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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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. With Lionel's takeover of K-Line, the modified AMT tooling used
by K-Line is now owned by Lionel.