Train Collectors Association National Division WEB Site

The Train Collectors Association

Western Division

TCA Western Home Page

[Home]  [Train Collecting Tips page]  [Index of Manufacturers]

Dorfan Trains

Dorfan Logo


Dorfan was an American toy company based in Newark, New Jersey, specializing Dorfan 'O' gauge #155 0-4-0 die-cast blue-green steam outline clockwork engine & 4 wheel tender Dorfan 'O' gauge #55 0-4-0 cast steam outline electric engine & 6 wheel tender. 1930 version in black with brass trim and red wheelsin 'O' gauge and Wide gauge toy trains. 'Wide gauge' is the name Dorfan used for 'Standard gauge' since 'Standard gauge' was a Lionel trademark. Dorfan was founded in 1924 by Milton and Julius Forchheimer, two immigrants from Nüremberg, Germany, whose family was involved in the production of the Fandor trains, that were distributed throughout Europe, and exported to the United States. The name 'Dorfan' was derived from the name Fandor. A Fandor engineer and former Bing designer, John C. Koerber, was recruited in 1923 to be Chief Engineer, and help get Dorfan started. The name Fandor was made from the first names of Milton's and Julius' mother's sisters, Fanny and Dora. It is widely believed that Fandor Trains was desperate to recoup market share in the United States that it lost as a result of German Manufacturers being hit with very high import tariffs after WWI. Their plan was to create a separate United States based company to manufacture trains, avoid paying tariffs, and gain back market share. 1924 was a good year to start making and selling trains - business was booming and the stock market was on a roll. Dorfan opened for business at 137 Jackson St. in Newark, N.J.

Dorfan  #154 style clockwork loco with #160 tender and 2 #470 Hamilton Coaches in 'O' gauge

Dorfan trains were promoted as being educational in that they were easy to disassemble. Dorfan actually encouraged its customers to take the trains apart and learn how they worked. They marketed the trains with enticing catalog cover banners that proclaimed "Loco Builder" Electric Trains & "Build Your Own engine!" The take apart concept was quite simple - locomotive bodies came in 2 separate die-castings. Each one was one half of the loco. The motors and moving parts fit directly inside these castings in mounts that are cut directly in the body.

Dorfan Red Flash Passenger set with #51 0-4-0 electric outline cast loco, Atlanta, Boston and Observation 4 wheel tinplate litho cars circa 1930

Dorfan 'O' gauge #53 0-4-0 electic outline loco For the first two years, Dorfan made 'O' gauge trains in clockwork and electric, as well as accessories. They referred to their 'O' gauge products in their catalogs as 'Narrow gauge'. These new trains had a distinctive outline that differentiated them from the other toy trains being made and sold during this period. The Dorfan locomotives were composed of a die-cast material, while the other manufacturers typically utilized sheet metal or cast iron in their locomotives. In the early years, some Fandor cars and parts were used in putting together the Dorfan train sets. This fact is evident in that there are versions of some 4 wheel Dorfan passenger cars, and locomotive clockwork mechanisms that are stamped 'Made in Germany'. The slot hook couplers found on the Dorfan trains are almost identical to Fandor couplers from that era. Fandor and Dorfan were cooperative corporations and the evidence can be seen in those items that Fandor supplied to Dorfan. These include all large Dorfan stations #415, #417, #418, #425, #426, and #427, their large bridge, and the six-wheel tender.

Dorfan #55 0-4-0 Locomotive, 1927 version with yellow painted trim, wheel spokes and two nickel domes and a blue 6-wheel Tender with yellow frame and Boston and Seattle coaches, Observation car in 'O' gauge

Dorfan 'O' gauge outfit #99 from 1925 with #145 clockwork loco & #355 4 wheel lithographed Pullman The clockwork powered 'O' gauge locomotive lines consisted of a Boxcab 0-4-0 electric outline #145, and 4 steam outline models #154, #155, #156 and #157. Some of these Dorfan wind-ups sold for $.98 retail. The electric 'O' gauge lineup of locomotives consisted of the #51 Steeplecab electric, #52 Steeplecab electric (same as #51 but with reversing unit), #53 St. Paul style electric, #54 Boxcab electric, #55 0-4-0 Steam outline, and the rare #770 4-4-0 steam outline. These locomotives were strong haulers and could steadily pull a train consist up a 20 degree grade without a problem.

Dorfan 'O' gauge #610 Derrick circa 1929-1930 Dorfan tinplate lithograhed #604 Indian Refining Company tank car in 'O' gauge Dorfan tinplate lithographed #605 Pensylvania RR hopper car in 'O' gauge Dorfan tinplate lithograhed #609 Lumber flat car in 'O' gauge Dorfan tinplate lithograhed #606 4 wheel caboose in 'O' gauge
Dorfan tinplate lithograhed #601 New York Central Box car in 'O' gauge Dorfan tinplate lithograhed #602 Union Pacific Box car in 'O' gauge Dorfan tinplate lithograhed #603 Pennsylvania RR Box car in 'O' gauge Dorfan tinplate lithographed #600 C.C.C.& St.L. New York Central RR coal car in 'O' gauge Dorfan tinplate lithograhed #607 Dorfan Lines caboose in 'O' gauge

Only 10 different 'O' gauge freight cars were ever produced. They were all tinplate lithographed with black underframes, and nickel or black enamel trucks. This lineup included the 8 wheeled 7½" long #600 C.C.C.& St.L. N.Y.C. tan gondola, #601 N.Y.C. yellow box car, #602 Union Pacific green box car, #603 Pennsylvania dark pink box car, #604 Indian Refining Co. red tank car, #605 P.R.R. grey hopper, #607 Dorfan Lines red caboose, #609 Lumber car, and #610 Dorfan Lines grey derrick. There was also a 4 wheel 6¼" long #606 Pennsylvania red caboose.

Dorfan #260 Passenger set with #54 0-4-0 electric outline cast loco, Seattle and Boston 8 wheel tinplate litho cars with passenger silohuettes The Dorfan lineup of 'O' gauge passenger cars consisted of 5 different 4 wheeled cars and 7 different 8 wheeled models. The 4 wheeled models were the 5" long #355 lithographed tinplate coach in orange or red, normally found with the #145 Boxcab 0-4-0 clockwork locomotive, and the 6½" long #470 lithographed Hamilton, Franklin or Washington, #495 Atlanta and Boston enameled coach, 7½" long #498 enameled Seattle and Boston Pullmans, and the 7½" long #499 enameled Observation. The 8 wheeled offerings were all enameled and consisted of the 7½" long #490 Pullman, 7½" long #491 4 door Observation, 8½" long #496 Boston & Seatle Pullmans, 8½" long #497 Observation, 9½" long #492 Baggage car, 9½" long #493 Seattle Pullman, and 9½" long #494 Observation.

Dorfan 'O' gauge Apple Green #275 Manhattan limited Passenger Set with #53 take apart die-cast locomotive, #492 baggage, #496 Boston Pullman and #494 observation circa 1929

In 1926 Dorfan introduced their first Wide gauge (2⅛") trains. The company was initially positioning itself to provide products for the lower end of the market. Lionel had been making Standard gauge since 1906. Ives had entered the marketplace with their Wide gauge offerings in 1921. Boucher converted the Voltamp trains to Standard gauge after acquisition in 1923. And American Flyer's first Wide gauge offerings came out in 1925. Dorfan #3930 Standard gauge cast crocodile electric outline 4-4-4 locomotive The first Dorfan model locomotive was of the Pennsylvania L-5 Electric #3930 4-4-4, based on the prototype that ran on the tracks close to the Dorfan factory in New Jersey. It initially sold for $20, but later versions that included a directional remote control sold for $30.75. Often referred to as a 'Crocodile' type locomotive, this was an imposing model train and could haul extremely heavy loads. It weighed 8 pounds and was 15 inches long coupler to coupler. It was a Loco-Builder model, that came unassembled.

Dorfan was the first U.S. train manufacturer to use zinc die casting methods on a large scale in its manufacturing process. Their trains were made primarily of a copper-zinc alloy termed Dorfan Alloy, which was strong and light weight. It was used in the 'O' and Wide gauge steam and electric castings, various accessories, and in the detailed Wide gauge trucks. This metal alloy was developed through a partnership between the New Jersey Zinc Company and Dorfan. Dorfan alloy was marketed as non-magnetic and unbreakable. Dorfan claimed in their catalogs that an electric motor's efficiency was reduced substantially when encased in steel, due to the magnetic induction character of the steel. They developed their alloy to get around this issue. But impurities in the alloy oxidized over time causing the metal to expand and crack. Unfortunately, being a pioneer usually has a price. Dorfan replaced the damaged parts, but at great expense. Since most Dorfan castings are now deteriorated, many collectors replace defective castings with reproductions.

Dorfan Wide gauge #806 Pennsylvania Caboose, #801 A.T.&S.F. double door boxcar and #800 N.Y.C. Gondola
Dorfan #804 tinplate lithographed Indian refining Union tank car in Wide gauge Dorfan #805 Red Litho PRR Wide gauge Hopper car Dorfan #809 tinplate lithographed lumber flat car in Wide gauge

Dorfan manufactured the only lithographed freight cars ever made in Wide gauge. There were 6 different very colorful 15½" long 8 wheeled cars - the #800 N.Y.C. tan gondola, #801 Santa Fe green box car, #804 Indian refining blue tank car, #805 P.R.R. red hopper, #806 Pennsylvania brown with blue roof caboose, and the #809 lumber car with black frame and red stakes.

Dorfan Standard gauge cast #3920 Whaleback Electric Outline locomotive with Loco-Bilder motor Dorfan came out with a second Wide Gauge locomotive in 1927. This was the #3920 'Whaleback' electric outline based on the St. Paul 0-4-0 prototype. This engine was also of the 'take-apart' style, and used the Dorfan Alloy. Early versions had axels fitted directly into the die-cast sides, but later versions utilized ball bearings. It initially sold for $15 in 1928, but by 1931, after several improvements and the addition of the directional remote control, the price was $23.25.

Dorfan Wide gauge lithographed passenger coaches #789 Mountain Brook pullman and #790 Pleasant View pullmanFor Wide gauge passenger car manufacturing, again Dorfan created lithographed products. But they were not the only company to do so. American Flyer was also known for their lithographed wide gauge passenger car production during this era. The Dorfan passenger cars were all made to a single basic design with four-door baggage and Pullmans. Each of these were 15½" long. A 14½" long observation car was also made. These 3 cars were numbered in the #700 and #900 series range, with the numbering scheme reflecting the paint colors. The majority of the passenger cars were painted enamel finish except some Pullmans were made in several different lithographed colors. Sets of these cars were often made up with no baggage or observation cars, therefore sets consisting of a locomotive with two Pullmans were not uncommon.

Dorfan Wide gauge passenger set with #773 observation, #789 Mountain Brook, #790 Pleasant View and #3920 Loco-Builder 0-4-0 electric outline

Dorfan 'O' gauge #490 lithographed pullman coach with passenger silhouettes circa 1925 Along with its idea of being a more thought provoking toy train, Dorfan placed well detailed and painted passenger busts in the passenger cars. Dorfan used lithographed and high gloss painted sheet metal for its freight and passenger car bodies and frames, oftentimes finished with hand applied decals. The trucks could either be die-cast or stamped sheet metal. Less expensive lines were lithographed stamped steel, but also had flat lithographed figures. Two of the Dorfan high end products are highly sought after and prized by collectors. One item is the #3920 crocodile style electric engine, and the second is the #70 gantry crane accessory.

Dorfan scarce #770 Steam loco and Tender circa 1930In 1930 the Dorfan catalogue advertised a new #770 4-4-0 steam outline 'O' gauge locomotive. Dorfan was not able to complete manufacture of this item. After being pressured by their dealers in order to be able to fill orders, Dorfan acquired a number of Ives #1122 steam outline locos and tenders, painted them Cardinal Red, and added Dorfan and #770 decals. Eventually Dorfan was able to produce their own #770 engines, but these are considered to be the rarest and scarcest of their 'O' gauge locomotives.

Dorfan Wide gauge version of the Ives #1134 steamer painted in green At one time Dorfan re-sold a Wide gauge steam outline locomotive that was a repainted Ives #1134 bearing Dorfan Lines decals. The company had planned introduction of its own steam outline locomotive and tender in Wide gauge, but the project never moved beyond the prototype stage. The Dorfan-lves #1134 is extremely scarce and highly sought after by collectors. Dorfan, at its peak, had about 150 employees, and offices in New Jersey, New York, San Francisco, and Bleury, Montreal, Canada, but was unable to weather the depression with its higher detail and hence more expensive trains, and ended production in 1934, although old inventory was sold at least until 1936.

Dorfan #70 electric crane sold for $19.50 Dorfan Large #427 Station circa 1930

The accessories that Dorfan produced were a mix of both US and European designs and influences. Dorfan never made any changes to the line of trackside equipment and buildings manufactured during their existence. The Dorfan stations were made of tinplate and were more representative of European ones in design. Many items were actual copies of Fandor accessories, such as the #417 station. They also produced semaphores, position light signals, bridges, a model crane, block signals, gate crossings, crossing warning posts, lamps, telephone poles, tunnels and a circuit breaker. Some of these items, like the #401 Block signal, were made of the same die-cast materials utilized in the locomotive bodies that in later years suffered from zinc pest and decay. Bridges were produced in either one, two or three span sizes. They were the steel girder type with included ramp sections. The #70 crane was rather large and was designed for use with Standard gauge trains.

Dorfan #402 Semaphore Dorfan #417 Position Signal Dorfan #421 Crossing gate Dorfan Block Signals & Automatic Circuit Breakers Dorfan #406 and #416 Railroad Crossing Signals

As a result of the decaying castings on the engines, few Dorfan locomotives survive today, making them among the rarest and most valuable of toy trains. While Dorfan engines are difficult to find in good condition, the same is not true for the cars, since they were made with tinplate. While the passenger cars have survived, they are most likely found with broken trucks, no trucks, or substituted trucks from other manufacturers due to the disintegration of the early die-cast metal used. Because the company only had a 10 year period of manufacturing, Dorfan trains are highly collectable. The Dorfan tooling was acquired by Unique Art and was used to make their 'O' gauge tinplate passenger cars in the early 1950's. Unique also issued a version of the 'O' gauge derrick crane car using the Dorfan tooling and leftover parts. T-Reproductions came into possession of some of the original Dorfan tooling in the early 2000's. They later issued a reproduction Wide gauge #3930 Crocodile locomotive (produced by Korean Brass) and a reproduction Dorfan #70 crane. After T-Reproductions went out of business, a company named Collectors Models, LLC based in Korea offered die-cast reproduction Wide gauge #3930 Dorfan 4-4-4 Electric Crocodile locos in various painted colors from acquired leftover T-Reproductions stock.

Dorfan Red Wide gauge #770 Baggage car #772 Washington Pullman and #773 Observation car

In 2004 MTH issued a reproduction Ives #1134 Wide gauge Steam locomotive Dorfan version as part of their Tinplate Traditions line. They also issued a reproduction Wide gauge Dorfan Lines five-piece train set, that included a #3930 Engine, a #770 American Railway Express car, a #771 Chicago car, a #772 Washington car, and a #773 Observation car. In 2013, Darstaed Trains announced that they would be issuing reproductions of the famous Dorfan tinplate Wide gauge line of freight cars in 'O' gauge as part of their Trains de Luxe line. Targeted delivery of these new cars was 2015, but nothing has materialized to date. A company named Collectors Models, LLC based in Korea manufactured die-cast reproduction Wide gauge #3930 Dorfan 4-4-4 Electric Crocodile locos in various painted colors.

Back To Top of Page

horizontal rule


Home ] Train Collecting Tips page ] Index of Manufacturers ]
To request more information about TCA contact any Western Division board member or send e-mail to: