williamselectrictrains

Williams Electric Trains

Jerry Williams founded Williams Electric Trains in 1971, under the premise of manufacturing select trains for collectors and operators. By 1981, their 10th Anniversary, the Columbia, Maryland company was producing engines and passenger equipment, as well as kit form passenger equipment.

The line expanded to include several lower -priced starter sets in O-gauge in 1983, and the company’s fortunes and offerings continued to expand during the rest of that decade. The fortunes of Williams at this time were closely linked to those of his top distributor at the time, Mike Wolf of Mike’s Train House, later to become MTH Electric Trains.

In late 1991, Williams, due to financial difficulties, offered deep discounts on his line of engines and cars. While a bonus for those who took advantage of the offer, it was a serious error on the part of Williams. Collectors who had purchased the Williams items at full price just months of even weeks before were angered, and subsequent preorders of Williams products were soft, as collectors waited to see what the “real” price will be after discounting. Williams lost much of its dealer base as well. It is now identified as Williams by Bachmann.

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Atlas

Atlas

The Atlas Model Railroad Company, Inc of Hillside, New Jersey, began making track and related model railroad products in 1949. The Atlas Tool Company was founded in the 1920’s by Stephan Schaffan, but they didn’t make any train related items until after World War Two. Their HO and n gauge track and products are standard around the world. They also produce a full line of HO and N gauge rolling stock, locomotives, buildings and more.

In 1972, Atlas flirted with the O gauge market, producing two diesel locomotives and a modest line of rolling stock. Their O gauge trains were DC powered and ran on two rail track. But the rolling stock came with Lionel compatible knuckle couplers and tinplate wheelsets. The line did not fare well and was dropped soon thereafter.

In 1997, Atlas reentered the O gauge market, offering prebuilt buildings. A track system followed, this time being three rail track such as is used by Lionel, MTH, and others. Freight cars came in 1998. Their dominant products are still in the HO and N gauge markets, but early remarks show that operators like the new O gauge products as well.

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Girard Model Works

Girard Model Works

In 1906, C.G. Wood founded the Girard Model Works in Girard, PA. The originally made patterns, models, and specialized machinery. In 1918, Girard began making toys for a New York company which has not been identified. By 1920, they were making toys under their own name, first as “Wood’s Mechanical Toys,” and later as “Girard Model Works.”

By 1931, Girard employed a thousand people. Their most famous employee was Louis Marx, who worked with Girard in the capacity of salesman from at least 1928. Marx worked on commission, selling Girard’s “Joy Line” toy trains. In 1931, Girard experienced financial difficulties, so they terminated Marx’s position to avoid paying him the ten percent commission on sales. In 1934, Girard declared bankruptcy, and Marx, by then a stockholder, bought the company to increase the manufacturing capacity of his Louis Marx & Co. He renamed the newly acquired plant the “Girard Manufacturing Company.” Many of the Girard toys and later Marx toys are virtually identical. The last Girard toys were produced around 1975, and the company was liquidated, along with the rest of Marx toys, in 1980.

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Stamped metal

Stamped Metal Toys

Many of the classic toys produced from the 1920’s through the 1960’s, and even into current times, are stamped from metal. A stamped metal toy is formed using a die or dies, which shape and cut the metal into the appropriate form. The thicker the metal, the more powerful the press needed to do the stamping work. For example, most of the stamped steel trucks made by Louis Marx & Co in the thirties and forties were made using a 20-ton stamping press.

Stamped metal toys can be decorated in four ways: lithography, paint, decals, or stamped lettering. Lithographed toys are painted first, then stamped out on machines. Painted metal toys are formed first, then either dipped into paint or sprayed in spray booths. The painted toys can then either be further decorated by either applying decals or stickers to the toy to add lettering or logos, as is done with the current Tonka vehicles, or they can have their lettering rubber stamped on, as is done with some limited-edition toys currently made.

A few metal toys during the fifties were decorated in a unique way – they were chrome plated! This process was done in much the same fashion as car bumpers of the same era.

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Lithographed Paper

Lithographed Paper

Some of the earliest mass-produced toys were made using lithographed paper labels glued to a wooden shape. Early blocks, puzzles, wooden trains, and the like were made much more colorful in this manner. The paper labels would be printed like a newspaper, either in black and white or in color, and then the paper labels would be glued onto flat surfaces on the body of the wooden toy. This allowed artwork to give an otherwise flat toy the appearance of great detail in three dimensions. Early Fisher-Price toys are an excellent example of this type of lithography.

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Lithographed Metal

Lithographed Metal

Many of the larger toy companies of the 1920’s through the 1950’s relied heavily on lithographed metal to give their toys depth, detail, and color. Firms such as Louis Marx & Co employed full-time artists proficient in this form of artwork. To make a truly good piece of lithographed metal, one needed to understand color blending, perspective, and shading, to name a few things.

To make a lithographed toy, you pass an uncut sheet of metal through an inking press to add ink to its surface. Each pass through the machine adds one color to the metal. The metal is coated or painted with a light “base coat” before beginning, to give the ink something to adhere to; this is usually a white or very light color, Inks are added to the metal beginning with the lightest color and progressing to the darkest to be used.

Early tin litho presses could only add two colors to the metal sheet. Later, that was increased to four or five. A skilled artist could blend and mix those colors to make twenty or more distinctive colors appear on the finished toy!

Each pass through the machine allows errors to enter the work. If the metal is printed “out of register,” the colors will not line up, and the final product will appear blurred, or completely useless. This is prevented by using alignment marks on the end of the metal sheets.

Only after all of the colors are applied and the ink has dried can the metal then be cut and formed to take on the final shape of the metal toy. This must be done using stamping dies which are well lubricated, so they cut or bend the metal where appropriate without scratching the printed surface.

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Lithography

What is Lithography?

Lithography is a printing process. It has been used to decorate toys made of both wood and metal. In lithography, a flat stone or metal plate is engraved to contain the designs to be printed. Each color in a lithographed item is added in a separate step. For example, a red, white, and blue lithographed flag would be printed in three steps.

Lithography uses INK to provide its color, not paints. Skillful artists can design lithographic artwork to overlap colors, making more colors appear in the final item than were used to make it; they could, for example, use a blue ink on top of a yellow ink to produce a green color on a toy.

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Diecasting

Diecasting

Diecasting, such as is currently done to produce the popular metal vehicles by Ertl and Winross, involves pouring molten metal into a mold in the shape of the toy being made. The metal cools as it hits the surface of the mold, and then takes on the shape of the mold “cavity.”

Diecast toys can be either solid or hollow. Many of the early cast iron toys and soldiers were solid. They were made by merely filling molds, waiting for them to cool, then removing the solid metal toy. Later manufacturers, in an effort to cut material costs, began pouring the metal into the mold while it was spinning, causing the metal to cling to the sides of the mold while it was spinning, causing the metal to cling to the sides of the mold and cool, forming a hollow toy. This process worked well for potmetal, such as on Tootsietoy cars, and on lead soldiers such as Barclays, but it wasn’t really successful for cast iron use.

Early “hollow cast” toys tended to vary in thickness, as the technique was new and exacting methods had not yet been developed. More modern pieces tend to be rather uniform in thickness, due to exact measurement of the amount of metal poured into the mold.

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Nickelodeon

Nickelodeon

A player piano (also known as pianola or autopiano) is a self-playing piano, containing a pneumatic or electro-mechanical mechanism that operates the piano action via pre-programmed music on perforated paper or metallic rolls. The rise of the player piano grew with the increase of mass-produced for the home in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (“Player Pianos – Sarasota Piano Tuner”) Sales peaked in 1924, as did the improvement in phonograph recordings due to electrical recording methods developed in the mid-1920s. The advent of electrical amplification in home music reproduction via wireless in the same period helped to cause their eventual decline in popularity. (“The Classical Pianola Information Page on Classic Cat”)

The stock market crash of 1929 virtually wiped-out production.

These are automated instruments typically intended for use in a coin-operated setting rather than home use. A multitude of manufacturers made a varied range of instruments featuring different combinations of pianos, organ pipework, percussion, and other fittings. (“PlayerPianos.com: Antique Player Piano types”) They were eventually replaced by the jukebox following the introduction of effective sound amplification.

How Does It Work?

Player Mechanism

The player mechanism is essentially a bank of switches activated by software. The switches are pneumatically operating valves which turn on the motive force used to play the piano action. This force is created by switching suction into a miniature, collapsible pneumatic bellows with one assembly assigned to each individual note. (“Talk: Player piano – Wikipedia”) The valve switching system is triggered by the music roll. As the paper perforations run over the music tracker bar air is then allowed to enter. This causes a pressure differential within the mechanism triggering the switching valves to operate. The note channels can be either on or off; hence the music roll can be regarded as an early form of programmable binary software. (“Talk: Player piano – Wikipedia”)

The apparatus operates from suction generated by two foot-treadled bellows coupled to a pressure equalizing reservoir system to even the air flow. The motive force may be used to power peripheral mechanisms within the piano operating sustained pedal function, music roll centering, and other features, Player pianos are all fitted with hand levers for the performer to vary volume and speed to imitate a live performance. As such; they may be regarded as the first truly interactive acoustic music making machine, something that went without parallel until the past half decade with the modern advances in computing technology and software. (“The Classical Pianola Information Page on Classic Cat”)

Music Rolls

Music rolls for the pneumatic player pianos consist of a continuous sheet of paper rolled onto a spool. The spool fits into the spool box and the free end is hooked onto the take-up spool which will unwind the roll at an even pace across the tracker bar. The music is programmed via perforations on the paper. Different player pianos have different perforation sizes, channel layouts, and spool fittings though the majority conform to one or two dominant formats later adopted by the industry as the standard.

For more information about player pianos, check out these sites:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_piano

https://www.britannica.com/art/player-piano

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HO-Gauge Room

HO Gauge Room 

This HO-gauge display is representative of the coal mines of the area up to the 1970’s.  The engines on the left in the hall are all brass. The engines in the first case on the right are also brass. The rest of the trains are sized from HO all the way to Z-gauge. We also have the scale comparison display in this room. 

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