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
Fandor trains. 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 was made from the first names of Milton's
and Julius' mother's sisters, Fanny and Dora. Dorfan opened for
business at 137 Jackson St. in Newark, N.J. 1924 was a good year to start making and selling trains -
business was booming and the stock market was on a roll.
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. For the first two years, Dorfan made 'O' gauge trains in clockwork and
electric, as well as accessories. In 1926 they introduced their first Wide Gauge (2 1/8") trains.
The first model 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.
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. 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 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 diecast 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.
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 lithoed 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 diecast or stamped sheet metal. Less expensive
lines were lithographed stamped steel, but also had flat lithographed figures. Dorfan had two high end products
that are prized by collectors today. One was the #3920 crocodile style electric engine, and the second was an
accessory gantry crane.
Dorfan, at its peak, had about 150 employees, 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 trains in the early 1950's. T-Reproductions
came into possesion of some
of the original Dorfan tooling in the early 2000's.