, when the movie came out, it changed folks' ideas of what the train should look like. Lionel made a toy battery-powered version that ran on 45mm track, as well as an O gauge set that looked fairly realistic and has been upgraded multiple times. Both of those sold out quickly, but Lionel was able to rush subsequent shipments. And those products met the needs of folks who just wanted a Polar Express train to run around their Christmas trees or with their Christmas villages. (Note: The battery-powered Polar Express train that Lionel is selling today runs on 2" track, not 45mm, so don't buy a new one thinking you can run it on your existing trackage. Look for used sets with the words "G gauge" on the box.)
The movie, and trains that looked like the one in the movie, resulted in some of the Bachmann sets being abandoned and going on the market in the 2004-2015 timeframe. I haven't seen many recently, though, as the people who still own the remaining sets seem to be clinging to them.
Thirty-Five Years Later - What you should know. First of all, most of these were given to children to play with, so many were damaged and discarded. And most of the pieces that show up on eBay are also damaged in some way. Almost all of the locomotives have been destroyed, and the ones that weren't were still an early version which didn't hold up well if they were used a lot. I have never seen one in working condition. But if you have the tender, you can easily substitute any of Bachmann's other black locomotives to pull the train. Also, the coaches look great following my Lionel Atlantic or Aristo Pacific, and relettering a tender isn't THAT hard.
Since the track is useless for most purposes and the power supply is generic, the only thing worth considering are the coaches. The paint job holds up very well, but the handrails are soft plastic that can turn brittle over time. Even the coach bodies can be relatively brittle by now, so be careful how you store them.
Also, if you need to open one up, you'll discover that the lighting circuit is wired differently from later coaches. You will need to unscrew all the screws on the bottom and leave the seat layer in place until you loosen two other screws.
On the bright side, they came with metal wheels - not plastic, like some of their contemporaries. And as of November, 2021, you can still order metal handrails from Bachmann's parts department to upgrade them for about $10/car.North Star Express passenger train, which is one of the premium sets.
Remembering that in some of their earliest sets, they made as few changes as they could reasonably get away with to offer a "Christmas" version of a set, I suspect that the Texaco car was a money-saving move, if not actually underwritten by Texaco!
Sadly, the early design and the age of this locomotive have resulted in multiple reports of the main gear on the axle breaking after about ten years of Christmas-only use. In other words, don't kill yourself to track this one down. But if you come across one that runs, don't use it in a cold-weather open railroad - mine earned a trip to the parts bin that way.
Ironically, this is the Christmas version of a set that was only sold for a short period of time - the ET&WNC "Tweetsie" set, right down to the number "12" on the locomotive. (Yes, the paint job is very slightly different, but #12 is a real ET&WNC locomotive that has been preserved and is painted green.)
The same locomotive, with minor alterations, was used in other sets, including the Night Before Christmas set, which is still advertised on Bachmann's web page.
Cars included an "NPS North Pole Tree Farm" flat car," a Happy Holidays" box car, and a "North Pole and Southern" combine. (The photo of the "tree farm" car includes logs, which I don't think were original to the set, but I could be wrong.)
Like the locomotive, the paint job on the combine was used on several other sets, including the deep red, the frosted windows with tiny wreaths and the silkscreened swag pattern under the windows.
Its gondola and caboose are white with candy canes, but the most distinctive part of this set is the "Reindeer Transport Car.". When these sets turn up used, the stock car is nearly always missing, because folks tend to hold onto it to run with their other trains. (An animated version of this car, with reindeer bobbing their heads, was also produced, but it didn't come in a set to my knowledge.)
The car wheels are all metal-rimmed, which is good.
The Tweetsie locomotive is retained (with gray/silver running gear), as is the white gondola with candy canes. But this bobber caboose is deep red, and could go with most of the other trains on this page.
The car wheels are all metal or metal-rimmed, which is good.
White Christmas Express FreightThis is a fairly rare set - in fact I had a lot of trouble just getting photographs of it.
This mostly-silver locomotive in this set is a standard early-era 4-6-0 with plastic running gear. The same loco is used in the passenger train labeled "White Christmas Express."
I point it out because a nearly identical locomotive is used in the passenger train labeled "North Star Epress." But that locomotive has "Anniversary" features, including metal running gear and better engineering overall. So look at the closeup photos when you're considering with this color scheme - it might be a winner, and it might not.
Most unusual about this set is that there is no writing on the train (other than the number of the locomotive and the "built date" of the gondola).
I wonder if this set was made to sell in non-English-speaking countries. Which might also explain where so few sets turn up in the U.S.
White Christmas Express Passenger train (90076)This set is much more common than the freight version. It uses the mostly-silver locomotive from the freight set, but has the train's name on the tender.
The paint job on the combine and observation car is shared with several other sets, including the deep red, the frosted windows with tiny wreaths and the silkscreened swag pattern under the windows. However, the cars are labeled "White Christmas Express" instead of "North Pole and Southern," Bachmann's usual label for these.
The two-part power supply system indicates that it is one of the newer sets.North Star Express freight train with its odd brown locomotive and Texaco tanker, Bachmann introduced the North Star Express passenger train with upgraded features.
The coaches look like twins to the coaches of the "White Christmas Express" (except for the name boards), but they have metal handrails, an upgrade that's worth paying for if you have a passenger set and want to do it yourself by ordering the parts from Bachmann.
Interestingly, the second coach in this set and at least some of the White Christmas sets is not an observation car. This is actually a plus, if you want to mix and match cars from different trains.
The two-part power supply isn't unexpected in a train produced during the "Anniversary" era (starting in late 2000).
The "bonus" in this set is an eight-wheeled caboose. I believe this is the only 8-wheel Christmas caboose Bachmann ever offered. It is unlighted, which is actually a little surprising, given the upgrades of the other pieces of this set.
If you go shopping for this set by name, please don't confuse it with the freight version. They have almost nothing in common.
That said, it borrows the deep red "Seasons' Greetings" combine and the "Happy Holidays" boxcar from the North Pole Special, as well as the green gondola from the White Christmas Express freight set.
The locomotive is an Anniversary-style. It is painted green (the most common color of these), but the paint job has extra filigree you don't see on the other trains.
The coaches have a brighter, more elaborate paint job than the dark red coaches of the other trains. They also feature metal handrails. Surprisingly, they have no interior lighting. If you like Bachmann's system, you can order the sets from the Bachmann parts department. Or use a more modern system of your choosing.
Bachmann made these in two different colors. The red version was sold separately. The green version most often appeared as part of the Holiday Special megaset shown above, though it was occasionally sold separately..
Accessories - When released, these cars included Santa, an elf, and a pack of Christmas presents. Most or all of these are usually missing when these turn up on the used market.
Handling - They are fun to run and to watch. That said, their wheelbase is more rigid than, say, the Eggliners, which were originally engineered by AristoCraft, and which handle rough trackage better.
Lighting - All of these (to my knowledge) have "directional headlights," which means that only the headlight on the "front" end of the car shines (if you reverse the car, the other headlight shines.)
Some of these were factory-equipped with interior lighting and some were not. How can you tell? The streetcars that came from the factory with interior lighting had little pickup "shoes" between the wheels. In addition, those cars seem to run better for me that the cars without those shoes, so they're a benefit even if you aren't running trains in dim light.
As of December, 2021, you can order lighting kits from Bachmann, but they don't include the little shoes.
Open Streetcar?Bachmann also made an "open" streetcar, but never made it in Christmas colors.
In addition, their gearing is weak, leading to a much higher rate of failure than, say, the Aristo motor blocks. You can buy replacement chasses and even gears from Bachmann, but some folks have figured out how to replace the workings with Aristo motor blocks (currently used in Bachmann's eggliners). The wheels don't line up exactly with the frame, but the folks who do this report a much more reliable mechanism.
Note: Bachmann's On30 streetcars are identical to their Large Scale brethren, just smaller. So if you go looking for these online, don't accidentally spring for something much too small.
HandcarBachmann also made a short run of a handcar that featured Santa and elves. (The non-Christmas version featured two workers and a boss freeloading on the little trailer).
Most of these that turn up on auction sites are already broken in some way, and many are missing elves. This photo is the one Bachmann used in its advertising, showing the elf on the front handbar holding a lantern.
Based on the high proportion of non-working and/or incomplete sets I've seen, I would caution you to get guarantees that any set you pick up is 100% there and 100% running. Also, you cannot get the replacement gears or other parts from Bachmann at this time.
EgglinerThese dandy little locomotives are based on products originally made by AristoCraft, a major manufacturer of high-quality garden trains that unfortunately went out of business as a result of the 2008 recession.
Bachmann bought at least some of the molds and maybe some of the spare parts, and they used them to create this line of short-but-sweet self-powered vehicles.
As far as I know, Bachmann's first Christmas-themed eggliner was #96276, which had wreath and garland graphics.These are out of stock every place I checked.
The Bachmann-branded Eggliners being produced today seem to be using the same power trucks Aristo used in some of their locomotives - much more durable and reliable than the trucks in Bachmann's streetcars. They will pull a short string of cars, too. In fact, if you're considering setting up a display railroad where the trains will need to run unattended for hours, a short train pulled by an Eggliner may be your best choice.
Right now the only Christmas eggliner that seems to be currently available is the candy cane version shown above. As of this writing, three different vendors are selling it through Amazon. To see the listing, please click the button on the right.
Bachmann's Metal-Geared Christmas 4-6-0 (#91805)
A few years ago, Bachmann announced a line of metal-geared 4-6-0s, which cost many times more than any of the other locomotives on this page so far. They all list in the $1000 range, though, of course, discounters are selling them for less.
The current versions also feature Pittman motors, the most popular motor for model trains of all scales. They include all the extra piping and other detailing that the Anniversary locomotives included. Plus, for "rivet-counters" (extra-picky modelers), they produced new molds for the tender that folks say are much more realistic.
Unlike the other locomotives on this page, they do not include a built-in sound system. But they do have a speaker built into the tender, and a plug for plugging in the sound system or controller of your choice. (For example DCC with sound).
In other words, it's a top-notch model that competes favorably with brands that have long boasted better running and or better detailing than Bachmann's standard 4-6-0s. And it's still cheaper than, say, a new LGB Mogul.
Best Uses - Bachmann is no longer making Christmas-themed passenger or freight cars, but you can use this locomotive to pull any car from any train on this page. Or most cars from most other Large Scale trains. So if you already have a Christmas train and your locomotive has crapped out, or you want a more impressive locomotive, this might be a good choice.
Or if you have a vision of an elaborate Christmas train and you want to start with this, then keeping your eye out for other pieces, that's fine, too.
The only caveat is is you want to pull an AristoCraft train with these, the couplers are not exactly compatible. No problem, you close both couplers, then drop one into the other, still closed.
About Display Railroad Use - If you are setting up a Christmas display railroad and want to use this locomotive, be sure to design things so that it is out of reach of small children. For Christmas railroads that children can reach, consider the Eggliner, which is pretty robust and can pull short trains easily.
Note for November, 2021 - At the moment, these are getting hard to find. One vendor who sells on Amazon still claims you should be able to get yours before Christmas. Other vendors advertise them on "backorder." That said, I have no idea whether Bachmann will ever produce another run of these. My apologies.
ConclusionAs you've seen, each of the sets above have advantages and disadvantages. How to decide?
Though all but a few of the trains on this page are discontinued, enough of the pieces turn up occasionally to give you at least some choices, as long as you're aware of the potentials issues that stem from buying used, and possibly abused, trains.
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