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Kusan Model Trains/KMT

History

Kusan '0' gauge US Army #2716 diesel locomotive with a machine gun turret from the KF-110 Atomic Train set Kusan Atomic Train #20200 US Army Command Center Caboose in 'O' gauge Kusan-Auburn was a subsidiary of Kusan Inc., an established plastics manufacturer based in Nashville, Tennessee. In the 1950's and 60's, Kusan was well known for being the first to manufacture a yo-yo/spinning top combination called the Kusan Twin Twirler. Kusan also made several other plastic toy items including toy guns, furniture, games and pull toys. Under the guidance of 41 year old President Bill McLain and co-founder Earl Horton, Kusan purchased American Model Toys/Auburn Model Trains (AMT's) tooling in 1954 and used it as a base to produce their own line of model trains. Kusan trains were unique in being able to run on either two or three rail track.

After Kusan acquired the inventories and production tools of Auburn Model Trains, the equipment was moved from Indiana to a new plant in Franklin, Tennessee, which had been especially prepared for train production. 1955 was spent on re-tooling efforts, and the development of new manufacturing processes. Design engineer George Dunbar was tasked with coming up with ideas for new items that could be mass produced at low cost that would allow Kusan to compete with the likes of Lionel and Gilbert American Flyer. Kusan's business plan to do so had three components. First they would put out a full line of 20 trains, including a deluxe 'O' gauge ¼ inch to the foot scale, also a slightly smaller medium priced "K" line that could run on 'O' gauge track, and a ⅛ inch to the foot HO gauge hobbyist train. Second, they would provide products of high quality at a competitive price. And third, they would offer brand new products, never manufactured by other brands.

Kusan Atomic Train #42010 US Army Cannon car in 'O' gauge Kusan Atomic Train #1389 US Air Force Missile flat car in 'O' gauge Kusan '0' gauge #30100 US Army reactor car with red flashing lights from the KF-110 Atomic Train Set

Kusan catalog #K-806B U.S. Army #30100 Searchlight flat car in 'O' gauge One of the new products was the Kusan KF-110 Atomic Train in 'O' gauge. It was the first toy train to have an "atomic theme."  This was Kusan's first toy train and its introduction was the subject of an article in the June 29, 1957 issue of Business Week. It was produced between 1957 and 1960. The Atomic Train was Kusan's idea of what such a product might look like if there were such a thing in the real world. The train set was intended to tap into a child's imaginiation and make them think that they could fight and win the ultimate conflict of World War III.  The company described it as "An exciting new train with extra play value in each unit." It was decorated in "realistic" military colors. The atomic train diesel locomotive was equipped with a moveable machine gun turret with adjustable guns. The train also included a power plant car simulating an "atomic reactor pile" that included 3 red lights that would blink and flash as if fissionable materials were actually burning inside. The train also had a giant "atomic cannon" which could be elevated and lowered approximately 60 degrees, and swiveled in any direction. The cannon fired small wooden missiles while the train was in motion and could also recoil during firing. Another car was a flat carrying a "Honest John" type rocket that could be removed from its cradle. Finally there was a "Fire Detection Center" caboose with a rotatable dish antenna. Plastic army men were included with the set. The set came ready to run with power supply and track included. It sold for $44.95 retail. Some of these sets were made for the Sylvania Corp., who gave them away with the purchase of a televsion set.

Kusan catalog #903 USAX #123 Dynamic Injection Compressortron drop center flatcar Kusan created many "space train" items in the late 1950's. The most notable was the KF-119 Satellite train. These trains were an attempt to reach out to a younger, changing hobbyist market that was more in tune to the events of space exploration taking place during this period. Whimsical items such as "Satellite Engines", "Dynamic Injection Compressortron Cars", "Radar Scanning Cars" and "Space Research Cars" were made. The K-901 USAX Dynamic Injection Compressortron was a depressed center flat car with a large gray contraption that used a fan motor to blow air and suspend a lightweight 'satellite' an inch above the car as it circled the track. The special effects of the satellite train were quite impressive, certainly far beyond what Lionel was offering at the time. This activity prompted Lionel to do the same with their manufacturing and marketing tactics, just as they had done with creation of their aluminum extruded passenger cars to compete with the original AMT products. In another attempt to challenge Lionel, Kusan made a smaller size two-rail, "K" series DC-powered train line, which was intended to compete with Lionel's 0-27 trains. Kusan also made its own detailed track, that had 17 ties per piece, as opposed to Lionel and other manufacturer's 3 ties per piece. And the ties were more realistic looking, as they were molded in plastic.


Kusan-Auburn Aluminum Extruded Passenger Cars Made From AMT Tooling
Kusan-Auburn catalog #1002 The Texas Special Bowie roomette Kusan-Auburn catalog #1003 The Texas Special Diner Kusan-Auburn catalog #1004 The Texas Special Crockett Vista Dome Kusan-Auburn catalog #1005 The Texas Special Sam Houston observation car
Kusan-Auburn catalog #6008 Chicago & North Western baggage car Kusan-Auburn catalog #6002 Chicago & North Western Northern Pines Roomette Kusan-Auburn catalog #6004 Chicago & North Western Northern Streams Vista Dome Kusan-Auburn catalog #6005 Chicago & North Western Northern States observation

Kusan also continued to manufacture and kept the highly detailed line of AMT created aluminum extruded passenger cars alive, using the dies it had purchased with some decorating changes. These 'O' gauge cars, originally issued in 4 styles - a Baggage, Combine, Coach and Observation, became a full range of eight car sets, with Baggage-mail, Roomette, Diner, and Dome car. Each offered in a choice of seven different Famous American Railroad names, including NYC, PRR, Southern, C&NW, Texas Special and Santa Fe Railroads.

Kusan-Auburn K-Series Alco Diesel Locomotives
Kusan KMT Catalog #3 Burlington Aloco Engine in 'O' gauge Kusan catalog #K-19S U.S. 135 Alco #21938 in 'O' gauge Kusan-Auburn 'O' gauge KF-1 M.K.T. powered A diesel #2716 Alco Engine Kusan KMT Auburn #2716 Kannon Ball Alco Locomotive Engine in 'O' gauge Kusan KMT Auburn Catalog #18 Union Pacific #1500 Alco Locomotive Engine in 'O' gauge
Kusan KMT Auburn Catalog #7 New Haven #2716 Alco Locomotive Engine in 'O' gauge Kusan-Auburn Catalog #14 Frisco #2716 Alco locomotive in 'O' gauge Kusan-Auburn catalog #12 U.S. Navy #5753 Alco locomotive in 'O' gauge Kusan KMT Auburn Catalog #5 Southern #2716 Alco Engine in 'O' gauge Kusan KMT Auburn Catalog #4 Missouri Pacific #2716 Alco Engine in 'O' gauge

In addition to producing the passenger cars and scale box cars from the AMT tooling, Kusan continued making the scale drop center flatcar, scale stock cars, refrigerator cars and scale gondola that AMT had earlier introduced. Kusan also made their own molds for producing F-7 diesel locomotives similar to the ones first produced by AMT. The difference between an AMT F-7 and a Kusan F-7 is discerned by looking at the roof line. AMT F-7's have a humped roof, whereas Kusan F-7's are straight. Kusan engines also have a "KMT" oval logo on the sides. Kusan also made new Alco diesel locomotives, boxcars, gondolas, refrigerator cars, depressed-center flatcars, flatcars, hoppers, tank cars, cabooses, the military-themed cars, and stock cars from original molds, called K-molds. They also made their own DC power supplies, and sectional three rail and two rail track with plastic ties. Kusan also put out a series of cardboard structures, billboards and signs. Kusan, like AMT, never made any steam outline or electric outline locomotives, only the diesels that were prototypical of the 1940's and 50's. In addition to already assembled freight cars, Kusan sold freight car kits.

Kusan KMT Trains Freight Cars Made from K-Molds Developed In-House
Kusan catalog #206 New Haven #34005 orange boxcar Kusan 'O' gauge #5124 Minneapolis & St. Louis Box Car BLT- 4-52 Kusan Cat. #204 Union Pacific #499087 boxcar Kusan catalog #202 Pennsylvania Railroad #29048 boxcar Kusan catalog #209 Burlington #62904 boxcar Kusan-Auburn 'O' gauge K-201 MKT boxcar #85023
Kusan catalog #602 New York Central System #18019 open top hopper Kusan catalog #604 Aluminum Ore Company #800 open top hopper Kusan catalog #610 Chicago and Eastern Illinois #97786 covered hopper Kusan catalog #611 Atlantic Coast Line #21640 covered hopper
Kusan catalog #702 E. I. DuPont De Nemours & Company #2675 tank car Kusan catalog #701 The DOW Chemical Company #610 tank car with upper platform Kusan catalog #710 Cities Service #2544 tank car with upper platform Kusan Catalog #704 Radioactive Waste X-723 tank car
Kusan catalog #460 Frisco #46250 drop center flatcar carrying two blue watertight cases Kusan-Auburn #401 'O' gauge MKT flatcar #13445 Kusan-Auburn #403 'O' gauge L&N flat car Kusan #99032 Norfolk & Western Gondola

Kusan KMT Trains Freight Cars Made Using AMT Acquired Molds and Tooling
Kusan-Auburn catalog #9001 New York Central Pacemaker #174479 boxcar Kusan-Auburn catalog #8011 New York Central System #180190 boxcar Kusan-Auburn catalog #8010 Baltimore & Ohio #465002 boxcar Kusan-Auburn catalog #9009 Central of Georgia #5753 The Right Way boxcar Kusan-Auburn catalog #8014 Chicago & North Western #7698 boxcar Kusan-Auburn catalog #9007 Rutland #100 Green Mountain Gateway boxcar Kusan-Auburn catalog #9003 Baltimore & Ohio #466096 Sentinel boxcar Kusan-Auburn catalog #8015 Soo Line #45396 boxcar Kusan-Auburn catalog #9012 Southern Pacific #121834 Overnights boxcar Kusan-Auburn catalog #8007 Canadian Pacific #2227 Spans the World boxcar Kusan-Auburn catalog #7251 Gerber Products Company #1008 refrigerator car Kusan-Auburn catalog #7150 Missouri-Kansas-Texas #47150 The Katy stock car Kusan-Auburn catalog #7152 Atlantic Coast Line #140449 stock car Kusan-Auburn catalog #7151 Chicago, Burlington & Quincy #32066 stock car Kusan-Auburn catalog #7651 Louisville & Nashville #51297 flat black gondola

During the 1956-1958 period Kusan developed new items for the line, and added innovations. This included a system called "Duo-Trac" which featured a slide switch under the Diesels, passenger cars and cabooses which allowed the equipment to be operated on either two-rail DC track, or three-rail AC track. The Texas Special, Santa Fe and Pennsylvania F-7 A units did not come with the Duo-Trac upgrade, but the Southern and Chicago & North Western AA units did. Other innovations and technical improvements included a new transformer that put out an audible buzz if a short circuit occurred, and use of snap wiring developed by the elctronics industry to eliminate the need to solder joints and wires. This snap-on wiring method had been used widely in Kusan's other manufacturing business for appliance electrical harnesses.

Kusan-Auburn F-7 Diesel Locomotives
Kusan #1733 'O' gauge F-7 Diesel Locomotive in New York Central livery Kusan-Auburn 'O' gauge catalog #F-4 #8644 F-7 Powered A unit in green Pennsylvania Railroad paint scheme Kusan-Auburn 'O' gauge catalog #F-1 #2019 F-7 Powered A unit in MKT Texas Special paint scheme Kusan-Auburn 'O' gauge catalog #F-6 #5400 Duo-Trac equipped F-7 Powered A unit in Chicago & North Western livery Kusan-Auburn 'O' gauge catalog #F-5 #6755 Duo-Trac equipped F-7 Powered & Dummy A units in Southern Railway livery Kusan-Auburn 'O' gauge catalog #F-2 Santa Fe #322 F-7 AA units Powered & Dummy

Kusan produced 'O' gauge F-7 Diesel A units in six road-names and color schemes. They were New York Central, Missouri-Kansas-Texas, Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe, Southern, Pennsylvania RR, and Chicago & North Western. These engines came with a hefty 7-pole AC/DC Pittman motor, which was rated for operation up to 25 volts. They also had neoprene "Traction Tread" rubber tires installed on all four drive wheels, thus making these engines very strong pullers.

Kusan 'O' gauge #1483 battery operated Gravy Train diesel switcher freight set

Kusan also made many special-order models and sets. A few were produced by the thousands, such as the "Gravy Train" Dog Food set, and some were one of a kind. Among these limited run orders were three 'O' gauge passenger sets for the B&O, and one each for the UP, and ACL Railroads. Set #KF-1015 was a special promotional freight set made by Kusan for the Bexel Company. It came with a specially logoed #2716 'Bexel Special' Alco, boxcar, tank car, #5066 gondola, caboose, 16 pieces of curved two-rail track and a DC power pack.

Kusan #2716 Bexel Special Alco Kusan 'O' gauge Bexel Capsules for Children boxcar Kusan Bexel #5066 gondola Kusan 'O' gauge Bexel Vitamin Syrup tank car Kusan 'O' gauge Bexel Special caboose

Kusan-Auburn Cabooses
Kusan KMT catalog #505 Southern Railway X3239 caboose in 'O' gauge Kusan catalog #503 Chicago Burlington & Quincy #13518 caboose in 'O' gauge Kusan-Auburn 'O' gauge catalog #C-24 Pennsylvania X832 caboose Kusan-Auburn 'O' gauge #x104 AT&SF caboose Kusan-Auburn 'O' gauge #x3162 Southern caboose

It was not easy for Kusan to crack the market. In the year ended Nov. 30. 1956, Kusan reported total sales of all products just over $2.6-million, about two-thirds of which came from plastic toys. The rest came from sales of plastic molded and electrical components for the appliance, automotive, and other industries, and such miscellaneous plastic items as football helmets. Kusan was a little business in what was at this time a tightly held market. Estimates of the total train market, both toy and hobby, ran anywhere from $70-million to $1OO-million at retail, with the toy end accounting for by far the biggest segment. Kusan's most formidable competitor was Lionel Corp., with reported sales that year of $23-million. Next was A.C. Gilbert Co., makers of American Flyer Trains with sales of $15-million. Due to the increased competition from Lionel, and the general decline in the train market overall, Kusan was financially forced to start phasing out the line of trains beginning in 1958. By 1961 the line ended production Kusan Electricos Trenes Mexican Nacionales De Mexico Alco Dummy A Unit completely in the United States. For a 4 year period in the 1960's the trains were made in Mexico by Plasticos Leon. Mexican produced product consisted mostly of the lower cost trains and sets that used the Kusan developed K-molds. In 1967, Andy Kriswalus purchased much of the tooling from Kusan and shortly thereafter began producing a line of rolling stock under the Kris Model Trains name. Kris Model Trains, also called KMT, only produced the box, stock, gondolas and refrigerator cars from the Kusan dies, in a very wide assortment of road names and liveries, and on many of these cars they mounted die-cast trucks made from the Kusan tooling. In 1990, after Kriswalus' death, the original tooling was sold to K-Line and Williams Electric Trains, who continued to use it to produce parts of their budget lines.

Kusan '0' gauge catalog #24 U.S. Army #9000 four-wheel General Purposes Geep switcher A relic of the Kusan era that wound up causing some controversy later on, was a small, non-prototypical (but realistic-looking enough to be convincing) general purpose (GP) type switcher. Kusan had made a version that ran from track power, and a version that used two C-cell batteries. Williams manufactured it briefly, calling their version of the small diesel the 'Mighty-Mite'. K-Line later purchased this original Kusan tooling from TMT die-cast semi truck with RMT Lionel logoed Beep Engine in 'O' gauge made from original Kusan molds Jerry Williams, but K-Line never actually used it. They later had an agreement to mold the body cab for Ready Made Toys (RMT). RMT called this item the "Beep" (for Baby Geep). RMT, a company that subcontracted for Taylor Made Trucks (TMT), had gained a license to put the Lionel logo on die-cast vehicles. In 2001, RMT used the Beep tooling to produce a Lionel-logoed mini-locomotive, which TMT placed on a freight truck. But when collectors realized the body could be removed from the semi-permanently attached chassis on the truck bed and placed on a powered Beep chassis, making a powered non-Lionel Lionel locomotive, Lionel revoked TMT's license. This RMT/TMT Beep remains the only Lionel-logoed locomotive ever produced by and marketed by someone other than Lionel.

Ready Made Toys released the Beep in a powered version, priced at $49.95 and lettered for numerous railroads, in late 2003. This product was released at a time when few brand-new locomotives retailed for less than $400 and fewer still for under $200. The Beep became very popular this time around.

If you ask a train enthusiast if they can recall anything about Kusan, they typically mention the military and space themed 'O' gauge sets. What folks seem to remember more than the colorful scale boxcars and the highly detailed aluminum passenger car sets are the sets that came with artillery pieces, satellites, and flashing red lights. Kusan/KMT trains are somewhat collectible, as the military and space era train sets sell for as much as $200 to $400 when found in excellent to like new condition with original packaging and all components. The scale box cars can be acquired anywhere from $15 to $50 depending on road name. While these trains are not as desirable as Lionel trains from the same era, they were made in far less quantities and are scarcer/harder to locate, especially in excellent or better condition. The scale like design and quality, and the ability to run them on either 2 or 3 rail track systems, makes these trains popular with 'O' scale hobbyists and operators.

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