Sunset Models was founded by Mort Mann in 1975. They started out selling scale model trains in limited runs made of lifetime brass. Sunset Models was among the first importers of
true scale brass models from the Orient. This began a 15 year long relationship with Samhongsa of Korea. They were the first to teach the Korean builders how to fabricate
exquisite brass models with incredible detail. While most of the models built at Samhongsa were HO scale, a few were in
'O' scale. The business started in and quickly outgrew Mort's garage and was moved to an office building in Campbell, CA in 1979. For many
years Mort produced 100's of different prototypes of the steam era which Samhongsa copied and built for countless other importers.
Sunset Models has produced fine scale brass models in N, HO, HOn3, 'O', On3, S, G and #1 gauges. In 1994 Sunset Models began making 'O' scale models fitted
for 3-rail track operation, branding these products with the name 3rd Rail.
Mort Mann had a long interest in 'O' Scale model railroading. He was an active junior member of the New York Society of Model Engineers (NYSME) in 1941.
He was at the club, across the street from the Empire State Building, the day the WWII B-25 bomber struck the Empire State Building
on an overcast day in 1945.
In 1985, Mort attended a Cal-Stewart meet in San Jose. He brought a converted and unpainted brass NYC 4-6-2 K-5 to
the meet fitted with 3-rail pickup rollers. This was his test market of the first highly detailed brass engine in 3-rail. Many who
witnessed the shiny brass model gliding back and forth on the track commented, "What would anyone want with a detailed model in 3-rail?"
Mort was not deterred, but he did not see an opportunity to enter the market until 1993. After receiving a fax from his builder in Korea,
he learned that another builder had gone bankrupt and their entire tooling and partially completed production had been sent to the Korean
bank for sale to the highest bidder. Mort's builder contacted the bank in Korea, on Mort's behalf, and successfully bid for this material.
The bankrupt builder's name, at the time, was Hyo-Dung, now known as Korea Brass and after a name change to avoid a lawsuit, MKT became the
new name. The tooling and parts were for the 3-rail models of the PRR S-2 Turbine and the company 3rd Rail was born.
There are no up front tooling costs in the brass model making process, such as exist in die-cast manufacturing. This allows
manufacturers to produce smaller runs where die-cast manufacturers cannot. The brass process can also easily facilitate implementation of subtle
changes to the models to reproduce the fine detail differences that exist between similar locomotive types and roads. Hand worked brass is a
tradition in the orient and expert craftsmen use every technique in working brass to create these works of art. Lost Wax Castings are used for
true, 3 dimensional scale details that cannot be obtained any other way. It is a labor intensive process where the mold is sacrificed for each
piece produced. There is no mass production. The process begins with a master pattern. This pattern is carved from any hard material,
usually by hand into the desired shape and size of the part to cast. The master must be 104% of full size as 4% size is lost in the casting
A rubber mold is made from a master pattern. The mold is made of a special rubber compound. The rubber mold is filled with hot
blue wax. When the wax has hardened and is cool, it is gently removed from the mold and the mold is used again to make as many copies of the master
that are needed to be casted. Special care must be taken that the wax does not deform as this will be reproduced later in the casting process.
The blue wax masters are then gently assembled into trees. The blue wax master casting tree is placed in a metal can. A special plaster of paris
is poured into the can, which is then vibrated to remove any bubbles. The plaster is set to harden. Once hard it is removed from the can.
A special mixture of metals, a closely guarded secret by the casting manufacturer, is melted with an Acetylene torch. The molten metal is placed
in a centrifuge, with the molten metal near the center and the plaster mold at the other end. When the centrifuge is turned on, the molten brass
flows into the plaster mold, vaporizing the wax master and filling every nook and cranny inside the plaster mold. The hot plaster mold is then subjected
to a cold water bath. The plaster shatters from the hardened brass castings inside.
Further cleaning of the hardened castings with a wire brush is required. Trimming and inspecting each casting is necessary for a
finished product. Rivet detail, raised lines, door edges and wood textures are photo etched into brass sheets. The pattern for the photo etch is usually
based on a CAD file generated at the factory. A photographic negative is used to focus a special light onto the brass, once a light sensitive chemical
is applied. Window openings, detail mounting holes are cut into brass sheets using a stamping tool. The tool is made specifically for the project and is
made of soft steel. It can only be used for one project, then it becomes scrap metal. After the brass is etched and stamped, the sheets are bent into
tender bodies and rolled into boiler sections and soldered together by hand. Finished castings are then assembled to other parts to make sub-assemblies.
Castings and other detail parts are then attached with solder and screws to the main boiler and tender body parts. There are literally hundreds of parts to
assemble and check. Once cleaned, the parts are sent to be painted. Once painted and decaled the parts are assembled into a locomotive, ready for final
3rd Rail is the part of Sunset Models that strives to bring an attention to detail and scale to the collector and operator of
3 rail 'O' scale. Sunset Models doesn't just put different decals on a model and call it another road. Each model is a reproduction of a real locomolive
prototype. They make their models for the 2-rail scale market first, and then fit them with 3-rail wheels and electronics for the 3-rail customers, not
the other way around. Mort's son Scott eventually got involved in the business, and became its president. He has mentioned that he learned a great deal from his
dad about respect, honor and the process of making a successful business. He beleives his dad was a very wise man, with a tenacity for being fair, and
being fairly treated too, and has embraced this philosophy.
3rd Rail has produced many brass 'O' scale steam outline models over the years. For 3 rail operation these include the Pennsylvania RR T-1 4-4-4-4,
a Pennsylvania RR E-6 Atlantic, a Pennsylvania RR N-1 2-10-2, a CSF&E RR #7 2-6-6-2 Samson Logging Engine, an Erie L-1 0-8-8-0 Camel Back, a Northern Pacific A Class 4-8-4,
a Water Buffalo 4-8-2 in multiple road names, a C&O H-8 Allegheny & Virginian 'Blue Ridge', a NYC Niagara S-1B, a Santa Fe 5011 Class 2-10-4, a NYC Mercury 4-6-2,
a CB&Q O-1a Mikado, a T&P 2-10-4 #610 & CGW 2-10-4 in 5 different liveries, a N&W K-2A 4-8-2, a Baltimore & Ohio T-4a Mountain, a Southern Pacific 4-6-2 in either P-10
Daylight or P-8 style, a Duluth Missabe & Iron Range M-4, C&O Greenbriers, a Burlington S-4 Hudson, a Norfolk & Western 6-6-6-6 TE-1 'Jawn Henry' Steam Turbine and
a Norfolk and Western K-2A 4-8-2.
A Great Northern Y-1 Electric, a Pennsylvania RR FF Electric, a Pennsylvania RR GG-1 'Old Rivets, a PRR E44, and a NYC T-3b Electric were also created in brass for
3rd Rail in Korea. As well a Union Pacific M-10000 4 car train and many freight and passenger cars were built in brass. One highlight was the Sunset/3rd Rail brass
Pennsylvania RR P54 cars in Baggage, Combine, and Coach with complete interiors.
In 2005 3rd Rail created the Z6 and Z8 Challengers. These were the early, primarily western railroading models in Northern Pacific, SP&S and
Great Northern schemes. Next came 2 versions of a very special Mountain, the heaviest ever produced. It was initially the Boston & Maine R-1a. This locomotive
was laler sold to the Baltimore and Ohio RR. There were many modifications done to the R-1a to produce the B&O T-4a. Both of these models were manufactured by 3rd Rail
in 2005. Also in 2005 3rd Rail produced a very unique prototype, the NSL Electroliner, a 4 car articulated electric passenger train. Another 2005 project was the
RDC-1 Rail Diesel Car. RDC's are still running today and 3-rail enthusiasts didn't hesitate to order their favorite road. These cars were all
brass construction, then plated with pure Nickel, then painted with a dull coat to give it the sheen that the real cars had. Also in 2005, after many engineering modifications
the 3rd Rail Pullman M-10000 Streamline train 4 car set was completed for three rail operation. It was made to exact scale dimensions with interior details
and featured overhead constant voltage lighting.
2006 witnessed the release of the DM&IR M4 Yellowstone. SP Pacifics, CB&Q Hudsons, RDC-2s, a C&O Late Allegheny and the Canadian Pacific
Selkirk all followed. The Allegheny was the first model ever to have reverse linkage. The reverse linkage moves to the forward position when the
model begins moving forward, and the reverse position when the model is reversed. Sunset Models was the first to bring this level of detail to 3 rail modelers.
All Sunset Models 3-rail steam locomotives were fitted with Train America Studios EOB Cruise control, Lionel TMCC Control, Lionel Railsounds 4.0 and 3rd
Rail's own design of Synchronized Puffing Smoke.
The first US firm to produce an 'O' gauge 3-rail European locomotive as well as 2 rail models was 3rd Rail
of Sunset Models in California. 3rd Rail aimed its locomotives at the British, French,
and German train enthusiasts. In 2004 3rd Rail announced their brass model of the famous British locomotive, the LNER A3 Flying Scotsman 4-6-2
which was produced in both 3-rail (with licensed Lionel TMCC and Railsounds) and 2-rail as well. Three versions of the locomotive were available,
representing three stages in the locomotive's operational history, including as preserved today. Back in 1969 the Flying Scotsman was ferried across
the Atlantic for a promotional tour of the United States. An optional US touring pilot and bell were available for those interested in modeling this
stage of the Flying Scotsmanís career.
3rd Rail also created a model of the British express streamlined A-4 Mallard (a 4-6-2) which was
available in both 2 and 3 rail with the names Mallard, Silver Fox, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. However, only 30 models were to be made in
3-rail. Other 2-rail fine scale models that 3rd Rail has produced in brass of European locomotives include the Great Western King Class King George
V #6000 4-6-0. The original locomotive participated in the Centenary celebrations of the Baltimore and
Ohio Railroad in 1927. An SNCF #141R Liberation Mikado in 2 rail DC. The French State Railways 2-8-2 Mikado was called the Liberation because
1200 such locomotives were built in the US and shipped to France immediately after WWII. 3rd Rail planned to produce a two piece Diesel motor coach
(Fliegender Hamburger) - Flying Hamburg in 1:43.5 'O' scale but the project was cancelled due to lack of orders. 3rd Rail expects however to continue
providing European trains.
In more recent years Sunset Models has also been producing limited run scale diesels using ABS plastic bodies for 2 and 3-rail.
These include EMD FL-9's, EMD SD-7's, EMD FP7A/B's, ALCO PA/PB diesels, and EMD SD-9's. RDC Budd cars in ABS plastic have also been produced.
These locomotives feature in-truck Canon motor
drives, for 3-rail they are ERR Cruise, TMCC, and New Sounds equipped, for 2-rail they have QSI 'Titan' DC/DCC with sound. All have interior detail with
figures and LED overhead lighting. 17" 'O' scale plastic, Harriman cars, P70, and Pullman sleepers made by Golden Gate Depot have also been offered. Golden
Gate Depot was created in 2009 as a division of Sunset Models for the purpose of producing scale plastic and aluminum cars for the 'O' Scale market.
Click this link to access the Sunset Models Inc. website.