Bernie Paul

Bernard Paul was one of those complicated, interesting people in the model train business.  I suspect that he grew up tough in Philadelphia; his first enterprise was selling model airplane items out of the back of his mother’s candy store.  I say this with love, but Bernie was always a back room kind of guy.

At the same time, Bernie also made a significant contribution to the model railroad hobby.  His Associated Hobby Manufacturers imported a wide variety of interesting model railroad items at affordable prices. AHM started in the 1950’s, and at that time, there were plastic and metal model trains such as Athearn, and there was brass. The selection was limited because the market itself was still developing.  And, many of the most interesting items were high-priced brass imports from Japan.

Bernie, and others, started importing model trains, mostly from Europe at that time.  The domestic manufacturers were not happy with having this competition, often at a lower price.  This, from an interesting interview by the late Bruce Manson with Nat Polk:

Polk: Some of the manufacturers in the hobby industry decided that they were going to kill the importers and get them out of the H.I.A. association. So, they passed a ruling that anybody that exhibited in a trade show would have to pay $300 for each and every brand line they showed. You understand what I'm saying?

Manson: Yes, big bucks.

Polk: We had everything packaged over in Japan and Europe. All packaged under the Aristo-Craft trade name, and Bernie put it under Associated Hobby Manufacturers name. That's how those names came into being, because we couldn't pay $300 per line, since we each had 40 or 50 lines. So, if you pay $300 per line, you're out of business.

So, early on, Bernie Paul would be there shaking things up just a bit. At the same time, his low-cost approach also allowed a lot of people an entrance into the model railroad hobby.  While AHM might not have been as good quality-wise as were those nice brass models, AHM also allowed the average individual to have an interesting model railroad.

Many of the items which AHM brought in were manufactured by Rivarossi of Italy, and were often models of interesting and popular prototypes. In my personal collection, I have at least three AHM models; a Dreyfuss New York Central Hudson steam locomotive, a Pennsylvania GG-1 and a large number of AHM Minitrains.

In fact, the Minitrains, manufactured in Germany by Egger, would prove to be a significant development for the model railroad hobby.  These trains were scaled to H0, but operated on 9 mm gauge track (also used by N-Scale). This would be the starting point for the H0n 21/2 model railroad hobby. The prototypes were based on narrow-gauge industrial railroads which serviced mines, quarries, steel mills and countless other industrial facilities. Bernie provided the trains and Hayden & Frary provided Thatcher’s Inlet, a seminal model railroad.

At the same time, Bernie could and did give the other manufacturers discomfort because of his pricing.  Nor was this necessarily confined to the manufacturers, for the retail model train dealers would periodically get irritated also.  Such as when the local Woolworth was blowing out AHM trains at a substantially lower price than the same trains which they were selling at retail.

The fact of the matter is that Bernie loved booking a sale.  And whatever discomfort this caused the manufacturers and retailers, it was the end users, the model railroad hobbyist, who benefited.  To be sure, the AHM / Rivarossi locomotive mechanisms are more fragile than their brass counterparts, but there is an active secondary market for upgrade parts.

So, too, Bernie was a firm believer in the adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Or, as Herr Faller, a model train manufacturer from Germany put it: “One year, I shake hands with Bernie at the Nürnberg Toy Fair, the next year I see him selling a model of my hand.”

After a long run, AHM went into bankruptcy for reasons unknown to this author, but much of the old AHM line sprung up at the same street address as IHC, International Hobby Corporation.

The Model Railroad Industry Association had started a "Hall of Fame" in 1985. And a lot of people that had been industry leaders were installed there; people such as Max Gray, Irv Athearn and a lot of other names that you might know or might not, but ones that brought model railroading out of the basements.

And, as a reflection of that mission, MRIA decided to admit Bernard Paul to their Hall of Fame in 1997.  This was modestly controversial, about as much controversy as the model railroad industry is capable of.  Actually, there was more than a little consternation in the model railroad business; some people were chafing around the collar about it because Bernie had an, uhhhhhh, an informal attitude toward, ummmm, you know, errrr, business practices.  His business practices were often sharp. Of course, Rivarossi had a certain sense of elan toward business practices themselves, so maybe it was a marriage made in heaven. At the same time, his achievements for the model railroad hobby were substantial.

In any case, the awards ceremony was always held at the MRIA breakfast that was held during the Chicago show (at Rosemont). When it came time to give the award to Bernie, he got up and delivered one of the very best speeches I have heard in the business side of the hobby.

He talked about the early days of post-war model railroading, when brass track was a significant improvement over steel, where you had to build everything, including your locomotive. The only thing that was RTR was the transformer, and a lot of people built that, too.

He talked about the times that the "experts" had declared that model railroading was a dead hobby. Television was going to kill it. Slot cars were going to kill it. Video games were going to kill it. And on.

But he noted that we as a business, and that we as a hobby, are still here. And, yeah, something might come along to finally do us in as a hobby, but why worry
about that? He encouraged everybody just to get out there and do what we do best and things would take care of themselves.

And the model railroad business-types are all out there in the room, with breakfast forks hanging midway between our plates and our wide open mouths, marveling at his statesmanship. We're sitting there in slack-jawed awe wondering how we could have so seriously misread the man.

So I'm sorry for his family to hear that he has passed on, and I'm sorry to see the business that he built is gone, but I'm not sorry to have known him and the hobby is better off for his efforts.

And, he was right, Just keep doing what you do to the best of your ability and things will take care of themselves. Nice words for our time.

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