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American Model Toys/Auburn Model Trains


AMT was formally established in 1948 in Fort Wayne, Indiana by tool and die maker Jack Ferris. The company is famous for producing a large line of the most realistic 'O' gauge streamlined passenger cars made during the immediate postwar era. AMT also created and marketed a line of highly detailed near-scale models of eye-catching boxcars that were decorated with authentic road names and paint schemes. The company was perhaps one of the most overlooked train makers of the late 1940's and early 1950's. Its legacy, however, ties into virtually every major producer of 'O' gauge trains in business today. While almost everyone has heard of manufacturers from this era such as American Flyer, Lionel, and Marx, American Model Toys was a fourth maker of toy trains in the late 1940's and early 1950's that while much smaller and unknown, was very innovative, and built quality products.

Jack Ferris cut his teeth in model railroading early on. He started Scale Model Railways in 1929, a company dedicated to ¼" to the foot scale. They sold kits and custom-built models. In 1940, the company was purchased by the Megow Corporation, a company that created kits for airplanes and ships. Then Jack changed careers and became the head of a plastic-rubber research group of a large rubber company, but he took up tinplate as a hobby.

Tinplate railroading was a great way for Jack to bond with his son, Jack Jr., and they built a huge home layout together. One day Jack Jr. asked his dad why there were no streamlined model train passenger cars made like the real ones that ran on the prototypical railroads of the era. Jack Sr. decided he would manufacture models of this equipment to fill the niche. Little did Jack know that the resulting series of 'O' gauge streamliner cars would become very popular with hobbyists in a short period of time, and bring Jack back into the toy train manufacturing business.

AMT 'O' gauge #2005 Santa Fe Indian Arrow Observation Passenger Car in 'O' gauge circa 1949-50 American Model Trains Extruded Aluminum Santa Fe Indian Lake coach in 'O' gauge American Model Trains #3160 extruded aluminum passenger coach in 'O' gauge circa 1949-50 AMT extruded aluminum Santa Fe Vista Dome Car in 'O' gauge circa 1949-50 American Model Trains extruded aluminum Diner car in 'O' gauge circa 1949-50 American Model Trains catalog #2001 Extruded Aluminum Santa Fe #3407 U.S. Mail Railway Post Office in 'O' gauge American Model Trains extruded aluminum #2008 Santa Fe 4170 Baggage Car in 'O' gauge circa 1949-50

The first offerings were sand-cast passenger cars in New York Central and Pennsylvania liveries. Initially selling its products to other companies, Ferris decided to create his own company in 1948 after producing a set of these passenger cars using extruded aluminum, that could negotiate Lionel track. Shortly thereafter AMT began producing their famous steamlined extruded aluminum passenger cars, with fluted and smooth roof variations. The AMT passenger cars were available in a variety of body styles, and company liveries, the initial four, in 1949-50, being Baggage, Combine, Coach and Observation, each available in New York Central and Santa Fe paint schemes. Later, a Mail Express car, Vista Dome car, Dining car and Bedroom Roomette were added to the line. Prices on these cars started at $10.50. Road names for the Baltimore & Ohio, Chicago & North Western, Pennsylvania, Reading, Southern and The MKT Texas Special were added. There were nine cataloged versions of the Santa Fe passenger cars with smooth roofs. These passenger cars measure about 14" from end to end. The car sides and roof were all one solid piece. Car ends were cast aluminum. AMT tended to take more risks than Lionel, and its cars were slightly larger, slightly closer to scale, and well-made. Their realism and style was unmatched by anything Lionel produced for several years.

Eventually Lionel caught up, releasing their first 'O' gauge #2500 series extruded aluminum streamlined passenger equipment in 1952 and displacing AMT extruded aluminum cars as the market leader in sales. AMT survived by finding other weaknesses in Lionel's product line and producing models that filled those weaknesses, contenting itself as an aftermarket producer who would sell its items to Lionel's customers, and take away market share where ever possible. At this point manufactuing was moved to new facilities in Auburn, Indiana.

American Model Trains #466096 B & O Sentinel box car in 'O' gauge circa 1952 In 1952, AMT started producing 40-foot box cars, stock cars and reefers in the latest, most colorful paint schemes they could find in use by real railroads, and made them to more realistic proportions than Lionel ever had. The new line of AMT box cars featured 12 superb models. The majority of these cars were dark brown with white lettering and railroad heralds. Each was based on an actual piece of rolling stock in use on a famous North American railroad. They represented a notable cross-section of lines whose trains could be seen throughout the United States and Canada. Some cars did vary from the brown paint job. The most beautiful of these 'O' gauge models was the #9003, which came painted blue and silver for the Baltimore & Ohio's Sentinel Service for rush shipping. An 'O' gauge refrigerator car from AMT captured the look AMT catalog #7252 Santa Fe #9241 refrigerator car in 'O' gauge of the 770 cars used by the Santa Fe RR in the 1940's. The #7252 had the yellow and brown paint scheme and accurate herald and slogan of the prototype. Even the decaled #9241 matched one used on a particular Santa Fe reefer. The only details left off were outlined doors with hinges that opened and roof hatches that could be opened. Another finely detailed and painted reefer was the #7251 Gerber Products Company model introduced in 1953. Inspiration for this car came from AMT's design engineer Carter Collier. The reefer's prototype was a privately owned car that ran the rails in the 1920's and 30's when billboard refrigerator cars were commonplace. Gerber Products had owned a few of these cars that were decorated with joyful graphics displaying whimsical animals marching over a blue hill.

These box cars and reefers were an immediate success with tinplate collectors all over the US. The next year, Lionel responded with the first of its famous 6464 series boxcars, which were better than anything it had produced before, but still did not match AMT's realism. While AMT had beaten Lionel to the boxcar market with this line of highly detailed cars, they were once again displaced by Lionel's popularity and marketing prowess with consumers.

Auburn 'O' scale Cities Service Tank Car AMT American Model Toys 'O' gauge Southern Railroad Box Car, #51297 L&N 'The Old Reliable' Gondola Car and C101 C & O Chesapeake Ohio Caboose # 4001 in 'O' gauge

American Model Trains AMT #8644 PRR F-7 'O' gauge circa 1953 The following year, AMT decided to produce a model of a diesel locomotive, which also permitted them to sell complete train sets for the first time. As American Model Toys, the firm brought out starter sets in 1953. AMT's working coupler, branded 'Liftamatic', closely followed AAR design, and had a simulated air hose which when pushed up permitted uncoupling of the trains. This required an uncoupling track, the first track of any kind made by AMT. Its design was such that it could be mated with Lionel 'O' gauge track. Other accessories were also designed.

AMT also made HO gauge streamlined passenger cars. These models were a 4-door Baggage, Combination or Crew Car, Day Coach, Dining Car, Bedroom-Roomette Pullman, and Observation Car. These cars came in kit form or, for a dollar more, already assembled. Like the 'O' gauge products, they had one piece extruded aluminum bodies, however these cars used die-cast ends, floors and trucks. Each car had two metal light sockets cast into the floor. The trucks were insulated from the metal floor by plastic grommets. An 18 inch radius curve was recommended for operation, but the trains could be used on even smaller radii curves.

Auburn Kusan F-7 Silver Flash A unit diesel in 'O' gauge The firm continued with production of F-3 Diesels and introduced Budd RDC cars as well, but by that time the model train market had shrunk considerably and the company was in financial straits. Demand wasn't as high as expected, and in 1954, AMT reorganized and changed its name to Auburn Model Trains. Although Auburn's offerings are highly regarded today, they were not very popular then, and by the autumn of 1954, the reorganization was deemed to be unsuccessful and Auburn sold out to Kusan, a plastics and toy company based in Nashville, Tennessee, who continued production.

Kusan produced train sets from the AMT tooling, as well as from new designs of their own, largely with atomic and military themes. Kusan is also credited with making the first 'O' gauge trains that could run on both 2-rail and 3-rail track (an idea MTH would rehash some 40 years later). But the market had peaked in 1954, and Kusan, dissatisfied with its share in a declining market, ceased production in 1960.

American Model Trains #34922 Santa Fe Super Chief box car in 'O' gauge Kusan then sold its tooling to a hobbyist named Andy Kriswaulis (or Kriswalus) in Endicott, New York, who operated as Kris Model Trains, or KMT. Kriswaulis only produced rolling stock, not locomotives. After Kriswaulis' death on Sept. 6, 1990, KMT dissolved and much of the tooling was sold to Williams Electric Trains, a small Maryland-based toymaker who had previously created its own tooling and manufactured reproductions of Lionel's prewar tinplate equipment. Coincidentally, Williams employed Mike Wolf, who would go on to found MTH Electric Trains. Williams soon decided to change focus, selling the Lionel reproduction tinplate tooling to Wolf, and concentrating its efforts on 1950's-style trains.

American Model Trains New York Central Budd RDC in 'O' gauge Wolf would then work as a subcontractor to Lionel, before a disagreement led him to go off on his own and found MTH.

After, the AMT/Kusan/KMT tooling was purchased by Jerry Williams he used most of it for a brief period and then sold some of it to K-Line, a North Carolina-based toymaker who had bought much of Marx's tooling when Marx dissolved in 1978 and was using it to produce inexpensive trains that competed with Lionel's entry-level offerings. Like Williams, K-Line used the old AMT/Kusan/KMT tooling to produce rolling stock that directly competed with Lionel at higher ends of the marketplace. With Lionel's takeover of K-Line, the modified AMT tooling used by K-Line is now owned by Lionel.

American Model Trains #3003 New York Central Diner Car, #3004 NYC Vista Dome and #4170 NYC Aluminum Baggage Car in 'O' gauge
American Model Trains Santa Fe USPS Mail Extruded Aluminum Baggage Car in 'O' gauge

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