Founded in 1948 in Fort Wayne, IN by Jack Ferris, a tool and die maker. They produced a large
line of the most realistic
passenger cars made during the immediate postwar era until being displaced by Lionel's
extruded aluminum cars. AMT also beat Lionel to the boxcar market with a line of highly detailed cars,
only to be displaced again, by Lionel's 6464 line. As American Model Toys, the firm brought out starter
sets in 1953. The firm continued with production of F-3 Diesels and Budd cars, but by that time the
market had shrunk and the company was in financial straits. In 1954 after an unsuccessful reorganization
as Auburn Model Trains, the line was sold to Kusan who continued production.
While almost everyone knows American Flyer and Lionel,
and a lot of people have
heard of Marx, there was a fourth maker of toy trains in the late 1940's and early
1950's that was much smaller, although very innovative, and today is nearly forgotten: Auburn,
Indiana-based American Model Toys.
Its legacy, however, ties into virtually every major producer of 'O' gauge trains
in business today. 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. Jack 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. The resulting series
of 'O' gauge streamliner cars became very popular with hobbyists in a short period of time, and brought Jack
back into the toy train manufacturing business.
Initially selling its products to other companies,
Ferris founded his company in 1948 after producing a set of these passenger cars using extruded aluminum, that
could negotiate Lionel track. Their realism and style was unmatched by anything Lionel
produced for several years. 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. 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.
Eventually Lionel caught up, releasing their first 'O' gauge extruded aluminum
streamlined passenger equipment in 1952. 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. In 1952, AMT started producing box cars in the latest,
most colorful paint schemes they could find in use by real railroads, and made them to more realistic
proportions than Lionel had. These box cars were an immediate success with tinplate collectors
all over the US. The next year, Lionel responded with its famous 6464 boxcars, which were
better than anything it had produced before, but still did not match AMT's realism.
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. AMT's working coupler, 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.
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, and by the autumn of 1954, Auburn sold out to Kusan, a plastics and toy company based
in Nashville, Tennessee.
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.
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.
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.