Atlas Model Railroad Company, Inc. makes scale models in N
scale, HO scale, and 'O' gauge 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
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 has 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). Freight cars were made
by Rivarossi and Roco (Austria). Some of the freight cars were painted in Yugoslavia.
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 RSC2, FM C-Liner, EMD E8, EMD
GP40, and EMD SD45. An EMD SW1500 (cow and calf) was introduced in 1971. Among the Atlas freight cars
were a 94' "whale belly" tank car with four trucks, 85' box cars, and 85' stock cars.
The early 1970's also
brought HO scale EMD Diesel
locomotives made by Roco that included a GP9, GP30, and F9A. 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 '70s Atlas locos set them apart from the competition. In 1983, Atlas offered an
Alco RS3 made by Kato (Japan). Other locomotives made by Kato would
follow throughout the 1980's.
There are now Atlas products available for almost every aspect of HO and N scale
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 is also very extensive and includes over 25 different freight car types, in more than 265
Atlas HO and N scale locomotives are noted for their prototypical, fine details, printing,
reliability, excellent throttle response, and smooth operation at slow speeds. To power layouts on which
these locomotives run, Atlas produces a variety of electrical components.
In the 1970's, Atlas entered the 'O' scale world as well, introducing a line of cars
and locomotives. Initial products were made by Roco Modellspielwaren in Austria. Market conditions
at the time caused Atlas to cease 'O' Scale production until 1997. Since then Atlas has
expanded its 'O' Scale line, offering three different types of
highly-detailed track systems and complete sets. 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.
Upon entering into the 'O' scale market, with its track system, SW8 and SW9 locos, 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 reefers based on custom scratch built models designed by 'O' scale Hall of Famer Bob Wagner. 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. In 2006 the first 'O' scale steam locomotive was released in the form of a USRA 0-6-0 Switcher with versions available for both
3 and two rail operation.
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 offers a library of layout instruction books
containing information on modeling techniques, technology, and layout designs. Atlas also offers free
computer software for download on its website, that is used for designing track plans for
layouts that use Atlas track products.
Atlas has 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 equips their high end 3 rail 'O' scale locomotives with the
Lionel® Train-Master® Command Control (TMCC) system. This permits operation
of multiple trains on the same track without the need for complex wiring, and provides 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 produces 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.
By keeping up the high standards set by Steve Schaffan over 60 years ago, Atlas
strives to remain a
leader in innovation and technology in the model railroading industry. Although
many things have changed since incorporation in 1949, Atlas follows the tradition and values of its
founders and remains a family run business. Steve Schaffan's only child, Diane, currently
serves as president and her husband, Tom Haedrich, is CEO/Chairman of the Board and oversees day-to-day company operations.
Haedrich has been involved with Atlas since 1989, holding numerous positions with the company over the years.
Tom is also an 'O' scale Hall of Fame honoree, having been inducted in Parsippany in 2012.
Link to Atlas Model Railroad Company, Inc. web site.