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 N Trolleys Chronology


CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY OF N-GAUGE TROLLEYS

I have retrospectively pieced together the following summary of milestones and products in the history of N gauge trolley modeling. It is based on available information gleaned from the items themselves, old magazine ads, articles, webpages and particularly the various documents produced by the NCat group. This group pioneered and pursued model traction operations in N scale, using enhanced Ntrak modules and live overhead wire to power trolleys and electric locomotives.

Over time, the hobby has changed dramatically. Efforts requiring scratchbuilding or intense "kit-bashing," using modified locomotive chassis or homemade power, gave way to far simpler trolley modeling. Ready-made tight radius track and track switches, affordable smooth-running small power chassis, and 3D printing are now readily available. Few modelers today pursue working, electrified overhead in N-gauge, which the NCat modelers proved was possible to do.

Static models and kits in plastic, white metal and diecast are generally not included below. These include Oxford Diecast and other diecast trams (Great Britain and Australia), 80M Bus Model Shop's Hong Kong trams (Hong Kong), A.C.M.E.'s Milan "Peter Witt" trams (Italy), and various toy trams sold in Japan. Ingenious modelers have devised ways to modify and power many of these static models to meet their needs. Also excluded are tram models in the high custom or "bespoke" price range. - R. D. Kerr


1962: The Arnold company of Germany introduced its 1:160-based scale product line using N- gauge track, the “N” standing for “Neun” (the German word for “Nine”) millimeters, the gauge distance between the rail heads. This is the first commercially produced N-gauge equipment.

Pre-1971: People generally thought that operational model trolleys in N-gauge were simply not possible, because the motors and drive trains available were too large to fit in a model trolley in that small scale.

1971: The October 1971 Railroad Model Craftsman magazine showed photos and a power truck diagram of a powered N-gauge Niles interurban model scratchbuilt and powered by Philip Lehr. The December 1971 issue showed three additional powered trolley models built by him. photo

1972: The December 1972 Traction and Models magazine showed an unpowered N-gauge model streetcar scratchbuilt by Richard Orr of Omaha, Nebraska, an early producer of HO finescale overhead wire fittings and trackwork. photo

1973: In Crawley, Sussex, England, Cromer Models produced an N-Gauge "Brill E-Type Tram" kit for a static 4-wheeled open-top double deck tram. (The exploded parts drawing in the kit instructions were signed and dated by Pete Allen in 1973.) Cromer's instruction sheet indicated that a "a mechanised unit is in preparation." Thameshead Models later sold a static kit that appears to be identical to the Cromer kit. BH Enterprises (see below) presently offers this kit as item TM16 in its Thameshead product line. BH Enterprises also lists a closed-top variation of TM16 as its item NS451.

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1974: Hal Riegger of California participated in the first Ntrak modular layout set-up, at the 1974 National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) convention in San Diego, California. His module featured working live overhead operation, with a scratchbuilt small freelance mine locomotive running under about eight feet of overhead wire. Hal Riegger is considered the "father" of N-scale traction modeling using live overhead.

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1974 - 1975: Bruce Smith’s Western Railcraft of Phoenix, Arizona produced craftsman-level etched brass interurban model kits in 1:160 scale.

1977: At the NMRA convention in Denver, Colorado, five modelers with 24 feet of modules featuring overhead operation participated in an Ntrak layout. Soon after, the name “NCat” was devised for these enhanced Ntrak modules, and a newsletter group was formed under this banner to focus on N scale electric traction. NCat formalized standards and methods for the modules, overhead wire construction, working trolley pole construction and wiring methodology in over 70 “data sheets.”

1977: A Hal Riegger article “Traction Wire Work” in the October 1977 NMRA Bulletin showed his N-gauge operational overhead wire. A follow-up article “Live Overhead Systems for 1:160 Scale” in the September 1978 issue detailed construction methods for overhead, trolley poles and pantographs, with photos of his layout and electric locomotives.

1970s?: Jack Mealey's Adina Corporation of Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania produced two cast metal one-piece bodyshells in N scale, along with fastasy figures, N scale people and other cast items. The two trolley carbodies are thick, with the windows solid rather than being open. The single-truck Birney safety car shell is marked "Dina Corp. N-BR-1" on the underside of the roof and has cast-in round chassis mounting posts near each end. The 1947 PCC body (Item No. 101) is unmarked inside and has square chassis mounting posts integral to its ends. It is longer and thinner than the common plastic Bachmann PCC. Both Adina models are oversize. I have been unable to determine precisely when these were made.

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1981: Model Power, a prolific model railroading importer based in Farmingdale, New York, introduced the first ready-to-run N-gauge model trolley. The operating 2-rail model, manufactured by Mehano of Yugoslavia, was based on a wooden-bodied single truck streetcar design built by the J. G. Brill Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the Toronto, Ontario streetcar system. The models were sold as two-car motor/trailer pairs in four paint schemes (Third Avenue Railway System, Public Service, Downtown and Toronto). They came with a wrench for the motor brushholder. photo
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1982: Bachmann Plastics of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania added a ready-to-run N-gauge trolley to its extensive multi-scale model product line. The operating 2-rail model represented a widely-used J. G. Brill deck roof, double truck semi-convertible trolley design. In 1983 Bachmann added a second N-gauge trolley model to its product line, representing the widely-used streamlined PCC streetcar. Both of these early Bachmann models have continued in production, although I can not recommend them because the plastic axle gears, both the early white and later black ones, have a habit of cracking, making the cars inoperable. Bachmann's newer Peter Witt Streetcar, introduced in 2011, is a quality product up to modern standards, with built-in DCC (runs on plain DC, too) and excellent operation.

1987: George Barsky’s GHB International of Gaithersburg, Maryland commissioned and imported operating N-scale brass models of Illinois Terminal System combine interurban car #273. These were made for GHB International in Korea by F. M. Models. They appear to be the only N scale "brass import" trolley models ever offered in the U.S. market. photo

About 1991: By November 1991, NCat News was being published. It continued bi-monthly through December 2001, with two subsequent "Special Issues" produced, after a time gap, for 2004 and 2005. Over time the NCat group reached a peak membership of over 90 members, although only a small number of them actually built operating modules or layouts. They adapted the drives from small railroad switching locomotives, Bachmann trolleys and other early sources.

About 1995 - About 1997: Bob Fabris’ Porthole Productions of San Jose, California offered cast resin shells for an Illinois Terminal Class B electric locomotive and a Pittsburgh variant of the PCC car. A shell for an articulated four-truck Illinois Terminal Class C electric locomotive was added later. (The Class C shell is very similar to the Class B and is the one shown in the photo.) photo

1996 - 2010: Kato of Japan produced over 30 livery variations of a ready-to-run 2-rail powered N scale model of a German Duewag 2-axle tram, with an unwired working metal pantograph. The majority of these products consisted of a 2-car set, the second car being a matching trailer with a coupling bar. Most of them were made for European distributor Wolfgang Lemke of Germany. photo

1996: Working live outside third rail operation in N-gauge was demonstrated at the Ntrak convention in Long Beach, California.

1997: In the Jan.-Feb., Mar.-Apr., and May-June 1997 issues of NCat News (reprinted in the NCat Project Book 3), Hal Riegger detailed construction methods for working outside third rail operation in N scale.

1997 - 2015: Between 1997 and 2000, Arnold of Germany produced nearly 20 versions of an operating 1:160 scale model of the Düwag GT6 6-axle articulated tram, with a flywheel-equipped drive, working blackened metal pantograph and a 2-rail/pantograph selector switch. After Arnold was bought by Hornby, the GT6 models were reintroduced in 2013. These have a new chassis design and an unwired silver metal pantograph. Three versions were offered in 2015 and another two followed in 2015.

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About 1997 - Present: Hasegawa, a large Japanese model kit manufacturer, has produced its Modemo line of 2-rail ready-to-run tram, light rail and electric railway passenger equipment, all modeled after Japanese prototypes.

1999 - 2006: John Kreider’s Father Nature model railroad scenery business of Pennsylvania sold cast resin N-gauge trolley shells, based on masters made by prolific NCat modeler Jim Brewer. These were part of Father Nature's line of railroad locomotive and other miscellaneous resin shells. Brewer's model masters apparently were also used, perhaps by Brewer himself, to produce white metal castings for sides and ends. At least three of the Brewer designs offered by Father Nature as resin shells have also surfaced as carbodies assembled from these cast metal parts, with wood roofs using round-topped copper brads to represent ventilators.

2003: Günther Hödl's Linie8 GmbH of Germany added 1:160 N scale operating models of Siemens Combino articulated trams to its multi-scale product line, beginning in 2003. He offered a 3-section tram for Nagasaki, 5-section for Hiroshima (the "Green Mover"), 3- and 5-section for Erfurt, and 5-section for Ulm. Later listed, but not actually produced, were 5-section models for Amsterdam ER and Amsterdam ZR. These models, while not very detailed physically, are cleverly designed, with the various detailed liveries simply painted onto clear plastic bodyshell sections. Two different end sections (one more tapered than the other) and variations in the mounting location of the working (but unwired) metal pantograph were used for particular prototypes. The two Japanese versions were sold in Japan by Dauphin Ltd., in its own packaging. photo
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2005 - Present: Tomytec of Japan has produced many, many Tetsudou Railway Collection 1:150 scale unpowered models, as well as over 20 optional suitable snap-in power chassis in multiple sizes. Many of the Japanese prototypes are tram, light rail, and interurban electric railway designs. Modern European articulated tram models have also been added.

2005: Tomix, a model railway division of Tomytec, added curved track in three tight radii and matching turnouts, suitable for model trolley layouts, to its extensive range of sectional track. In 2006 Tomix added a plastic “paving” kit to convert these Mini curves and turnouts, as well as straight and crossing track sections, to paved street trackage.

2009: Kato of Japan began selling 1:150 scale models of the 2-section articulated Toyama Portram light rail trams, and introduced its Unitram system of double-track streetcar tracks, which incorporates adjoining traffic lanes, sidewalks and sections of city blocks. Liveries for other tram lines in Japan followed in 2010 and 2011. Prior to these, Kato had begun offering a fictional 4-wheel electric steeplecab locomotive, as well as a 2-car boxy "people mover"-styled Chibi-Den tram, as part of its more toylike Pocket Line series. Kato later added tight-radius curves and a pair of matching track switches as Compact series additions to its Unitrak sectional track system.

2009 - 2011: Eric Courtney’s Miniatures by Eric in Alberta, Canada developed and sold cast resin N-gauge trolley shells. Thereafter he has continued to sell three styles of working N-scale trolley poles, built with brass lost wax castings.

2010: Tomix started production of its Wide Tram pre-built street railway curved and straight track sections, as well as a second paving kit that matches the color and surface texture of the Wide Tram track. Compatible sectional roadway pieces were later added as part of an operating battery-powered bus system.

2015: Operating models of Düwag M6 articulated 1:160 scale trams were introduced by Hobbytrain of Germany. Three original models were announced and promised in 2011, but did not actually appear for sale until late 2015 (Bogestra and Nürmberg) and early 2016 (Mülheim). Made in South Korea, these models feature working directional headlights and taillights, as well as orange illuminated destination signs. They are available in DC and digital+sound options. Unfortunately, in my experience the fine wires between the two sections break easily, often because the plastic pin that holds the articulation joint together can fall out and the sections pull apart, even when the model is in its package. These leads are factory-soldered to thin circuit board traces without soldering pads, making them nearly impossible to repair. Three additional Bogestra models appeared in 2017, two M6 (Schultheiss and Kicker) and a longer Düwag M8 (3-section) model (König Pilsener). The M8, in my experience, seems to have sturdier construction and wiring.

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Years Unknown: White-metal kits for various British trams have been produced in the United Kingdom by several manufacturers, including the Cromer and Thameshead kit (see above under "1973"). Others include D & M, which sold a 4-wheel closed-top double deck tram kit (upper photo). BH Enterprises sell what appears to be this same kit as their item NS450. BH Enterprises also sell a similar but longer "bogie" version (NS453) (lower photo) that fits the Bachmann Brill Trolley chassis. An open-top variation of NS453 is sold as NS454. They also sell a "Large Closed Top 4 Wheel Tram" as NS452, which they say can be powered by a Grafar bogie or Greenmax 502 chassis.

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