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American Model Toys/Auburn Model Trains

History

American Model Trains #3160 extruded aluminum passenger coach in 'O' gauge circa 1949-50 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.

American Model Trains extruded aluminum Diner car in 'O' gauge circa 1949-50 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.

American Model Trains #5260 extruded aluminum Combine car in 'O' gauge circa 1949-50 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.

American Model Trains extruded aluminum #3407 REA Express Package car in 'O' gauge circa 1949-50 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.

AMT extruded aluminum Santa Fe Vista Dome Car in 'O' gauge circa 1949-50 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.

Auburn 'O' scale Cities Service Tank Car 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.

AMT #51297 L&N 'The Old Reliable' Gondola Car in 'O' gauge 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.

Auburn Kusan F-7 Silver Flash A unit diesel in 'O' gauge 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.

American Model Trains #466096 B & O Sentinel box car in 'O' gauge circa 1952 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.

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

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