So…Who knows model railroading history? Who was the first manufacturer of electrically powered model trains?
My normal research into historic railroad pics will take a little turn today – Let’s look at some historic model railroading!
I found a little treasure right here in Cincinnati. A company named Carlisle & Finch, located on West Mitchell Ave., developed the first electrically powered model trains!
Okay – so that’s a bit modern structure for a company that produced some of the earliest model trains. The C&F Company moved 4 times and had a major addition and renovation in 2016 since their start up in Cincinnati in 1893. The company specializes in manufacturing spotlights/searchlights for naval vessels. I ran into them when my sister-in-law, Maureen, was looking for someone to polish some heavy brass door handles. C&F popped up on her search – they also polish brass. She saw a display of vintage model trains in their lobby, and then invited me to visit C&F when she picked up her door handles. I was impressed by the newly polished door handles, and the talk Terry (C&F employee) gave me about their searchlights was fascinating. They distribute products over 28 countries. Their most powerful spotlight can send a light beam over 5 miles. But the 19th century electrically powered model trains – that caught my attention!
Here is a pic of a 1909 distributor’s catalog I found on line – check out the first page!
Initially, the owners/founders, Robert Finch and Morten Carlisle opened a repair shop for GE armatures, transformers, and arc lamps. But, they quickly realized that to continue their business, they needed to produce their own product. There existed wind up and push model trains, but no one had produced an electrically powered model train, and so Finch and Carlisle created their first product line! C&F trains ran on 2” gauge track. In the height of their manufacturing of model trains, they employed around 120 employees. Besides electrical trains, they produced a number of electrical novelties including automobiles, boats, incline planes, and experimental electrical science kits. All of this start up line began before 1897. Their business further expanded into marine and industrial gasoline powered engines, and into their specialty, arc searchlights.
But so much for company history – let’s get a look at some of the first electrical model trains! This is a 1911 built model train by C&F.
That’s not a bad rendition of a PRR locomotive given it was fabricated in the early 1900s out of mostly brass and wood.
…a better look at the cars…I chopped off the caboose!
Here’s the “writing on the wall”! (I hope you can read it – Interesting stuff!)
Inside their main entrance show cases, I found this streetcar – Could it be one of the 1890’s editions? Again, looks to be made mostly of brass. (Sounds like C&F could be one of the fathers of MR brass!)
I thought I’d give you a peak of the front entrance show cases:
Let’s get a close look at those brass engines. First one is a bit “tinplate-ish”. I’m not sure if the lettering was hand-painted by C&F, or by the former owner.
…Again, early toy quality. There’s some nice embossing going on – check out the number on the cab and the rings in the boiler. The steam dome and bell are really nice pieces of brass.
…another couple of early locos…The back one shows some improvements in construction. BTW – That’s Terry behind the show case. What a great ambassador of his company! He not only gives great tours, but seems to wear multiple hats including working in the shop on the brass.
…More improvements…This is a nice little loco!
Now this is a nice piece of brass! Not quite at the level of modern brass, but we’re looking at the early part of the 20th century – Pretty nice work!
Look at how the tender is built – not just embossed sheet, but some brazing of complex joints. This is nice brass work.
The suspension bridge – again made mostly of brass – appears simple, but a nice accessory!
You can see that the track is made from wood ties with brass bar mounted on edge. Sections of the bridge are combined with machine screws and nuts. Look at the make up of the bridge – it’s curved rods of different radius with brazed connections.
You could buy a working mining locomotive!
The three displayed stations all appear to have working order boards. And the crane appears to be working.
Here’s a smaller bridge – again, simple track of bar stock on wood ties. And a nice street car – maybe this is the original 1896 train!
Are you in to passenger service? Check out this coach.
…and the baggage car behind the station.
Rolling stock varies from shorty coaches, to nice brass boxcars.
I wasn’t sure how recognized these guys were until I saw a few of the collectors addition cars from the Train Collectors Association – 1964 & 1966. (I also caught one of these from another year in the ‘60s or ‘70s on eBay.)
I really enjoyed my visit to Carlisle and Finch. When I got back, I checked eBay to see what of their models might be out there – There’s a few. But the value is a bit steep for the non-collectors. The quality of their work for toys was amazing. And…if you ever need some nice brass fixtures cleaned or refurbished, C&F is a great place to visit!