Dorfan was an American toy company based in Newark, New Jersey, specializing
in 'O' gauge and Wide gauge toy trains.
'Wide gauge' is the name Dorfan used for 'Standard gauge' since
'Standard gauge' was a Lionel trademark. Dorfan was founded in 1924 by Milton
and Julius Forchheimer, two immigrants from Nüremberg, Germany, whose family was involved in the production of the
Fandor trains, that were distributed throughout Europe, and exported to the United States.
The name 'Dorfan' was derived from the name Fandor.
A Fandor engineer and former Bing designer, John C. Koerber, was recruited
in 1923 to be Chief Engineer, and help get Dorfan started. The name Fandor was made from the first names of Milton's
and Julius' mother's sisters, Fanny and Dora. It is widely believed that Fandor Trains was desperate to recoup market share in
the United States that it lost as a result of German Manufacturers being hit with very high import tariffs after WWI. Their
plan was to create a separate United States based company to manufacture trains, avoid paying tariffs, and gain back market share.
1924 was a good year to start making and selling trains - business was booming and the stock market was on a roll.
Dorfan opened for business at 137 Jackson St. in Newark, N.J.
Dorfan trains were promoted as being educational in that they were easy to
disassemble. Dorfan actually encouraged its customers to take the
trains apart and learn how they worked. They marketed the trains with enticing catalog cover banners that proclaimed "Loco Builder"
Electric Trains & "Build Your Own engine!" The take apart concept was quite simple - locomotive bodies came in 2 separate
die-castings. Each one was one half of the loco. The motors and moving parts fit directly inside these castings in mounts that are
cut directly in the body.
For the first two years, Dorfan made 'O' gauge trains in clockwork and
electric, as well as accessories. They referred to their 'O' gauge products in their catalogs as 'Narrow gauge'.
These new trains had a distinctive outline that differentiated them from the other toy trains being
made and sold during this period. The Dorfan locomotives were composed of a die-cast material, while the other manufacturers
typically utilized sheet metal or cast iron in their locomotives. In the early years, some Fandor cars and parts were used
in putting together the Dorfan train sets. This fact is evident in that there are versions of some 4 wheel Dorfan passenger cars,
and locomotive clockwork mechanisms that are stamped 'Made in Germany'. The slot hook couplers found on the Dorfan
trains are almost identical to Fandor couplers from that era. Fandor and Dorfan were cooperative
corporations and the evidence can be seen in those items that Fandor supplied to Dorfan. These include all large Dorfan
stations #415, #417, #418, #425, #426, and #427, their large bridge, and the six-wheel tender.
The clockwork powered 'O' gauge locomotive lines consisted of a Boxcab 0-4-0 electric
outline #145, and 4 steam outline models #154, #155, #156 and #157. Some of these Dorfan wind-ups sold for $.98 retail.
The electric 'O' gauge lineup of locomotives
consisted of the #51 Steeplecab electric, #52 Steeplecab electric (same as #51 but with reversing unit), #53 St. Paul style electric, #54 Boxcab electric,
#55 0-4-0 Steam outline, and the rare #770 4-4-0 steam outline. These locomotives were strong haulers and could steadily pull a train consist up
a 20 degree grade without a problem.
Only 10 different 'O' gauge freight cars were ever produced.
They were all tinplate lithographed with black underframes, and nickel or black enamel trucks. This lineup included
the 8 wheeled 7½" long #600 C.C.C.& St.L. N.Y.C. tan gondola, #601 N.Y.C.
yellow box car, #602 Union Pacific green box car, #603 Pennsylvania dark pink box car, #604 Indian Refining Co. red
tank car, #605 P.R.R. grey hopper, #607 Dorfan Lines red caboose, #609 Lumber car, and #610 Dorfan Lines grey derrick. There
was also a 4 wheel 6¼" long #606 Pennsylvania red caboose.
The Dorfan lineup of 'O' gauge passenger cars consisted of 5 different 4 wheeled cars and 7 different
8 wheeled models. The 4 wheeled models were the 5" long #355 lithographed tinplate coach in orange or red, normally found with the
#145 Boxcab 0-4-0 clockwork locomotive, and the 6½" long #470 lithographed Hamilton, Franklin or Washington, #495
Atlanta and Boston enameled coach, 7½" long #498 enameled Seattle and Boston Pullmans, and the 7½" long #499
The 8 wheeled offerings were all enameled and consisted of the 7½" long #490 Pullman, 7½" long #491 4 door
Observation, 8½" long #496 Boston & Seatle Pullmans, 8½" long #497 Observation, 9½" long #492 Baggage car,
9½" long #493 Seattle Pullman, and 9½" long #494 Observation.
In 1926 Dorfan introduced their first Wide gauge (2⅛") trains. The company was initially
positioning itself to provide products for the lower end of the market. Lionel had been making Standard gauge since 1906.
Ives had entered the marketplace with their Wide gauge offerings in 1921. Boucher converted the
Voltamp trains to Standard gauge after acquisition in 1923. And American Flyer's first
Wide gauge offerings came out in 1925.
The first Dorfan model locomotive was of the Pennsylvania L-5 Electric #3930 4-4-4, based on the prototype that ran
on the tracks close to the Dorfan factory in New Jersey. It initially sold for $20, but later versions
that included a directional remote control sold for $30.75. Often referred to as a 'Crocodile' type locomotive, this
was an imposing model train and could haul extremely heavy loads. It weighed 8 pounds and was 15 inches long coupler
to coupler. It was a Loco-Builder model, that came unassembled.
Dorfan was the first
U.S. train manufacturer to use zinc die casting methods on a large scale in its manufacturing process.
Their trains were made primarily of a copper-zinc alloy termed Dorfan Alloy, which was strong and light
weight. It was used in the 'O' and Wide gauge steam and electric castings, various accessories, and in the detailed
Wide gauge trucks. This metal alloy was developed through a partnership between the New Jersey Zinc Company and Dorfan.
Dorfan alloy was marketed as non-magnetic and unbreakable. Dorfan claimed in their catalogs
that an electric motor's efficiency was reduced substantially when encased in steel, due to the
magnetic induction character of the steel. They developed their alloy to get around this issue.
But impurities in the alloy oxidized over time causing the metal to expand and crack.
Unfortunately, being a pioneer
usually has a price. Dorfan replaced the damaged parts, but at great expense.
Since most Dorfan castings are now deteriorated, many collectors replace defective castings with
Dorfan manufactured the only lithographed freight cars ever made in Wide gauge. There were 6
different very colorful 15½" long 8 wheeled cars - the #800 N.Y.C. tan gondola, #801 Santa Fe green box car,
#804 Indian refining blue tank car, #805 P.R.R. red hopper, #806 Pennsylvania brown with blue roof caboose, and the
#809 lumber car with black frame and red stakes.
Dorfan came out with a second Wide Gauge locomotive in 1927. This was the #3920 'Whaleback'
electric outline based on the St. Paul 0-4-0 prototype. This engine was also of the 'take-apart' style,
and used the Dorfan Alloy.
Early versions had axels fitted directly into the die-cast sides, but later
versions utilized ball bearings. It initially sold for $15 in 1928, but by 1931, after several
improvements and the addition of the directional remote control, the price was $23.25.
For Wide gauge passenger car manufacturing, again Dorfan created lithographed products. But
they were not the only company to do so. American Flyer was also known for their lithographed
wide gauge passenger car production during this era. The Dorfan passenger cars were all made to a single basic design with
four-door baggage and Pullmans. Each of these were 15½" long. A 14½" long observation car was also made.
These 3 cars were numbered
in the #700 and #900 series range, with the numbering scheme reflecting the paint colors. The majority of the passenger
cars were painted enamel finish except some Pullmans were made in several different lithographed colors.
Sets of these cars were often made up with no baggage or observation cars, therefore sets consisting of a
locomotive with two Pullmans were not uncommon.
Along with its idea of being a more thought provoking toy train, Dorfan placed
well detailed and painted
passenger busts in the passenger cars. Dorfan used lithographed and high gloss painted sheet metal for its
freight and passenger car bodies and frames, oftentimes finished with hand applied decals.
The trucks could either be die-cast or stamped sheet metal. Less expensive
lines were lithographed stamped steel, but also had flat lithographed figures. Two of the Dorfan high end products
are highly sought after and prized by collectors. One item is the #3920 crocodile style electric engine, and the second is the
#70 gantry crane accessory.
In 1930 the Dorfan catalogue advertised a new #770 4-4-0 steam outline 'O' gauge locomotive. Dorfan was not
able to complete manufacture of this item. After being pressured by their dealers in order to be able to fill orders,
Dorfan acquired a number of Ives #1122 steam outline locos and tenders, painted them Cardinal Red, and added Dorfan
and #770 decals. Eventually Dorfan was able to produce their own #770 engines, but these are considered to be the rarest
and scarcest of their 'O' gauge locomotives.
At one time Dorfan re-sold a Wide gauge steam outline locomotive that was a repainted Ives #1134
bearing Dorfan Lines decals. The company had planned introduction of its own steam outline locomotive
and tender in Wide gauge, but the project never moved beyond the prototype stage. The Dorfan-lves #1134 is extremely
scarce and highly sought after by collectors.
Dorfan, at its peak, had about 150 employees, and offices in New Jersey, New York, San Francisco, and
Bleury, Montreal, Canada, but was unable to weather the depression
with its higher detail and hence more expensive trains, and ended production in 1934, although old inventory was sold at
least until 1936.
As a result of the decaying castings on the engines, few Dorfan trains survive today,
making them among the
rarest and most valuable of toy trains. While Dorfan engines are difficult to find in good condition, the
same is not true for the cars, since they were made with tinplate. However, since the company only
had a 10 year period of manufacturing, Dorfan trains are highly collectable. Some of the Dorfan tooling was later
used by Unique Art to make its tinplate passenger trains in the early 1950's. T-Reproductions
came into possession of some of the original Dorfan tooling in the early 2000's. They later issued a reproduction Wide
gauge #3930 Crocodile locomotive and a reproduction Dorfan #70 crane. In 2004 MTH issued a reproduction
Ives #1134 Wide gauge Steam locomotive Dorfan version as part of their Tinplate Traditions line. They also issued a
reproduction Wide gauge Dorfan Lines five-piece
train set, that included a #3930 Engine, a #770 American Railway Express car, a #771 Chicago car, a #772 Washington car,
and a #773 Observation car. In 2013,
Darstaed announced that they
would be issuing reproductions of the famous Dorfan Wide gauge line of freight cars in 'O' gauge as part of their
Trains de Luxe line. Targeted delivery of these new cars is 2015.