Atlas Model Railroad Company, Inc. makes scale models in N scale, HO scale, and 'O' gauge 2-rail and 3-rail under several different product brand names. An American company based out of Hillside, NJ, they produce a wide variety of locomotives, rolling stock, track, and vehicles. They are known for their flex track and codes 55 and 80 N scale, and 83 and 100 HO scale track. Atlas also makes structures and bridges. Begining in the 1960's they also made HO gauge Slot Cars for racing in 1:32 and 1:24 scale and complete Slot Car track kits.
The company was originally founded in 1924 by Stephan Schaffan Sr. (1877-1948). It began as a general machine shop in a small garage at 330 Waverly Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. Stephan Schaffan Sr. had immigrated from Czechoslovakia around the turn of the century and brought his machine and toolmaking skills with him. In 1933, after graduating first in his class from Essex County Vocational School, Stephan Schaffan Jr. (1918-1983) joined his father in the business at age 16. Atlas Tool Company became a father and son team.
Steve Jr. liked to build model airplanes as a hobby and frequently visited a local hobby shop. Being an enterprising young man, he would often ask the owner if there was anything he could do to earn some extra spending money. Tired of listening to his requests, the hobby-store owner threw some model railroad track parts his way and said, "Here, see if you can improve on this".
In those days, railroad modelers had to assemble and build everything from scratch. Stephan Jr. developed a fixture to solder model railroad turnouts together. Steve Jr. also created a "switch kit" which allowed the user to stop and start a locomotive by controlling the electrical current to the tracks. These kits sold so well, that the entire family worked on building them in the basement at night, while doing business as usual in the machine shop during the day.
Subsequently, Steve Jr. engineered the stapling of rail to fiber track, along with inventing the first practical rail joiner and pre-assembled turnouts and flexible track. All of these products, and more, helped to popularize model railroading and assisted in the creation of a mass-market hobby. The budding entrepreneur quickly outgrew the limitations of a basement and small garage operation. Realizing they could actually make a living selling track and related products, Steve and his father had the first factory built in Hillside, New Jersey at 413 Florence Avenue in 1947. On September 30th, 1949, Atlas Tool Company Inc. was officially incorporated as a New Jersey company. Over time, the tool division was finally dwarfed by the model railroad side and eventually the company changed its name to Atlas Model Railroad, also known as Atlas Model Trains.
Steve went on to be a worldwide leader and an innovator in the hobby. He created the Super-Flex® Track products, Snap-Switches®, and Custom-Line® Turnouts. Steve’s efforts in Europe, Asia and the United States brought model railroading to a new level, and hobbyists have him to thank for the reliability and durability they enjoy in the multitude of Atlas track products.
Atlas Code 100 HO track features black ties with nickel silver rail. Code 83 HO track has prototypical brown ties and nickel silver rail. Code 83 and Code 100 track can be used together with Atlas transition joiners. True-Track® is Atlas' line with true-to-prototype gray graveled roadbed. In HO, this track utilizes Code 83 track snapped into a grey base. Unlike the majority of tracks the True-Track doesn’t have to be secured, the roadbed base doesn’t have to be secured to the table or bench for a train to run properly. Code 80 N scale track has black ties and nickel silver rail. It is available in an extensive line that includes Snap-Track® and Super-Flex® Track brands. Code 55 N track is designed for the scale modeler. It has simulated brown ties and a lower rail profile than Code 80 track. There is also an N gauge True-Track® that uses a Code 65 roadbed with tie spacing matching the US prototype and simulated ballast roadbed in gray with mottled highlights and dark brown ties.
In 1985, Steve was honored posthumously for his landmark inventions by the Model Railroad Industry Association and was inducted into the Model Railroad Industry Hall of Fame in Baltimore, Maryland. In addition, Steve was nominated and entered into the National Model Railroad Association Pioneers of Model Railroading in 1995. In 2000, Stephan Jr. was given a 'Special Honor Award' and inducted into the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame.
Over time Atlas expanded their product line to include much more than just track. Atlas Tool Co. began offering a complete line of N scale trains in 1967. Early steam and Diesel models were made by Rivarossi (Italy) and Mehanotehnika (Yugoslavia). Eventually there were 11 different locomotive types produced in this first generation. Freight cars were made by Rivarossi and Roco (Austria). Some of the freight cars were painted in Yugoslavia. The Atlas 'first generation' consisted of a wide variety of body styles, a number of which had never been made before in 1:160, and a few of which have not been made since. Passenger cars were made by Rivarossi. Atlas also had a line of structure kits made by Pola (Germany) and Faller. These trains became the backbone of N Scale layouts everywhere during the late 1960's and early 1970's. Locomotives included an 0-4-0 switcher, 4-6-2 Pacific, 2-8-2 Mikado, Alco RSC-2, Fairbanks Morse C-Liner, EMD E8/E9, EMD GP40, and EMD SD45. An EMD SW1500 (cow and calf) was introduced in 1971. The initial locomotive offerings were the model of the Electro Motive Division's E8/E9 and a model of the Fairbanks-Morse's CPA-20-5 'C-Liner' with the six-wheel rear truck. They were manufactured by Rivarossi in Italy and were the beginning of what would become a fairly extensive line of locomotives from Atlas. The FM units were available in Santa Fe, Union Pacific, Milwaukee, Pennsylvania, and Southern Pacific road names. They were available as either powered or dummy units. The powered units sold for $10.98. The E8/E9 came in Santa Fe, B & O or Pennsylvania road names initially and cost $12.98. Later, Union Pacific and Chicago & North Western were added. A vertically mounted, three pole, can type motor and kingpin worm and gear drive was utilized to power both the FM 'C-Liners' and the EMD E8/E9's. But in the 'C-Liners' the motor drove the front truck while in the E8/E9 the two rear truck axles in the loco were powered. All the locomotives were lighted.
Rivarossi went on to provide 4 different steam outline engines in N scale for Atlas. Yugoslavian producer Mehanotehnika supplied 4 different N scale diesels and 1 steam outline locomotive. Atlas' 3rd N scale locomotive was the Rivarossi built Alco IHB 0-8-0's produced in early 1968. July 1968 saw the release of the Alco RSC-2's produced by Mehanotehnika. In December 1968, Atlas announced the release of the WDT industrial switcher, the USRA Pacific 4-6-2, and the Electro Motive Division's GP40. The GP40 and the WDT were manufactured by Mehanotehnika and the Pacific by Rivarossi. The March 1969 issue of Model Railroader Magazine hearalded the Atlas 0-6-0 Tank steam locos made by Mehanotehnika. September 1969 saw the release of the final Mehanotehnika built offering, the EMD SD45. Just in time for Christmas, in December 1969 Atlas released its USRA Mikado 2-8-2 steam locomotive produced by Rivarossi. In May of 1970 Atlas made available its Rivarossi built 0-4-0 steam locomotive. The Atlas EMD SW1500 Cows & Calfs issued in early 1971 were the final Rivarossi produced offering. Atlas continued importing the Rivarossi N gauge locomotives through 1977, at which point the relationship ceased.
The first generation of N scale freight cars featured 40' steel box cars with either single, double or plug doors, 50' steel double door box cars, 40' single sheathed wood box cars, 86' steel hi-cube box cars, 40' steel plug door refrigerator cars, 50' plug door mechanical refrigerator cars, 40' hinged door steel ice refrigerator cars, 40' cattle cars, 40' stock cars, 85' steel hi-cube stock cars, 40' bulkhead flat cars, depressed center flat cars with loads, piggyback flats with trailers, 40' standard flat cars, 60' bulkhead log flat cars, 50' container flat cars, auto rack cars, 40' outside braced gondolas, 40' steel gondolas, 2 bay ribside hoppers, 4 bay steel offset hoppers, 3 bay covered hoppers, center flow covered hoppers, 1 dome chemical tank cars, 3 dome tank cars, jumbo tank cars, water (vinegar) tank cars, helium tank cars, end cupola cabooses and bay window cabooses. Among the Atlas freight cars were an unusual 94' whale belly tank car with four trucks. The 'first generation' of Atlas cars ended with the release of the 94' whale belly tank cars, and the 'second generation' began with the release of the beer can tank cars, which were made by Atlas in the United States. In between generations Atlas issued N scale freight car kits for a short period of time. Four types of kits were produced. These were 40' box cars, 40' stock cars, 50' double door automobile box cars and ore cars. All were later produced ready-to-run (RTR). Exquisitely detailed limited run cars made in China for Atlas, like the 33,000 gallon tank cars, are considered to be the 'third generation' of their N product line.
In the 1970's Atlas began to offer HO scale EMD Diesel locomotives made by Roco that included GP9, GP30, SD24, SD35, GP38, GP40, FP7 and F9A equipment. To accompany these finely detailed locomotives in sets, Atlas initially included rolling stock it acquired from Athearn. Atlas eventually began the manufacture of their own freight cars at their factory in New Jersey. Alco FA1 and EMD E7A locomotives made by Roco were introduced in the late 1970's. These locos were considered to be trend-setters in the marketplace. They included scale-width hoods, flexible well detailed plastic handrails and plastic truckside frames with good depth and detail. These features of the mid 1970's Atlas locos set them apart from the competition. In 1983, Atlas offered an Alco RS-3 made by Kato (Japan). Other locomotives made by Kato would follow throughout the 1980's. These included Alco RS-11's (1985), RSD-4/5's (1985), RSD-12's (1986), Century 424 and 425 models (1986), RS-1's (1987), and the final offering of an EMD GP7 (1989). Kato entered the American HO scale diesel market under its own name in 1991 with an SD-40 release. Atlas relied on its old partner Roco of Austria for updated GP38, GP40, and FP7 offerings, plus all-new Alco S-2 (1986) and S-4 (1990) releases. The U33C/U36C was the first Atlas-built locomotive and was released in 1993. It represented modern Atlas product and followed Kato construction practices.
Over time Atlas products were produced for almost every aspect of HO and N scale model railroading. In N scale, Atlas developed a collection of 45 freight car types in more than 550 paint schemes, each with fine detailing and quality painting and printing. Atlas’ ready-to-run HO line was also very extensive and included over 25 different freight car types, in more than 265 paint schemes. Atlas HO and N scale locomotives became recognized for their prototypical, fine details, printing, reliability, excellent throttle response, and smooth operation at slow speeds. To power layouts on which these locomotives ran, Atlas produced a variety of electrical components.
In 1972 Atlas entered the 'O' scale world, introducing a line of cars and locomotives. This line launched with an F-unit, four freight cars, and a caboose for 2-rail operation. Initial products were made by Roco Modellspielwaren in Austria. The four freight cars included 40' sliding-door and plug-door boxcars, as well as a stock car and a 52' gondola. The Atlas 'O' caboose was a mid-1960's wide-vision prototype. The caboose and three 40-footers included rooftop running boards. The models rolled on plastic friction-style sideframe trucks with plastic wheels. The line’s motive power and rolling stock came fitted with non-functioning plastic knuckle couplers with a long straight pole sticking out of the bottom of the coupler’s knuckle at the shank. Those couplers came mounted on most equipment to allow operation on tight (24") curves. Though the line’s design was 2-rail, Atlas acknowledged the leader in 'O' with the statement that its 40' cars would work on O-27 curves, and the provided non-functioning couplers mated with Lionel equipment. While many of the selections in the early-1970's Atlas O-scale line featured counterparts offered by Roco in other scales, the F9A diesel was a unique tooling not duplicated elsewhere. The F9A diesel model retailed for $30 and was all-wheel powered using a 12-volt DC can motor. Road names for Atlas’ F9A included Burlington Northern (#6102), Chesapeake & Ohio (#6103), Santa Fe (#6101), and Union Pacific (#6104). The newest livery produced for this F9A was the Cascade Green Burlington Northern scheme. The appearance included the “hockey stick” early example of Burlington Northern’s 1970 debut colors. The other offerings, Chesapeake & Ohio (blue-and-yellow), Santa Fe (Passenger Warbonnet), and Union Pacific, featured older liveries dating from the 1940's. These diesel models earned the reputation of being good runners.
By 1975 the 'O' scale line had grown to include a Plymouth MDT industrial diesel switcher to accompany the F9A. Freight offerings included 5 cars and 2 cabooses. The new caboose was a 4-wheel bobber. An ore car was the only new freight offering. But Atlas did begin to offer scale wheel sets with RP25 flanges and working scale magnetic couplers. The Atlas 'O' scale train sets of the 1970s were complete offerings that provided loco, cars, and caboose, plus an oval of track, a 2 amp powerpack and wire. These F9A sets retailed for $60. The Plymouth WDT sets retailed for $45. Both came in cardboard boxes with illustrated full color lids. Unfortunately, market conditions at the time related to hobbyist's demand for HO scale products caused Atlas to cease 'O' scale production until 1997. Since then Atlas expanded its 'O' scale line substantially, offering three different types of highly-detailed track systems and complete sets.
In the early 1990's, the Atlas Tool Co. changed its name to Atlas Model Railroad Company, Inc. In 1997 Atlas O, LLC was established as a separate business entity dedicated to producing multiple lines of 'O' scale model railroad products including track, freight cars, locomotives and accessories, co-founded and led by James J. Weaver. James J. Weaver (1950 - 2011) was the executive vice-president of Atlas O, LLC, and is recognized as the co-founder, along with Tom Haedrich, of that organization. He spent 15 years with Atlas, starting in August of 1996 and he worked until the week of his passing. While Jim had been responsible for the production of all Atlas O products, his best known achievement, and the one that gave him greatest satisfaction, was the creation of the entire line of Atlas O’s 21st Century Track. In 2005 Atlas introduced its new Trainman™ collection, which included several of the classic original toolings from the 1970's, such as the 40' box cars, 40' stock cars, 52' gondola and wide vision caboose.
In 1997 Atlas re-entered into the 'O' scale market with solid nickel-silver 2 and 3-rail track systems as well as with SW8 and SW9 EMD Switcher locos that were a big hit with scale model operators. Called 'a gem' by Classic Toy Trains magazine, and 'state of the art' by O Gauge Railroading magazine, the SW-8/9 locomotives featured a die-cast chassis, truck side frames and hood, prototypically correct standard or M.U. type pilots, scale handrails and cut levers, separately applied grab irons, see-through steps and foot boards, detailed cab interior with fully painted crew figures, see-through etched metal grills, 8 wheel drive, and a dual flywheel-equipped precision can motor. The switchers were available in both 2-rail and 3-rail versions. The 3-rail SW8 and SW9 were equipped with the Dallee Electronics Big 'O' sound system and operating system. The Dallee system allowed for horn, bell, and prime mover sounds, regulated directional lighting, a selector switch for either forward-first or neutral-first operation, volume control and was fully compatible with Lionel TrainMaster Control in conventional mode. Early road names were an SW8 in NYC, with Pennsylvania and CNJ for the SW9.
Atlas was besieged with requests from hobbyists for Steam Era type freight cars. Tom Haedrich and Jim Weaver were looking for the right car, not previously produced, which would best suit the 'O' scale market. Atlas’ desire to give the 'O' Scale market a car that would rival the brass markets for their quality and detail, and paint schemes that had never been even attempted in the other scales, led to the development of 40' Wood Sided reefers based on custom scratch built models designed by 'O' scale Hall of Famer Bob Wagner (1912 - 1999). With the use of actual blue prints and colorized photos that Bob Wagner had taken and painted himself, and using the 42 hand-painted reefers that Bob had built, Atlas had the details they needed to produce the perfect car they were looking for. Atlas management saw the opportunity to build exact replicas of the cars that were the most colorful freight ever manufactured, and which had enriched this era of railroading. Through Atlas, the work of a talented and wonderful man, Bob Wagner, lives on.
Early prototypical refrigerator cars were built making extensive use of wood. The natural insulating properties of wood made it an excellent material for refrigerator car construction. However, wood or wood sided cars required higher maintenance than all steel cars. As better insulating materials became available in the 1930's car builders began to construct refrigerator cars with all steel exteriors. Intermountain was one of the first to produce 'O' scale plastic models of 40' steel sided ice bunker refrigerator cars. Atlas acquired the tooling from Intermountain and released their first steel side reefers in 2003. Like all cars from this tooling they have Murphy rectangular panel roofs and 4/4 dreadnought ends. The detail parts on the Atlas cars are less fragile than the earlier Intermountain, Red Caboose or K-line versions yet are still quite delicate. While some early versions are on the light side the 3-rail Atlas cars weigh 19½ ounces.
Also in 2006 Atlas released a model RR Signal System in HO & N scales. Atlas’ signal systems allow modelers to add one, or a series of interlocking signals to their layouts, which turn red, green and yellow to mimic real railroad traffic control.
To complement its train products, Atlas offered a library of layout instruction books containing information on modeling techniques, technology, and layout designs. Atlas also offered free computer software for download on its website, that is used for designing track plans for layouts that use Atlas track products.
Atlas partnered with QSI Industries, Inc., of Beaverton, Oregon, a manufacturer of model train sound technology to equip their high end HO locomotive products with the QSI® Quantum System™. Atlas equipped their high end 3-rail 'O' scale locomotives with the Lionel® Train-Master® Command Control (TMCC) system. This permitted operation of multiple trains on the same track without the need for complex wiring, and provided realistic digitized sounds including horn, bell, diesel-roar sounds, braking and Crew Talk.
In 2007 Atlas O, LLC, purchased the 'O' scale assets of Industrial Rail™, formerly owned by Hobbico. The rolling stock line included freight cars, a trolley and handcar. Before Hobbico, Industrial Rail™ was owned by its creator, United Model Distributors. United Model Distributors (UMD) had first introduced their Industrial Rail products in 1998. The trains they produced were O27 gauge value priced and affordable rolling stock featuring multiple road numbers, modern road names, die cast metal trucks and wheels, operating couplers and accurately painted color schemes. The quality and value of Industrial Rail trains helped to spark the creation of other popular O27 products such as K-Lines's Train 19 and MTH's Rugged Rails. It also pushed Lionel into taking a second look at the quality of their own 027 offerings at the time.
On March 1, 2011 Atlas Model Railroad Co. Inc. announced that it had purchased all rolling stock assets, including molds, inventory and other items of Branchline Trains Inc., of East Hartford, CT. Branchline Trains began producing the HO Blueprint Series of freight car kits, passenger car kits detail parts, and Yardmaster freight car kits in 1998. 2011 also saw the induction of James J. Weaver into the 'O' Scale Hall of Fame.
Atlas also produced injection-molded ready to run 1:87 scale plastic models of Ford protoype automobiles and trucks.
Atlas was originally two companies - Atlas Model Railroad Co. Inc., which included all HO & N Scale products, and Atlas O, LLC, encompassing 'O' Scale and traditional O-27 products. In late 2011 it was announced that Atlas O, LLC was merged with Atlas Model Railroad Co., Inc. making Atlas O a wholly owned subsidiary of Atlas Model Railroad Co. Inc. On January 26, 2012 it was announced that Atlas Model Railroad Co., Inc. had purchased all 'O' scale structure tooling, as well as existing 'O' scale structure inventory, from Wm. K. Walthers, Inc. and the structures were made available from Atlas under the Atlas O product brand.
Atlas states that its primary mission is to produce and offer to the public, multiple scale lines of high quality, model railroad products based on prototype information. Atlas products include a Traditional Sized Line, a high-end Master Line™ and mid-level, affordable Trainman™ line in 'O', HO and N gauges. Atlas’ philosophy is based on a dedicated commitment to prototype research, design and construction. The desired and demanded goal is to create, market and distribute durable operational scale models utilizing the full range of exacting detail which accurately depicts life-sized objects, while providing exceptional service to customers. There is a wealth of on-line content relating to the Atlas range, including a YouTube channel offering many videos of their products in action, as well as a downloadable layout planning program.
By keeping up the high standards set by Steve Schaffan many years ago, Atlas strived to remain a leader in innovation and technology in the model railroading industry. Although many things have changed since incorporation in 1949, Atlas followed the tradition and values of its founders and remained a family run business. Steve Schaffan's only child, Diane, served as president and her husband, Tom Haedrich, was CEO/Chairman of the Board and oversaw day-to-day company operations through 2013. Haedrich had been involved with Atlas since 1989, holding numerous positions with the company over the years. Tom was also an 'O' scale Hall of Fame honoree, having been inducted in Parsippany in 2012. Paul Graf was named as the new chief executive officer, while Jarrett Schaffan Haedrich, great-grandson of Atlas founder Stephan J. Schaffan Sr., was promoted from vice president of marketing to chief operating officer.
On January 6, 2016 it was announced by CEO Paul Graf that Atlas Model Railroad Co. Inc., had acquired BLMA Models Inc., of Fullerton, California. Founded in 2000, by Craig Martyn, BLMA manufactured HO, N, and Z scale rolling stock and accessories. Upon completion of the acquisition, Atlas would own and release all current tooling, inventory, and would continue with production plans outlined by BLMA, prior to the sale. The BLMA HO and N rolling stock would be absorbed into the Atlas Master line of products. These models included the N scale GSC 60’ Flat car, N scale ACF 52’ Gondola, N scale Trinity 31K Crude Oil Tank cars, HO & N Trinity 5660 Covered Hoppers, HO & N Trinity 64’ Modern Tropicana Reefers, and HO & N Bx-166 60’ BNSF Box cars. Also in 2016, Atlas picked up and started manufacturing the Weaver 20' container loads in Evergreen, MOL, K-Line, and Hanjin markings when Weaver announced the closing of their manufacturing business. Atlas also acquired and planned to release 'O' scale RS-11 diesels, the Weaver troop cars and the B&O wagon top box car.
By 2018 Atlas was issuing state-of-the-art operating scale models. The year's highlight was the announced release of a new 'O' gauge VO-1000 locomotive produced in China using acquired Weaver tooling for the first time by Atlas. This hi-tech Master line product featured a slew of modern capabilities, including directional LED lighting, operating electro-couplers, EOB™ speed control technology, an operating diesel exhaust unit, and Lionel® TrainMaster® Command Control featuring RailSounds™ digital sound system. The sound system on this locomotive consisted of over 20 sound effects, including engine start-up and shutdown, prime mover sounds through all eight notches, bell, air horn, air compressor, dynamic brakes and more. There were 16 user-selectable horns, 2 user-selectable bells, and 2 user-selectable synchronized brake squeals. Manual and automatic notching modes with the ability to change modes on the fly were provided for true operating realism. Other features included a detailed cab interior, die cast chassis, trucks and pilots, metal handrails, prototypical exhaust stack configurations, dual motors with flywheels, and accurate painting and lettering. This model was based on the Baldwin VO-1000 prototype which was a diesel-electric locomotive (switcher) built by Baldwin Locomotive Works between January 1939 and December 1946. 548 examples of this model were built for American railroads, including examples for the Army and Navy. Between June and August 1945 Baldwin supplied 30 VO-1000 road locomotives with 8-cylinder VO engines for export to the Soviet Union.
While Atlas trains have been enjoyed over the years by millions of hobbyists, whether the Atlas trains are collectable valuables or not is up for debate. The first generation of N scale trains issued in the 1960's are sought after because of their age appeal, but they are quite commonly found at swap meets, flea markets and on the Internet, and the prices to assemble an entire catalogue or set would not cause anyone to go broke. The initial 'O' scale offerings from 1972-75 are commonly found, many still in their original set boxes, so there is typically not much value, but there is interest from die-hard hobbists. Of course, any model that is discontinued after a limited run has a value that would be determined by its scarcity, and desireability.