The American Miniature Railway Company
By David McEntarfer Winter 2018
Probably one of the most obscure and least known of the early Tinplate manufacturers was the American Miniature Railway Company of Bridgeport Conn., which I will refer to as AMRR from here on. AMRR was formed when two Ives tool-makers decided to leave Ives and start their own company. AMRR was in business for such a comparatively short time – making trains from 1907 to 1912 – yet they made a very extensive line that competed with Ives on just about every level.
What Edward and Harry Ives were to The Ives Mfg Co., William Haberlin and Timothy Hayes were to AMRR. Haberlin and Hayes owned a tool shop in Bridgeport at the turn of the century. It was to this shop that Edward and Harry Ives went in 1901 for the dies and tools for the first line of Ives clockwork track trains. Later Haberlin and Hayes sold Ives their shop and went to work for the Ives Company itself, as tool makers and designers. They made the dies for all of the early Ives models.
Haberlin had a lot to do with the Ives business during that period and when he saw the way it was growing decided to leave Ives. He left Ives, somewhere in late 1905 or early 1906, and immediately started to make tools and dies for a new full line of 0 gauge trains. Haberlin brought with him several original ideas that he eventually had patented into some of the features of the AMRR line. Some of these included disappearing couplers, solid rail cross-overs, switch stands and a telegraph pole with a miniature reel of wire mounted on the base. In March of 1907 Haberlin convinced his former partner and friend Hayes to join him in this new toy train venture. They obtained financial backing from Herbert French, a retired railroad man living in Bridgeport. French became the head of the new company with the titles Manager and Treasurer. Hayes was superintendent and Haberlin designer, tool-maker and director of manufacturing. William Izman joined the company as bookkeeper and later became a salesman. A factory was obtained on East Washington Ave in Bridgeport and limited production began in 1907. By the fall of 1908 AMRR had 25 employees. For the first models AMRR produced they purchased 500 small and 500 large clockworks from Reeves Mfg. Co. This was the same company that Ives purchased their clockworks from. AMRR continued to purchase clockworks from Reeves until they were able to develop the tooling to make their own. This meant that for a period of time both Ives and AMRR were using the same clockwork mechanism.
The appearance of the AMRR line was very similar to Ives, but this might have something to do with the fact that in 1907 both Ives and AMRR were using tooling and dies made by the same man, Wm. Haberlin. Not only did they look similar but AMRR used the same catalog numbers. In 1907 AMRR cataloged locomotives 0, 1, 2,3,11 and 17, the tender came with the catalog number 25, the same numbering system that Ives used. The AMRR catalog contained the identical track layouts that were found in the early Ives catalogs, although Ives actually stole them from the Mårklin catalogs, where they had originated. The small 5″ passenger cars looked very similar to Ives and some even carried the “Limited Vestibule Express” logo. Apparently Ives noticed all the similarities as in 1908 they retooled their 5″ cars and came out with the Brooklyn / Buffalo cars. They also did some copying of their own as all smaller clockworks up until then had been tin. In 1908 Ives turned the 0,1,2,3 locomotives out in their cast iron finery.
In 1908 AMRR began advertising the fact that Haberlin and Hayes, who were the head of their manufacturing department, were the original designers of the Ives line. At this point I’m sure that Ives was getting more than a little disturbed concerning this upstart company. Ives had featured their models as “The American Miniature Railway System”. Harry Ives was big on promoting American goods as contrast to the rest of the market being foreign. Even the name of the new company was infringing on his logo. In January 1909, Ives advertised that “We are the original manufacturers of ‘The American Miniature Railways’, although others are trying to mislead the trade by using the words ‘American’ and ‘Systems’ in different ways. Don’t be misled; buy the original, which is the best”. Surely it wasn’t a coincidence that in 1908 Ives began putting little metal tags on much of their equipment reading “The Ives Miniature Railway System”. This practice was discontinued around 1912 – the same year AMRR went out of business.
In 1909 AMRR put the following paragraph in the front of their catalog: “Our product is guaranteed to be equal in construction, material and workmanship to any line of Miniature Railways on the market and superior in many respects to other American lines”. Not lost on AMRR was the emergence of Edmonds Metzel, a company from Chicago using the name “American Flyer”. By 1910, AMRR was using a logo on most of their correspondence calling themselves the “Bridgeport Line”. Possibly another attempt to confuse the toy train public.
Right from the start AMRR packed a catalog inside every train set. The 1909 catalog had a request to recipients to “kindly destroy previous catalogues” as the line had changed so much. Apparently everyone did as instructed; even though all their catalogs are rare, finding one from 1907 or 1908 is impossible. The company always did a fair amount of business but never attained any real success in the market. In the early 1940s when author/historian Lou Hertz was looking for former AMRR employees, he found that only William Haberlin and one of their last salesmen an A.L. Richmond were still alive. At that time Mr. Richmond was purchasing manager for A.C. Gilbert. He had left AMRR in late 1911 to take the A.C. Gilbert job. He stated that at that time the days of the American Miniature Railway Company were numbered. Mr. Haberlin was quoted as saying “If we had business enough to use up what track and what went with it (that we could make) we would still be in the toy business.” He also recalls that it was their intention to make all of their track electric, so that purchasers of their clockwork sets would only have to purchase a separate electric locomotive in order to have an electric train outfit.
When the business was given up, the dies were all sold for junk, to prevent their falling into the hands of Ives. Some years later Mr. Haberlin admitted that this was probably a mistake as he had had at least one offer to purchase the dies and start making the line again. The doors of the AMRR factory were closed for good in December 1912.
To say that in the 6 years of their existence the AMRR line of trains closely paralleled the Ives line would be an understatement. In 1907 the smaller clockwork sets were powered by a small tin 2-2-0 locomotive that was virtually identical in appearance to the corresponding Ives locomotives and they carried the same catalog numbers 0, 1, 2 & 3 depending on the size of the motor and the number of cars they could pull. In all my years of collecting I’ve only seen two of these AMRR tin locomotives. AMRR made two different tenders the No. 20 and 25, both closely resembled the Ives No. 11 tender. AMRR also cataloged two iron locomotives in 1907, a No. 11 and 17 which was an 11, with a brake. The iron locomotives had the number 200 embossed under the cab. The tin locomotives were sold with 4 ½ inch passenger cars that were cataloged as No. 97 baggage car, No. 98 Empress and No. 99 Princess. All three cars were marked for the “West Shore Express”. The 5″ cars were sold with the larger Iron locomotives and included the No. 100 Baggage Car, No 101 Parlor Car and the No. 102 Dining Car, all three cars were marked for the “New York & Boston Express”. Besides the passenger cars AMRR cataloged a single 5″ caboose No. 90.
In 1908 AMRR replaced the tin series with a 2-2-0 cast iron locomotive, still numbered 0, 1, 2 & 3 in the catalog but this locomotive had the number 125 embossed under the cab. The smaller tin No. 0 was still available for separate sale or in sets with one or two small gravel cars.
Lest we forget, 1908 was also the year that Ives replaced their smaller tin locomotives with cast iron 2-2-0 models. 1908 also saw the introduction of freight cars into the AMRR line. These freight cars came in complete sets and included the No. 53 box car, No. 51 stock car, No. 52 Refrigerator car and a No. 54 gravel car. Strangely 1908 was the year that Ives introduced a couple small freight cars with the No. 53 box car and No. 55 stock car, they already had the No. 54 gondola. It must have been an afterthought as these cars never appeared in the 1908 or 1909 Ives catalogs and are extremely rare today. In 1908 AMRR added a new large passenger station to replace the one they sold the previous year which was apparently imported, other accessories that had been pictured in their previous catalog included two bridges in 0 gauge plus numerous track accessories that included a signal post, telegraph pole, telegraph pole with reel, and a three way turntable. They also listed three different semaphores which were not pictured and we can’t be sure what they looked like.
In 1909 AMRR really expanded adding 8″ passenger and freight cars to their 0 gauge line, plus 10 one gauge sets that included two cast iron clockwork engines, 4 different passenger cars and 5 freight cars. They also added several new locomotive numbers to the 0 gauge line (see chart for details).They expanded their small 90 series passenger cars to include several new road names. The numbers 90-99 and 89 were all catalog numbers for the smaller passenger cars, but there were really only three different cars, a baggage, and two distinct passenger cars, one with 4 long windows and one with 6 small windows. The passenger cars marked 94, 95 and 96 in the catalogs were the same cars with different road names. The 8″ cars only used four numbers: 150 baggage, 151 Parlor, 152 passenger and 153 Parlor car. These same numbers were used over the years but with different road names. The passenger cars get quite confusing as some have catalog numbers in the litho and some don’t, some have numbers that were never cataloged. 1909 was also the last year that we know of that they printed a catalog with pictures of their trains.
In 1910 and 1911 it would appear that AMRR carried the same numbers as they did in 1909, but changed the lithography on most of the line. They also added a line of floor trains in 1910, the same year that Ives started showing floor trains in their catalogs. Except for a couple cast iron locomotives, I’ve never observed any of the floor train line that was made in 1910, but if we can draw any conclusions from the similarity to what Ives was doing, they probably took their previous year’s car bodies and put them on a floor toy type base. Also prior to 1910, only the larger cast iron locomotives had the AMRR insignia cast into them below the cab windows. Starting in 1910 it would appear that all cast locomotives carried the AMRR insignia below the cab.
One other nuance in the 1910 line was a change in the trucks on the 8 wheel 0 gauge cars to a “Tee” truck that looked very similar to the trucks Ives used from 1910-1912. The trucks on the 8 wheel cars in 1909 had a simulated brake that was unique at the time.
Over the few years of their existence AMRR did produce a few original and patented mechanical features, including a disappearing coupler which functioned very similar to the American Flyer coupler. This coupler simply sat in a slot that allowed the cars to bunch up when the train was stopped and then extend when the train started up. Another interesting patented AMRR feature was their “Signal Post,” which was a vane-type switch stand used on track switches and stops, it actually looked very similar to the switch stands used by Ives in the 1920s. Other patented items included the telegraph pole with a cable reel and cable, special track pins and solid rail switches. The switches came with a square center piece of metal that read “American Miniature R.R. Co. Patented 1907”.
Whatever the reason, AMRR was unable to compete with Ives and American Flyer and closed their doors in 1912. We don’t have any kind of production numbers but based on the number of surviving examples it must have been very low. AMRR trains are so rare that most collectors have not seen surviving examples and if they had they probably wouldn’t know what they were. The list below represents what I believe to be a complete list of their production from 1907-1912, several of these items I’ve never seen and have to assume the catalog cuts are fairly accurate.
AMRR PRODUCTION LIST OF LOCOMOTIVES AND CARS
|0||Tin Locomotive 2-2-0, number 100 on the cab|
|0||Iron Locomotive 2-2-0, number 125 on cab|
|9||Iron Locomotive 0-4-0, number 200 on cab, speed governor, no railings, 1910 & 11 AMRR cast on cab|
|11||Iron Locomotive 0-4-0, number 200 on cab, speed governor, 1910 & 11 AMRR cast on cab|
|15||Iron locomotive 0-4-0, number 200 on cab, brake and speed governor, 1910 & 11 AMRR cast on cab|
|17||Iron locomotive 0-4-0, AMRR on cab, speed governor|
|19||Iron locomotive 0-4-0, AMRR on cab, brake and speed governor|
|21||Iron locomotive 0-4-0, AMRR on cab, brake, reverse and speed governor|
|20||4 wheel tender, W.S.E. No. 20 on side|
|25||4 wheel tender, N.Y. & B.E on side, In 1910 this tender came with on an 8 wheel frame|
|35||1 gauge locomotive 0-4-0, AMRR on cab|
|41||1 gauge locomotive 4-4-0, AMRR on cab|
|50||1 gauge tender, marked A.M.RY. CO. on side|
|51||Stock Car 4.5″, ‘Live Stock Conveyance’|
|52||Refrigerator Car 4.5″, ‘Merchants Dispatch’|
|53||Box Car 4.5″, ‘Erie Freight Car’|
|54||Gravel Car 4.5″, No markings|
|90||Caboose 5″, ‘Caboose’|
|89||Baggage Car 4 1/2″, ‘United States Mail Exp. Service’ same as No. 97|
|91||Pullman 4 1/2″, “New York” or “Albany” or “Boston” 4 long windows|
|92||Pullman 4 1/2″, “New York” or “Albany” or “Boston” 4 long windows|
|93||Pullman 4 1/2″, “New York” or “Albany” or “Boston” 4 long windows|
|94||Passenger 4 1/2″, “Washington” or “Philadelphia” or “Chicago” 6 small windows|
|95||Passenger 4 1/2″, “Washington” or “Philadelphia” or “Chicago” 6 small windows|
|96||Passenger 4 1/2″, “Washington” or “Philadelphia” or “Chicago” 6 small windows|
|97||Baggage Car 4 1/2″, ‘United States Mail Exp. Service’ same as No. 89|
|98||Passenger 4 1/2″, ‘Empress’ or ‘Chicago’ or ‘Philadelphia’ or ‘Washington’ 6 small windows|
|99||Passenger 4 1/2″, ‘Princess’ or ‘Chicago’ or ‘Philadelphia’ or ‘Washington’ 6 small windows|
|100||Baggage Car 5″, ‘New York & Boston Express’|
|101||Parlor Car 5″, ‘New York & Boston Express’ & ‘Parlor Car|
|102||Dining Car 5″, ‘New York & Boston Express’ & “Dining Car”|
|150||Combination Car 8″, …. 1909 ‘Empire State Express’ & ‘Buffet|
|150||Buffet Car 8″, … 1910-11 “Empire State Express’ & ‘Buffet’|
|151||Parlor Car 8″, …1909 ‘Empire State Express’ & ‘Juanita’|
|151||Parlor Car 8″, …1910-11 ‘Empire State Express’ & ‘Lincoln’ 6 long windows|
|152||Passenger Car 8″, …1909 ‘Empire State Express’ & ‘Mikado’ 8 small windows|
|152||Passenger Car 8″, …1910-11 ‘Empire State Express’ & ‘Cleveland’ 3 sets of 2 windows|
|153||Baggage Car 8″, … 1909 “Empire State Express” & ‘Baggage U.S Express’|
|153||Baggage Car 8″, …1910-11 … Unknown|
|160||Gondola 8″, ‘N.Y.C. & H.R.R.R.|
|161||Coal Car 8″, ‘Nickel Plate Line’ & ‘NYC & St L.’|
|162||Stock Car 8″, “Eastern Live Stock Express”|
|163||Box Car 8″, ‘Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad’|
|164||Refrigerator Car 8″, ‘Refrigerator Line’ & ‘ventilated for refrigeration’|
|170||Mail Car 12″, 1 gauge ‘Black Diamond Express’|
|171||Combination car 12″, 1 gauge ‘Black Diamond Express’ & ‘Buffet’|
|172||Parlor Car 12″, 1 gauge 8 small windows ‘Black Diamond Express’ & ‘Chesapeake’|
|173||Parlor car 12″, 1 gauge 6 long windows ‘Black Diamond Express’ & ‘Naragansett’|
|180||Gondola 12″, 1 gauge ‘N.Y.C. & H.R.R.R.|
|181||Stock Car 12″, 1 gauge ‘Chesapeake & Ohio’ & ‘Horse & Cattle car’|
|182||Box Car 12″, 1 gauge ‘New York New Haven & Hartford’ & ‘Eastern Fast Freight Line’|
|183||Refrigerator Car 12″, 1 gauge ‘California Fruit Growers Express’ & ‘Combined Ventilator and Refrigerator|
|190||Caboose 12″, 1 gauge ‘Illinois Central’ & ‘Caboose’|