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Dorfan Standard Gauge Freight Cars: They're Pretty, But You Can't Run 'Em With Broken Trucks

by Jim Kelly

Several years ago I was lucky enough to win an EBAY auction for a set of Dorfan standard gauge freight cars. I've always been a fan of lithographed tinplate, but these cars seemed special with lithography so spectacular as to warrant comments like this:

"Dorfan designers ignored the market consensus and made a bold move by adapting lithography for its new designs. Dorfan's Wide Gauge cars are, consequently, the most realistic large size American toy trains ever made. It is a pleasure to study the subtle details of these cars - the brake mechanisms, the road names, the car's technical markings." - McKenney, Carlton Norris, et. al. Greenberg's Guide To Early American Toy Trains. Sykesville, 1993. P. 210.

#800 Gondola

No. 804 Tank Car

No. 805 Hopper

While I certainly agree with the author that these freight cars are fun to study, I really wanted to see them running on my layout. But this was impossible. The cars themselves were in fine shape, but all but a few of the trucks were badly disintegrated, victims of the "zinc pest" that helped bring down the Dorfan company and plagued just about all of the prewar manufacturers using die castings. The broken and disintegrated trucks arrived in a box.

I looked around the market for replacement trucks and discovered that there were some soft pot metal replacements available, but these just didn't seem like they would be suitable for anything other than display. They were just too soft. So I carefully placed my beautiful Dorfan freights on the shelf and I decided to wait for the day when I could install good quality trucks on them and run them.

When I saw that MTH Electric Trains was producing reproduction Dorfan passenger cars with die cast trucks, I was hopeful that they would make extra trucks available to the aftermarket so that collectors could use them on their vintage cars. A telephone call to their parts department confirmed the availability of spare trucks. I placed an order and prepared to install new trucks on the Dorfan freights.

L: Old Dorfan truck, R: MTH Trains Reproduction Truck

Original equipment pickup roller disassembled

OE pickup roller assembled to new truck

New trucks installed on the No. 806 caboose

The MTH Dorfan trucks are high quality castings made from an alloy that is much stronger than the usual pot metal. These trucks should hold up well over time. They are relatively easy to install on the freight cars using only a machine screw, split washer and nut. Some careful disassembly and re-assembly of the tinplate was needed on the tank car and the hopper.

The original Dorfan pickup roller for the twin caboose lights mounts easily in predrilled holes in the truck. In one afternoon I was able to replace the disintegrated trucks on my five Dorfan freights and finally see them running on my layout for the first time. All I can say is that it worth the wait!

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