By Bryant Booth
Duchess Class steam locomotives, Brighton Bell electrics, Stanier Tanks, steam hauled Pullmans, and French Pacifics dominated the 0 gauge 3-rail scene in 2009 as ACE, MTH, and the new Darstaed all delivered a cornucopia of locomotives, passenger coaches, and freight wagons to the European 3-rail enthusiasts. But with the exception of the MTH 231E Chapelon Pacific, most of the trains were oriented towards the fans of British railways. Those interested in 3-rail 0 gauge trains of the European continent may have thought that they had to wait for 2010 to see new 0 gauge trains.
However, that is not the case. There are European firms that, although not well known here in the US, continue to produce trains for the continental 3-rail, 0 gauge enthusiast. The purpose of this article is to look at what is happening on the European Continent today in 3-rail 0 gauge trains. Five companies: ETS, Deàk, Zanka, Merkur, and Elettren all have been producing hand made, 0 gauge, tinplate trains in their native countries of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Italy for many years.
A layout at a 2008 show of 0 gauge trains in Prague, Czech Republic highlights ETS,and Zanka, trains along with the well known Märklin of the past and ACE Trains of today.
ETS - Electric Train Systems
There are many interpretations of the words tinplate trains. Today the term has come to mean a class of model trains that are produced in quantity and ready-to-run, coarse scale in definition, and operate on non-scale sized rails. They can be two-rail or three rail in operation, powered by clockwork, AC, or DC motors. They can be constructed from various materials including plastic, stamped sheet metal, and die cast molds.
However, if you are one who still holds to the definition of tinplate trains as trains of all metal, stamped sheet construction, with additional metal castings for detail, and even lithography for added small details, then you would probably be very interested in the Electric Train Systems (ETS) of Prague, the Czech Republic. You can view their current catalog at two web sites: www.ets.cz or www.ets-trains.com.
Started in 1991 by Gustav Taus with a few simple train sets that came boxed in an attractive wood case, ETS today provides a complete range of 1/45 scale model train equipment; locomotives, wagons, coaches, signals, track, power systems, and even houses and buildings, all primarily of European prototypes. The trains are actually made, not in Asia, but in Prague where ETS also has, in the past, produced train equipment for other brands. The rugged “MAXI” gauge 1 system was initially produced for Märklin by ETS for a short time.
Two of the original ETS boxed train sets
Considered a two-rail system by most European train hobbyists who operate the trains, ETS equipment readily operates on 3-rail track systems and nearly 40% of the trains produced are made for 3-rail operation.
ETS train systems are compatible with most other major systems. For example in addition to their own coupler, ETS trains can be purchased with US knuckle couplers, Märklin styled fix-couplers, or Hornby and ACE styled couplers of the UK. The locomotives can be powered by DC and AC sources and can have electronic sound systems. Digital power systems for DCC and Motorola data formats are also available.
For the US customer, ETS produced a line of logging locomotives and rolling stock (lumber wagons, gondolas, small passenger cars, and cabooses) that have US knuckle couplers and are derived from ETS models of European prototypes. Their 0-4-4-0 Sequoia Lumber Co. tank locomotive appears, for example, to be derived from a model of a tank locomotive of the Swiss Central Railways.
The ETS 0-4-4-0 tank locomotive of the Sequoia Lumber Co.
ETS’s first locomotives were characterized by small steam, electric, and diesel locomotives representing engines of the Czechoslovak State Railways (CSD). Typically the steam engines were tank engines, sometimes not based on a particular prototype but rather were a representation of a general type of locomotive, frequently for mountain railways.
For example, ETS introduced its first Mallet locomotive, a type of articulated locomotive, in 1994 and this model represented the type of mountain locomotives used at the turn of the 20th century in Bavaria and Switzerland. Over the last 18 years ETS has continued to expand its offerings, producing bigger locomotives and locomotives with a broader appeal. Today’s ETS 2009 catalog lists no less than 33 steam locomotives from 0-4-0s to 2-8-0s to 2-6-0+0-6-2s, twenty electric locomotives including the famous Swiss Crocodiles, and three diesels.
Some highlights from recent ETS catalogs demonstrating this expansion are as follows:
2001: ETS introduced the “Seetal” Crocodile. The prototype Swiss Class De 6/6 electric locomotives were built mainly for freight service on the Seetalbahn Line from Lenzburg to Emmenbrucke Switzerland. A total of 3 built in 1926 and all three were retired around 1983.The locomotives also had electrical heating equipment so that they could be used for passenger service in the winter if needed. ETS is the only company to produce this locomotive in the coarse scale, 0 gauge tinplate style.
2002: ETS introduced their 0 gauge model of the Swiss Ce 6/8 III freight locomotive - the “Crocodile”. Eighteen of these second generation “Croc” locomotives were originally constructed to pull heavy freight trains over the Gotthard pass in Switzerland. The Crocodile has been part of the Märklin model railroading program, in gauges 1, O, HO, and Z, since 1933 and the many Märklin models alone have immortalized this famous locomotive. The Märklin 0 gauge model of this locomotive can command prices of $20,000 or more at auctions.
ETS produces the locomotive in the original brown and later green liveries. Although a Swiss company “Keiser” produced an 0 gauge coarse scale model of the Crocodile for a short time, the Keiser locomotives are rather hard to find. The ETS models are available today and prove to be a good representation of these famous Swiss engines.
The ETS Seetal Crocodile
The ETS Swiss Ce 6/8 III Crocodile
2004: ETS is the first company to produce an 0 gauge tinplate version of the Garrett 2-6-0+0-6-2 steam locomotive. Locomotives of the Garrett design have the boiler mounted on the center frame and the two steam engines are mounted on each end of the boiler on separate frames as well. Articulation of the three frames permits large locomotives to negotiate tight curves and light rails, and these locomotives were employed in Europe, Africa, and South America on various track gauges.
ETS produces their model in three liveries; the London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), South African Railways, and the “Ferrocarril Entre Rios” (FCER), one of the many railroads to exist in Argentina prior to nationalization in 1947. The LMS actually employed 33 of these standard gauge 2-6-0+0-6-2 steam locomotives. Measuring 20 inches in length, the ETS Garrett easily handles 27 inch radius curves.
The ETS LMS Garrett
2004: ETS introduced their first diesel locomotive, a model of the British Rail Class 20 locomotive previously termed the English Electric Type 1.
Two hundred twenty eight of the 73 ton freight locomotive were built between 1957 and 1968. ETS produces their model of the diesel in two British Rail liveries and also correctly in the orange and white livery of French railway CFD (Compagnie de Chemins de Fer Departementaux').
2005: ETS introduced a 2-8-0 Austerity Class locomotive. The prototype locomotives were built in Britain during World War II by the War Department to support the liberation of Europe. Introduced in 1943, more than 900 were built and sent to the European continent.
By 2008 ETS offered the Austerity model in four liveries including two British Railways versions, the War Department, and the Longmoor Military Railway (LMR) where the Royal Engineers trained soldiers on railway construction and operations and actually employed two Austerity 2-8-0s after the war. Given that 181 of the 2-8-0’s locomotives remained in and around the Netherlands employed by the Nederlands Spoorwegen (as the class 4300II), it will be interesting to see if ETS produces the Austerity model in the livery of the Dutch railway.
The Austerity locomotive of the Longmoor Military Railway
A preserved Austerity locomotive
ETS also used this 2-8-0 drive train to produce a Liberation Class locomotive. The prototypes were built in 1946 and distributed into Eastern Europe by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). ETS produces the locomotives in the liveries of the UNRRA livery and the US Army Transportation Corp.
2008: One of its smallest yet probably one of its most detailed locomotives, the ETS 0-4-0 Glaskasten steam engine employs an intricate running gear and is a delightful model of the small Royal Bavarian State Railways branch line locomotive Class PtL 2/2 that could be operated by one man. The locomotive was nicknamed Glaskasten or “glass box” because the driver’s cab with three windows per side that surrounded the entire boiler. ETS produces the engine in three liveries; the green and black livery of the Königlich Bayerische Staatseisenbahn is very attractive.
The 0-4-0 Glaskasten Locomotive
Freight and Passenger wagons:
ETS has expanded its range of freight cars from the original four in 1991 to nearly 100 in the 2009 catalog including covered goods wagons, gondolas, wine wagons, tank wagons, refrigerated wagons etc. ETS freight cars are predominately based on CSD freight cars although the 2009 catalog displays covered goods wagons based on German designs. ETS uses multi-colored lithography extensively and has a large roster of vividly colorful private owner wagons including beer reefers. There are currently 19 different tank wagons.
ETS passenger wagons were also originally modeled on two axle CSD coaches used in local passenger service. Then in 2005 ETS introduced rugged, four axle wagons, 41 cm in length, based on passenger coaches found on the German, Swiss, Austrian, and French railways including MITROPA sleeping and dining coaches. Today interiors are also available for the wagons.
A sample of ETS freight and passenger wagons.
There are two other features of ETS trains that need to be pointed out. First, you can purchase the drive trains, including motor, worm gear drive, and wheels, for two, three, and four axle locomotives for your own modeling efforts. Second, and probably more unique, is that as you scan through the past years catalogs you realize that they normally include previous years trains that continue to be available. Additionally, after an initial production run has been sold, ETS may even be willing to reproduce the train item based on popularity and production priorities.
ETS and Gustav Taus journey from Prague to attend the large TCA Eastern Division train meet at York, Pennsylvania every six months and you can find him, his son, and his trains along the outer back wall in the noisy, crowded Orange Hall. He is always ready to talk about European trains and demonstrate his rugged 0 gauge system. He has been attending York since 1993! The last time we visited I asked Gustav why he has made the trip so regularly over these many years. He told me that the American customer probably makes up about 15% of his business and then he added: “Besides, I like America and I like Americans!”
DEÁK, ZANKA, and MERKUR
For the past several years I have been interested in the Märklin 0 gauge trains and my collecting concentrates on the more prototypical passenger and freight wagons of the 1930s. In particular I like the series of freight wagons, sometimes referred to as the “16.5 cm” cars because most of them measure 16.5 cm in length from buffer to buffer. But looking back, Märklin’s range of prototypical 0 gauge train products, particularly the covered goods wagons, was somewhat limited. There was not a great variety in the freight wagons with the exception of the colorful #1774 tank wagon series where Märklin produced the bulky looking tank wagons in seven different oil company liveries such as Shell Oil, British Petroleum, and ESSO.
Hoping to actually operate my Märklin trains some day I have, for some time, been looking also for firms that produce what I call “Märklin-compatible” trains; rolling stock that has the look and feel of 0 gauge trains Märklin might have produced had it continued or revived the production of their 0 gauge tinplate line. Today the better known firms involved in Märklin trains, such as Ritter Restoration and Hehr, tend to produce replicas of Märklin freight wagons on a limited production basis and don’t venture into equipment that Märklin did not originally produce.
Originally I looked to ETS as a source of additional freight equipment, especially covered goods wagons, with their ever expanding line of colorful private owner wagons. But I found that Märklin wagons and ETS wagons just didn’t seem to look right together. There are two reasons for this. First, the profiles of the Czech freight wagons are different than those of the German covered goods wagon Märklin modeled – the “type GR Kassel”. Second, whereas today’s ETS products are 1/45 scale models, the Märklin freight wagons of the 1930’s are under-scale, maybe closer to 1/48 and typically shortened in length. The resultant size difference is noticeable when the two products are together making up a freight train.
Märklin and ETS wagons
I have discovered two firms that produce both replica and Marlin-compatible freight wagons. Neither is that well known.
DEÁK MODELLSPORT, of Budapest, Hungary, has been producing both replicas of Märklin freight equipment and new Märklin-compatible equipment at least since the mid 1990s. Deák offers a unique line of tank wagons. Märklin’s #1774 series tank wagons all had a screw type filler cap on the top of the wagon and a spigot on the side so that young engineers could actually transport liquids around their home railroad empire (and which may account for the rusted condition these neat tank wagons are frequently found in today.) Deák offers a replica line of the #1774 but also has a line with a more prototypical hatch release and no spigots.
A Deák tank wagon with latch compared to a Märklin tank wagon.
Deák also offers Märklin sized tank wagons without the brakeman’s hut and tank wagons without any markings providing an additional variety of wagons for an operator.
A couple years ago Deák offered twenty six different 0 gauge freight wagons plus a range of track and switches. A recent check of the Deak web site, at http://www.deakmodellsport.hu/ shows that Deák has scaled back its Märklin-compatible wagons and is more oriented to replica wagons including the smaller #1987 Kuhlwagen, #1991 Seefishe, and #1992 Jamaica Banana wagons. They also offer replicas of the rare circus wagons. Occasionally Deák products will show-up on eBay’s US, German, and French eBay 0 gauge auction web sites
ZANKA: The second producer of Märklin compatible trains that I have discovered is ZANKA trains (http://www.zanka.cz/) of the Czech Republic, located in the city of Lanov At the moment, ZANKA is not actually making trains but they still have a good variety of wagons available for purchase. ZANKA focuses on Märklin compatibles vice replicas. In the past ZANKA has produced a fine set of Märklin compatible freight wagons including four axle modern ballast wagons, acid wagons, wine/beer barrel wagons in both two axle and four axle, fish transport wagons with wood barrels, and new silo wagons with one, two, and three silos in a variety of company names. The wagons are produced in both Deutsche Reichsbahn and Swiss Federal Railways markings.
Recent additions to the line include two passenger coaches, 35 cm in length and in Swiss markings, and seven scale oriented covered goods wagons including yellow and orange Banana wagons. If you look closely at the ETS web site and the ZANKA web site you’ll note that Gustav Taus and Jiri Zanka have collaborated on a couple of their wagons including the silo and acid wagons.
I have three ZANKA wagons; I would like more. They are not inexpensive but they are well constructed, solid, hefty, and very smooth runners. The acid wagon, with its ten acid flasks, is quite detailed for a coarse scale freight wagon.
A Zanka acid wagon and silo wagon with a Märklin 16.5 cm stake wagon in the rear.
MERKUR: I should note that Merkur, also located in the Czech Republic, is again producing 0 gauge tinplate trains. Merkur started out in the early 1920’s producing metal construction kits, like our Erector sets, and in 1930 began the development of metal electric trains. Their web site www.merkurtoys.cz provides a brief history of the company and displays their current 0 gauge inventory including simple two-axle passenger coaches, covered goods wagons, and brake vans, four axle covered goods and tank wagons, and two axle hoppers. They also offer a 2-6-2 steam locomotive in black, green, silver, and gray. Even though I do have a couple Merkur wagons in my collection, I really don’t know much about the trains or the company. The Merkur hopper/mineral wagon is a sturdy wagon that, although it doesn’t have hatches that open and close, looks good when combined with the Märklin mineral wagon.
The author’s ETS BR 64 is temporarily reassigned from local passenger service to move Merkur and Märklin mineral wagons to the port.
With ETS, ZANKA, and MERKUR all located in the Czech Republic, those Czechs must love their trains!!
In his 1986 book “Toy Trains - A History” noted toy train collector Pierce Carlson writes that Elettren passenger coaches were “the best passenger coaches ever produced by any toy train manufacturer.” Nearly 20 years later this accolade was echoed by Allen Levy is his great book “Brilliantly Old Fashioned, The Story Of Ace 0 Gauge Trains” where he wrote “Their coach production has never been surpassed in the field.”
Yet Elettren, of Milan, Italy, has been relatively unknown here in the US and its history and impact on toy train developments apparently is largely undocumented. The reference library of the Train Collectors Association only has two Elettren catalogs. The only English language book that I have found to address Elettren’s history of production and illustrate many of its products is the beautiful coffee table book “The Trains on Avenue De Rumine” by Count Antonio Coluzzi. This work has four and a half pages of pictures and text illustrating several Elettren locomotives, passenger, and freight wagons through 1980.
Many of us have only discovered these beautiful trains through the internet, on-line forums, and on-line auctions where the coaches command a premium price. If one has heard of Elettren one normally thinks of their elaborately detailed, fine scale (1/43.5) coaches of the CIWL - Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (or in English: International Sleeping-Car Company). But Elettren started in the mid-forties by producing tinplate 3 rail trains and even today nearly 20% of the firm’s production is tinplate trains.
Elettren is found on the internet at www.elettren.it
In 1946 Armando Ravasini produced his first 0 gauge locomotives, models of the Ansaldo 2-B-B-2 heavy electric FS E.428 and the Pacific steam locomotive FS 691 in Milan. Whereas the other model train firms, right after the war, furthered the development of their H0 models with improved fidelity at the expense of the 0 gauge trains, Armando Ravasini focused on what we today would call a niche market. He set out to make 0 gauge trains that were intended to improve upon the pre-war trains of Marklin.
The start of Elettren also launched another famous name in model trains, Fulgurex of Laussane, Switzerland. Fulgurex was started by Antonio Giansanti Coluzzi - Count Coluzzi - in 1947 to handle the distribution of Elettren trains. Fulgurex, of course, has been known for many years as a leader in developing model trains for the connoisseur.
Over the last six decades, three generations of Ravasinis have pushed the state-of-art in model train construction and produced increasingly sophisticated models. Taking advantage of the latest in manufacturing technologies, first in stamping tinplate and subsequently in photoengraving and pad printing and today with chemical milling and laser cutting, Elettren trains are renowned for their precision and fidelity to their prototypes. With interior lighting, doors that are spring loaded to open and close, upholstered furniture, cloth bedding and pillows on beds in sleeping coaches and cooking gear in kitchens of dining cars, Elettren passenger coaches are elaborate in the included detail.
The Elettren website www.elettren.it shows 34 fine scale (1/43.5) passenger coaches of the CIWL, PLM, and SBB-CFF (these are actually 1/45 models) and three locomotives that are currently available directly from Elettren.
An early catalog page illustrating the detail in a dining coach.
Elettren dining car kitchen details
A new Elettren CIWL Pullman
A neat CIWL container wagon with containers
One of Elettren’s newest wagons, a 2nd class passenger coach of the Italian State Railways, circa 1910.
ELETTREN Tinplate Trains
More important to my tinplate train interests is that the current generation of Fabio and Maurizio Ravasini is again producing their more traditional tinplate trains in 1/45 scale.
The Elettren tinplate coaches and locomotives available today are shown at http://www.elettren.it/tin_plate.htm and include seven Deutshes Reichsbahn passenger coaches of the period around 1939. The models are illuminated and upholstered and considered the high-end of coarse scale trains.
The Elettren DR 1st, 2nd, 3rd class passenger coach
The Elettren MITROPA sleeping car
One of Armando Ravasini’s first locomotives was a model of the Italian Ansaldo 2-B-B-2 (i.e. 4-4-4-4 ) electric locomotive class FS E.428. Built in the late 1930s, early 1940s by the company Ansaldo, the prototypes were huge, heavy locomotives intended for fast service on the Italian State Railways’ new electrified lines.
The Elettren model of the FS E.428 follows suit and is also large and heavy. Over the last 63 years Elettren has produced this engine in various liveries and with one or two motors. These neat, streamlined electric locomotives can still be ordered today!
An Elettren electric FS 428
A prototype FS E.428
Armando Ravasini’s second locomotive was a model of the Italian 4-6-2 steam locomotive class FS 691. Thirty-three of these large steam locomotives were created around 1930 and used for fast passenger service out of Milan to Venice, Bologna, and Domodossola on the Italian-Swiss boarder. Only one of these sleek steam locomotives exists today, No. 691,022 and is preserved at the Museum of Science and Technology in Milan, Italy.
The Elettren FS 691 Pacific is a large, impressive model steam locomotive. Today it is considered a transitional locomotive in the developmental history of toy trains as the locomotive represents a significant step up in the detail that was applied to model locomotives. Allen Levy stated that “The Elettren Pacific was the inspiration for the ACE A4” in his book “Brilliantly Old Fashioned, the Story of Ace O Gauge Trains” (The A4, such as the Mallard, was ACE Trains’ first large engine and represented a quantum leap in the effort and technology necessary for ACE to produce the locomotive.)
Incorporating a large number of metal castings such as the Westinghouse type steam pump (used for the compressed air brake system) on the front of the locomotive, pressure gauges, valves, and firebox doors that opened and closed in the engineer’s cab, the Elettren locomotive achieved a level of detail not previously seen on ready-to-run tinplate locomotives. Lionel’s famous pre-war Hudson, for example was noted for the detail it used. But where Lionel employed diecast detail, such as the piping on the engine, Elettren used externally applied wire and rod to represent the locomotive’s piping. One might say that MTH took this approach of added detail through many castings to its next level with their beautiful Chapelon Pacific 231E delivered in 2009.
The beautiful Elettren FS 691 Pacific
Steam locomotive details
In addition to the Pacific FS 691, Elettren also produced a 2-8-2 Mikado, the FS 746 class locomotive which was very similar in appearance to the Pacific. Unfortunately neither of these detailed locomotives are produced any more but they both have been appearing at the major toy train auction sites. Expect to pay a couple thousand dollars for one of these treasures.
Elettren concentrated on passenger coaches and produced only a very few freight wagons. All the wagons were fairly large wagons with four or even six axles and employed both stamped sheet metal and diecast construction but detail was an important feature of these wagons as well. The Elettren freight wagons, non of which are produced today, are listed below:
5 - four axle Tank Wagons in Shell, BP, Esso, Standard, &
1 - four axle Open Goods wagon
1 - four axle Flat Wagon with stanchions
1 - six axle Stake Wagon with stanchions
1 - four axle Flat Wagon with three cable reels
2 - six axle Transformer Wagons
The six axle transformer wagons (originally produced in green and subsequently in brown liveries) are unique models in the world of toy trains. I have not seen such a wagon produced by any other toy train manufacturer. Representing mobile power substations used by the Italian State Railways for work on their electrified system, with insulators, radiators, transformers, and personnel cabins, one wonders if the Ravasinis made this wagon in order to inject their love of detail into the freight wagon series.
A tinplate Stake Wagon and Shell Tank Wagon
Elettren’s tinplate ‘Transformer’ Wagon.
All of these fine scale and tinplate trains can be ordered directly from Elettren. The website has contact details.
What does the future hold for Elettren tinplate trains? Maurizio Ravasini expects tinplate products will continue to represent about 20% of Elettren’s range. Significantly, he notes that “in the future we like to continue our tradition of tin plate with some new models.” An exciting possibility is a new steam locomotive!
A Short Summary and Acknowledgements
ETS, Deák, Zanka, Merkur, and Elettren all produce 3-rail, ready-to-run, 0 gauge tinplate trains. The fan of European continental trains does have a good range of products to choose from today. With the expected arrival of the new Darstaed coaches and the new MTH continental locomotives in 2010 it looks like the range of products available will be expanded in the future.
I want to thank ETS, Zanka, and Elettren for the use of images of their products from their websites and the additional photos they provided for this article. I also want to thank Gustav Taus of ETS for taking the time to talk to me at the York TCA meets while also demonstrating his products to interested customers. A special thanks also to Maurizio Ravasini for entertaining an international phone call and providing an interesting discussion of Elettren trains. Finally I need to thank my friend Robert Schreyer who always is willing to help me keep my facts straight.
Do you collect and/or operate European 3-rail trains? If so, I'd like to hear about your interest. Write me at email@example.com
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