Seki was a model train manufacturer that got their start prior to WWII in Japan. They manufactured trains for export all over the world under the names Bryant, Oxil,
Stronlite, Stalwart House, Standard Railway, and Maraklin. Seki made track, trains, signals, accessories, and other tinplate toys. Seki ceased operations during the war.
What happened after the war is uncertain, but many believe that they re-emerged as Sakai Seisakusho Ltd. as the trains manufactured by that company were very similar
to the pre-war trains made by Seki. During the post-war occupation period, many American soldiers stationed in Japan purchased the low cost train sets manufactured by
Sakai, and brought them home to their families in the U.S. The company competed primarily with Marx in the U.S., offering some interesting variants
on Marx as well as low-end Lionel and American Flyer 'O' gauge train sets. Seki and Sakai badge-engineered their trains for many different countries,
for example the Stronlite brand was created specifically for the UK market in the 1930's, Bryant was targeted at the European Continental market, the Maraklin brand was
for the Australian market, and the Stalwart House brand was used for train sets sold through Macy's Department Store in the United States in the 1950's.
The pre-war Seki offerings were in 'O' gauge and were mostly copies of other manufacturer's trains. One item was a passenger coach that resembled an early
Lionel #610 coach with arch windows. The Seki version was lithographed in green. The couplers utilized were close copies of
Märklin's standard European-type couplings. Other similarities have appeared in pre-WWII Seki tinplate, such as cars with older-style
Lionel-style tinplate trucks, Ives-type truck journals, and the Märklin-type couplers. Seki produced a detailed 'O' gauge 4-6-4 Electric outline
loco that came in a passenger set with 3 cars and in a freight set that included an oil tanker and caboose. They also produced a die-cast
'O' gauge steam locomotive in 2-6-2, 2-6-0 and 2-4-0 wheel arrangements.
In the 1930's Seki supplied the UK market with a range of 'O' gauge products under the name 'Stronlite'. Amongst these were a set of printed tinplate
copies of the Leed's LMS coaches and the 4-4-2 loco that pulled the passenger set was a copy of the Milbro 4-4-2 Tank locomotive. An 0-4-0 Tank locomotive copy of
the Leeds 0-4-0 Saddle Tank locos was reproduced by Seki and sold in sets with either 2 painted tin passenger cars or three open wagons. Sets were labeled for
either the LNER, LMS, GWR or Southern liveries. Some sets were also sold under the name Oxil. The Seki Tank loco copies are identifiable by a heightened toolbox in the casting.
This heightening was done to accomodate fitting the larger Seki/Stronlite/Oxil electric motor into the chasis. Another distinguishing identifier is the way the
Seki models employed the drive gear as part of the wheel flanges, plus the wheels are also much more coarse scale than those used on the Leeds locomotives. Other
Leeds items copied by Seki/Stronlite included the LMC GW Siphon G wagon, LNER Corridor Coach and LNER Corridor Brake Composite wagon.
Seki Trains Made For The British Market Under the Name Stronlite
In order to reconstruct the economy of Japan, many toy manufacturers and model makers produced products for export to the U.S. after the war ended.
When Sakai re-entered the U.S. market after World War II, they made 'O' gauge trains that were nearly identical copies
of Marx designs. To add further insult, from 1946 to 1969 Sakai sometimes undercut Marx's prices. In addition to producing tinplate and die-cast toys, the company
also made tinplate boats with electric outboard motors. The Sakai 1948 catalog pictured an electric outline locomotive in kit form, a set of MU cars, the 2-6-2 steam loco
and tinplate passenger cars. The early post-war equipment was made of stamped and painted steel, similar to the pre-war offerings. But eventually over time thinner sheet
metal with lithography, and eventually plastic materials found their way into the line. Surprisingly to many collectors, the detail and almost scale-like quality of
some of the Seki and Sakai electric outline locomotives produced in 'O' gauge made them very appealing to acquire. The EB58 was one of these low cost but well designed
In the post-war era the steam locomotive produced by Sakai was a 2-6-2 configuration, numbered 301. This engine became the flagship presence
in the Sakai line for
many years. It is believed to have been the largest volume export item provided to the U.S. market. Early versions were die-cast while later versions were plasti-cast
using low density styrene resin. An automatic reversing device was standard in these locos. The Sakai automatic reversing device broke the field of the motor by
driving a ratchet, similar to a Lionel E-unit. However, the shift of the reversing device was only forward and reverse, unlike Lionel's 3 position device with a neutral.
One early version of the Sakai steam locomotive was a bullet-nosed streamliner painted blue, and packaged with a set of
four blue painted tinplate passenger coaches. Seki/Sakai was one of the first Japanese manufacturers to utilize the die-casting process in model train making. Both
the early and later tenders were made of tinplate. The die-cast Sakai #301 locomotive looked similar to a Lionel #675 but shrunk down to about the size of a Marx #999.
It’s about 2½ inches too short to be a 1:64 scale model of the Pennsylvania K5, though its height and width are about right, but it looked more detailed and costly
than anything Marx made in its price range. It also ran really well, as long as the reverse unit was kept clean. The pressed tinplate tender closely resembled the Marx
tender it directly competed with, but there were subtle differences. The most noticeable difference is that Marx’s tender was
slightly wedge-shaped, while the Sakai tender was squared off. Marx’s design disguised the differences across its product lines, and Sakai had no reason to do that.
In later years the steam locomotive was normally packaged in a freight set that included a tender, an American-style box car in
NYC red over grey colors numbered 1744520, a grey gondola numbered 1530000, and a caboose numbered 201570. All cars were lettered Hudson & Pacific, except for a
yellow Pegasus tank car which was numbered 752. The freight cars were made of lithographed sheet metal with stamped steel operating knuckle couplers. A considerable
number of these sets were sold mainly in department stores in Japan. There have been a few variations to the #301 steam freight set discovered. Unlike U.S.-made trains
that often had real brand names on them, Sakai used the name of a fictional railroad. The earliest sets were marked Hutton & Pacific on the loco's tender and cars.
They intended to label them Hudson & Pacific. The mistake was caught quickly and the lettering was changed to Hudson & Pacific on later sets. Other than the name change
on the cars, the early and later sets were the same, both having stamped steel couplers. The Hutton & Pacific version is very desirable to the Sakai collector, but
tese sets are extremely hard to find. A third version of this set was the same as the second version, except it had die-cast trucks, couplers and wheels.
This version is also very hard to acquire.
Sakai’s rolling stock was a near-exact copy of Marx’s 3/16 tin lithographed trains if they were placed on Lionel-sized trucks with a Lionel-compatible knuckle
coupler made of sheet metal. As mentioned, the later trains were labeled Hudson & Pacific on the tender, box car, caboose, and gondola. The paint scheme and lettering
closely resembled Marx’s New York Central-inspired cars of the early post-war era. Sakai supplied a tank car lettered Pegasus, likely taking a cue from Mobil
Oil, whose trademark was a red Pegasus in flight. The paint scheme and overall layout closely resembled the yellow Shell-lettered tank car that Marx sold in the early
post-war era. In the post-war era Sakai also issued two F-type diesel A unit sets featuring the same freight cars included with the steam engine sets. One diesel set featured a
Hudson & Pacific labeled loco and the other a silver, red and grey loco lettered for the Canadian Pacific Railway. These diesels are quite rare today and are highly
sought after by collectors.
Sakai made and sold O-27 track that looked just like contemporary Marx or Lionel track, except the ties were located farther back from the
end and the ties were not painted or blackened. Sakai’s switches have similar internal components to the Marx #1590, although the controller is wired in a different way.
A Marx or Atlas #56 controller can be utilized with these switches if the original controller is missing, or if a conversion to make them non-derailing
is desired. The same instructions for Marx switches can be used to accomplish this conversion. Sakai’s switches are designed to operate with either Marx or Lionel
trains and track.
Sakai also made HO trains that operated on 14 volts AC but on two rail track. They produced an American type HO 2-6-2 steam outline loco that was virtually
a miniaturized version of their 'O' gauge model, but die-cast instead of made of tinplate. The steam loco was initially labeled for the Hudson & Pacific fictious
road, but eventually it was marked for the Baltimore & Ohio, and given the number 327. HO scale die-cast diesels were also produced.
HO trains became the primary product exported to the U.S. in the 1960's and 'O' gauge production became the focus of domestic sales.
The Sakai HO train locomotives were designed to pull 4 cars weighing a maximum of 17 ounces. This was the limit since the engines were die-cast, and had die-cast
trucks, which added a great deal of weight. Locos typically weighed around 20 ounces (1.4 pounds). The cast wheel frames and die-cast body did provide a greater
deal of traction however, and the locos were fitted with a substantial electric motor. The Sakai HO freight cars were equipped with scale-proportioned flanged
Bettendorf style trucks and wheel sets that were designed to run on true HO scale track, rather than the taller tinplate track found in more toy-like plastic HO
train sets of that era.
The first HO sets produced featured cars that were made entirely of tin printed sheet metal. The later HO scale box cars and reefers were made
of a combination of tinplate sides with plastic roofs and floors. Handrails were metal, but decorative
ladders were plastic. Later hoppers consisted of detailed plastic shells with simulated coal loads mounted onto cast metal frames.
Later cabooses were plastic shells with die-cast frames and the handrails and ladders on the deck were pressed on steel plates. Sakai also produced
an HO scale Varney-type 0-4-0T Dockside switcher with valve gear. The identifier is a cast F in the oval
builder's plate on the side of the smokebox. These locos sell in the $125-$150 range today. Sakai produced an HO passenger trolley with dual overhead poles
that was sold in the U.S. under the GHC brand. The HO track included in sets consisted of brass rails and plastic sleepers. The track bears no markings to
indicate the manufacturer. It is beleived that Sakai OEM'd their track to other companies that also sold HO model train products and sets in the U.S. The Sakai
track is similar to the products made by Shinohara and Atlas during this period. A power pack that bore the Sakai logo was included in
sets. It was labeled as a Model 12 and featured 16 volt DC output for the trains and 16 volt AC output for accessories, as well as a forward and reverse switch.
The Sakai/Sakai Seisakusho/Sakai Seisakusho Ltd. Tokyo, Japan trademark was the company name "Sakai" placed within a diamond shape
with concave sides formed from what appears to be four swords. The nearly identical logo had the company name replaced with the letters "SS". There is little collector
interest in Sakai trains today, possibly because of difficulty identifying the equipment and because the brand is much less widely known than its U.S. counterparts.
However, the trains made by Seki in the 1930's do have a following with a small group of collectors. Sakai trains are often referred to as Japanese Marx,
because of their close resemblence and similarities to the American made Marx trains. Exactly what became of Sakai is unknown.
Sakai HO Gauge Trains