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Tyco/Mantua Trains

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Tyco HO gauge Santa Fe F-9 Diesel in freight livery circa 1971 Mantua (pronounced Man-chew-ah) Metal Products was a metalworks business founded in 1926 by John Tyler and family. John Tyler had been interested in model railroading since his boyhood in England where the hobby developed much earlier than in the US. John was an electrician by trade and emigrated to the US from England in 1925.

Tyco HO gauge #1435 Southern 0-6-0 steam loco from Casey Jones set circa 1983 Tyler and his friend James P. Thomas formed a partnership with the purpose of manufacturing wood and metal sailboats in their Mantua, New Jersey shop. In 1927 the partners made a 3-foot model of a cabin cruiser they owned. The unique aspect of this model was the the small electric motor that powered the boat. Fellow boat owners admired the electrically powered model and encouraged them to build more boats to sell. With all this encouragement, the partners decided to produce the battery-powered boat in quantity. The model boat proved to be popular but as the orders for the boats increased, finding enough good quality motors became a big problem. To solve this problem the partners decided to design their own motor. The result was a dandy - being both rugged and inexpensive to build.

Mantua HO scale ATSF 4-6-2 Pacific Steam Loco & Tender The model boat and the new motor were the beginning of Triple-T Electrical Toys manufactured by the Mantua Toy Co. The "Triple-T" stood for Thomas, Tyler, and Tyler. The second Tyler was John Tyler's wife (James Thomas' sister) who was also active in the business. Mantua's first project was to produce Triple-T Electrical Toys of Distinction. The Woodbury Heights, New Jersey Mantua factory began making items for the first time in 1933. With the new 6-volt motor, the Triple-T line was expanded to include accessory items youngsters could drive with the motors. These Items included a miniature drill press, grinding wheel, and trip hammer. The partners continued to work at improving the motor. The result of this was the Number 100 motor, offered either open or enclosed. The motor was quite large, measuring 2¾ x 2½ x 1¾ inches.

Tyco Chattanooga 2-8-0 Consolidation Steam Engine and Tender with Smoke in HO circa 1975 Mantua's motor development soon led to a motor small enough for use in 'OO' scale locomotives. John was aware of the growing interest in 'OO' and HO scales in England and the US so he placed a small ad for his motor, dubbed the "Midget Motor," in the March 1930 issue of The Modelmaker magazine. The number of orders received was a pleasant surprise so they continued to run the ad. The Midget motor measured only 1½ x 1¼ x 1516 inches. Soon a second small motor was added to the line - The Midget Senior. It was more powerful and only ¼ inch longer. In a June 1931 article on building an 'OO' scale locomotive appeared in The Modelmaker magazine. In the article, F. D. Grimke wrote, "The only motor worth considering is the one manufactured by Mantua Toy Co. Either the Midget or Midget Senior can be used."

Tyco 50' Jack Frost Sugar box car in HO Scale Tyco 63' 12 Wheel 3 Dome Coca Cola Tank car in HO Tyco Railbox 50' Billboard Reefer in HO gauge

Mantua HO scale 0-4-0 Southern Shifter Steam Loco & Tender In 1932, a friend from England showed John Tyler a British-made HO locomotive. He informed John that British model railroaders were going crazy over these small-scale model trains made by the likes of Bassett-Lowke. However, there was a problem. The current motors were only powerful enough to haul short trains. This must have started John thinking as he immediately began experimenting with a motor for HO scale engines. It would be some time before an actual product was announced.

Tyco Mantua HO #6788 Conrail SD made 1994 Sales of Midget motors to the 'OO' scale model railroad market continued to grow and Tyler and Thomas directed more effort towards products for this market. In 1933, Increased business prompted a move from the town of Mantua to a new, small shop the partners built in Woodbury Heights. By 1935, when Mantua's first ad appeared in Model Railroader, they had an additional new line of motors for 'O', and larger scale locomotives called "Right of Way." The July 1935 ad was directed at model supply houses. Mantua stated they had a complete machine shop and were interested in manufacturing model railroad parts in all scales. They also announced that a permanent magnet DC motor for HO scale would be ready in the fall. Up to this time, all of Mantua's motors were the universal type with a field winding that could be operated from either AC or DC. The announcement proved to be a little optimistic. It was not until spring of 1936 that the new DC motor was in production.

Tyco HO gauge Santa Fe 0-4-0 Switcher from the Shifter freight set made in the 1970's For most of 1937 it looked like the folks at Mantua had finally run out of steam. Ads for their mechanisms indicated they planned to offer a complete locomotive later on but no product was introduced. Finally, in December 1937, a full page ad appeared in Model Railroader announcing their new Reading Consolidation built for two or three rail operation. This was Mantua's first full-page ad. The Consolidation was offered ready-to-run for $49.50 or in kit form for $28.50. To encourage beginners, the company announced a complete ready-to-run freight train consisting of the Consolidation, two gondolas, and a caboose. A track kit with twenty-one feet of track was included. The special Christmas price was $59.50. The HO scale model trains were made of die-cast metal, and became very popular. Eventually Mantua became the leading hobbyist brand in that gauge. The prices for Mantua's cars and locomotives must have seemed high to the average working man as the average weekly pay for a railroader in 1937 was $34.15.

Tyco GP20 #5628 in HO circa 1983 In 1938 Mantua introduced a much more affordable kit for a Reading Camelback switcher - only $15. Soon the Reading Atlantic was added. It was priced at $37.50 ready-to-run or $25 for the kit. Also introduced in 1938 was Mantua's patented HO "Ready-Laid Track," available in straight and flexible 18 inch sections. By the end of 1938, the line included locomotives, cars, couplers, and track - everything needed to get started in HO scale. The word "Toy" was dropped from the company name and it became Mantua Metal Products Co.

Tyco HO Amtrak Inter City F9 Diesel loco in HO made in the 1970's During the war years many companies discontinued their normal products to make war materials. Mantua was one of these companies. From 1942 through 1945, production of Mantua model railroad products was suspended. Mantua's manufacturing facility was used to make precision measuring and mapping equipment for the war effort. Mantua's machines were operated twenty-four hours a day by three shifts of workers to turn out stainless steel scale map-reading rules and protractors for the Army and Navy and beam compasses for the Army Air Corps. Although production of model railroad products was suspended, Mantua continued to stay in touch with the public by running ads in Model Railroader. In 1945, Mantua received the Army-Navy "E" award for its war production efforts. Something they were quite proud of.

Tyco Midnight special sharknose diesel freight set in HO gauge circa 1977 After the War, Mantua began the task of converting their plant back to producing model railroad products. This was not an easy task but by mid-1946 Mantua announced that it was back in production. An all-metal gondola was the first new model of the post-war era. Mantua issued a catalog in 1947, the first since 1942. The entire line was back with some additions and changes. The biggest change was a new motor voltage. 12 Volts DC had become the standard voltage instead of 6 volts. In an ironic twist, the 12V motors were the only part of the line not made by Mantua. The company that got its start making motors was now buying them from Pittman. Later Mantua went back to making its own motors.

Mantua HO scale Philadelphia & Reading 0-4-0 Goat Other changes included converting many of the previous brass parts over to zinc alloy die cast. The new locomotive kits - 8-Ball Mogul and Belle of the Eighties frame, tender, and cab roof were made of die cast while the boiler was still brass. Other locomotives in the line, such as the new Pacific kit, were designed to be all die cast. The time Immediately after the war was a time of rebuilding as Mantua and other model railroad companies struggled to get back into production and overcome critical materials shortages that kept them form fulfilling a growing demand. However, once the production problems and material shortages were overcome, the post war boom accelerated model railroad business like never before. Between 1945 and 1950, the circulation of Model Railroader grew from 20,000 in 1945 to over 100,000. The majority of model railroad hobbyists (69%) were working in HO scale by 1950. In a 1953 Popular Science article on model railroad Tyco Rock Island HO gauge #4301 Alco circa 1971 manufacturers, the author reported that Mantua had 50 employees and sales of over $1 million annually. In 1952 sales of the little 0-4-0T "Busy Bee" switcher kits, introduced in 1949, exceeded 20,000. It was priced at $19.95. In 1949 Mantua was placing full page ads on the back cover of every issue of Model Railroader magazine. In 1947 the partnership of Thomas and Tyler was dissolved, Tyler took control of Mantua while Thomas pursued other business interests. In the 1950's Thomas created Thomas Industries, and put out a line of 'O' gauge tinplate trains.

Mantua offered an HO scale brass and cast metal twin-bay coal hopper kit with paper sides in 1948. They later added gondolas, boxcars, and refrigerator cars of the same design. They also produced many die-cast steam locomotives and some early diesels. Their production of plastic cars began in 1954. One confusing aspect of the Tyco story for many regards Mantua and its relationship to Tyco. The name Tyco appears for the first time in 1952. The Tyler Manufacturing Company or Tyco was created at Mantua and began selling a product line under that brand that is often known to collectors as "the blue-box era". This moniker was created because Tyco offered kit versions and later ready-to-run(RTR) Tyco HO gauge Santa Fe Diesel Switcher circa 1970's versions of various steam and early diesel era model trains in a light-blue packaging. The growth in ready-to-run HO-scale train sets was the reason behind the creation of the Tyco nameplate in 1957. Mantua is considered the pioneer of the 'ready-to-run' HO-scale model railroad kits under the Tyco brand. Many Tyco and Mantua die-cast products, such as steam engines, are collector's items today. From 1957 to 1963 the Tyco brand from Mantua produced the box cars, Wilson Reefer and gondolas for Penn Line HO train sets.

In 1959 the A.C. Gilbert Company, makers of the famous American Flyer 'S' gauge trains, offered a very desirable 'Frontiersman set' in both 'S' gauge and an HO version as part of their HO line. The HO set is actually a Tyco/Mantua 'General Set' that was modified and marketed by Gilbert in celebration of their fiftieth year of being in the toy business. The catalog number for this set was #31088. It had a special paint scheme and some of the details like the stack and headlight were changed to create a special look for American Flyer. The engine was cast metal and utilized a tender drive motor. This HO set is considered to be one of the most desireable sets in the complete Gilbert/American Flyer 25 year HO series.

Tyco Mantua Southern Pacific HO gauge F3 AB Alco and streamline Vista Dome Passenger car circa 1985

In the 1960's, Tyco changed its focus from train kits to ready-to-run trains sold in hobby shops and also added HO-scale electric racing, or "slot car" sets (in 1963). During this period, the HO-scale train line saw growth and expansion. The '60's product line is generally dubbed "the red-box era." Items from this time period are found in red Tyco boxes. The split between Mantua and Tyco has its beginnings in 1967. Norman Tyler, son of founder John Tyler, became president of Mantua in 1967.

Mantua HO scale Reading 4-4-2 Atlantic steam loco & tender By the 1970's, Tyco shifted sales and marketing to a consumer-oriented, mass marketing focus. Eventually the name changed to Tyco Industries, under which name the company was sold in 1970 to Consolidated Foods during an era of corporate conglomerates. The sale ended forty-five years of continuous ownership by the Tyler family. John Tyler died in November, 1972. After the creation of Tyco Industries, the Mantua brand name was retired. Although the Mantua name was no longer used, many locomotive kits were still sold but under the Tyco name. As a division of what became Sara Lee, Tyco continued to grow. Norman Tyler oversaw the incorporation of the company under the new name Tyco Industries. This Consolidated Foods Era is referred to as the "brown-box" period for collectors. Prior to 1970, Tyco offered models that reflected fairly accurate prototypes. After 1970, under Consolidated Foods leadership, Tyco's offerings wander into a fantasy world of unprototypical models. It is this interesting period that provides modelers and collectors with such items as a Popsicle and StarKist Tuna box cars and various Bicentennial locomotives. Looked down upon by serious hobbyists, these items none the less have found favor among those who enjoyed them as kids and now enjoy collecting them as adults. After reaching its zenith in 1973, the work force at Woodbury Heights dwindled as Consolidated Foods moved more and more production to the Far East.

Tyco Oscar Mayer Old Time Reefer in HO gauge By the 1980's, Tyco dominated the market in electric slot car racing, as well as the radio control category. In the mid 1980's, Tyco products no longer carried the Consolidated Foods ownership markings and Tyco Industries emerged. Tyco's train line was becoming even more outlandish with items like "The A-Team" and "Rambo" train sets. The line in general also was shrinking in total variety. The company added the "US-1 Trucking" slot trucks to its line in 1981. Diversification continued with the 1989 purchase of the View-Master/Ideal Group, which brought to the company the View-MasterŽ, Magna DoodleŽ and the Ideal Nursery line of dolls. The company also began offering telephones; remote-control vehicles; and other items beyond the model train line.

Tyco Mantua #1251 Reading 0-6-0 Tank switcher circa 1994 In the 1990's, the company branched out with other toys such as airplanes, super Blocks, which were clones of Lego brand building elements (after the basic patent ran out in 1983), and Sesame Street items. Tyco purchased Matchbox, a maker of model cars, in 1993. In 1995, Tyco Preschool was named the primary toy licensee for the Children's Television Workshop. A year later Tyco Preschool launched an extensive new line based on the popular children's program, Sesame Street. When Tyco was purchased by Mattel on March 27, 1997, it was the third largest toy company in the United States. The brand survives as the Mattel Tyco R/C division.

Tyco HO scale Virginian with matching Alco SD type diesel engine & caboose The Tyco model railroad business was purchased back by the Tyler family on July 1, 1977. Mantua Metal Products was reborn as Mantua Industries. The new group of HO-scale trains made consisted largely of the items found during Tyco's Red Box Era and before. Nearly all steam engines and a few of the diesel locomotives, plus an assortment of rolling stock were included in this new Mantua product line. The initial diesels included the F-unit, correctly labeled as F-7, the GP-20 and a Plymouth Yard Diesel. The late '70's Mantua diesels differ from their Tyco counterparts in that the Mantua locos featured the company's power truck motor and not Tyco's PowerTorque motor. Employment went from a skeleton crew in 1977 to 80 employees in 1984.

Tyco HO gauge Turbo Train circa 1986 Mantua continued to offer an expanding line of model trains in the 1980's and '90's. Eric Tyler, grandson of Norman Tyler, became vice-president of Mantua and oversaw the introduction of a line of ready-to-run train sets in 1990. Mantua added an N-scale Superbowl Express train set in 1993. The Mantua Collectibles line of steam engines began appearing in the mid 1990's. In the late 1990s, Mantua steam locomotives underwent a transformation. They used to offer the following wheel arrangements: 0-4-0, 0-6-0, 2-8-2, 4-4-2, 4-6-2, 4-6-4 (two versions, one with pacific boiler and one with mikado boiler), and a 2-6-6-2 articulated logging locomotive. They were all powered by an open frame motor. The newer incantation of these locomotives included more wheel arrangements including several camelbacks. The newer models also came in a variety of road names and had Sagami can motors and improved gearing. The new can motors made a considerable difference in locomotive performance. Mantua made steam locomotives in the "small to medium" size range. The switcher is a fairly accurate model of a Reading 0-4-0, except that it scales out about a foot too high. The 0-6-0 version is not a model of anything other than an 0-4-0 body on a 0-6-0 chassis. The switchers come with a rubber tire on one wheel. Mantua applied two versions of a larger boiler to different chassis to produce both light and heavy USRA designs of both the 4-6-2 and the 2-8-2 wheel arrangements. The 4-6-2 is very close to a USRA light 4-6-2 or a B&O class P-7 4-6-2. The 2-8-2 is very close to a Lehigh Valley 2-8-2 or CB&Q O-3. They also used it as a generic camelback boiler.

During this period the F-7 and GP-20 diesels saw a number of improvements as well. A brass flywheel motor and full 8-wheel drive with a die-cast metal chassis greatly improved the performance of the Mantua diesels during the 1990's. Also during the '80s and '90s, Mantua picked up many former pieces of rolling stock that were once part of the Lindbergh line of HO-scale trains. The 43' Gondola and 36' center cupola New England-style Caboose are both examples of cars added to the Mantua line from the former Lindbergh offerings.

Tyco exited the model railroad business after the 1993 catalog. Many of the Tyco model train products were then produced by Mantua and by International Hobby Corporation (IHC). 2001 marked Mantua's 75th anniversary. Sadly it was to be their last. Citing "Market Conditions" as the reason, Mantua announced that as of October 31st 2001, Mantua ceased production of its model railroad lines. Model Expo bought all of the ready-to-run locomotives and offered them for sale through their mail order catalog. The model railroad business tooling and raw materials were sold to the Model Power company, which continues to sell a few items such as steam engines as its Mantua Classics brand.

Link to Tyco Trains Resource Web Site.

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