Eric Lanal

Eric LaNal was the pen name of Alan Lake Rice. Dr. Rice was a professor of German language at Ursinus College, in a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rice was also a seminal figure in the development of H0 model railroading. The book “Clockwork, Steam and Electric - A History of Model Railways” [Alba Verlag, 1969, Ian Allen translation, 1972] states:

“With the advance of small gauges in the United States, Alan Lake Rice had much to do. This man was Professor of German Language at Ursinus College, Pennsylvania and can rightly acclaimed as the pioneer, in America, of very small railways that were yet true to scale. Under the anagrammatic pseudonym Eric LaNal he went for the setting of absolute standards of scale relative to gauge.....  By his many publications, wherein he originated some hefty disputes with British modelers, LaNal achieved agreement among American makers [model train manufacturers, ed.] that with a scale of 3.5mm and on a gauge of 16.5 mm, the correct definition was H0”.

The National Model Railroad Association site, listing Pioneers of Model Railroading, continues:

Rice, Allan Lake. PA. aka Eric LaNal. HO pioneer early 1930s. Promoting Hobby. Mfd. H. Owen HO kits with paper sides. Promotion. Author RMC, MR 1930s, 1960s. Pioneer in 2-rail HO.  Consultant to several mfrs (Megow, Mantua). LaNal coupler inventor. Mfd in England. Manufacturer H. Owen HO Kits early 1930s. NMRA Distinguished Service Award 1962

For example, Rice wrote an H0 Scale handbook for Mantua Metal Products in 1942, just as World War II started.  Begun several years earlier, “The Mantua H0 Handbook” helped beginning model railroaders to assemble Mantua’s model train kits, a daunting task for any beginner.  Post World War II, this book would be part of a great expansion of the model railroad hobby.

In short, Rice was influential in the early development of H0-Scale trains, but his significant role was not strictly limited to H0. In the late 1960’s, Rice translated two German language books published by Arnold.  Both “A Complete Guide for N Gauge Miniature Scale Model Railroad Layouts, (1970) and “Handbook of Practical Model Railroading”, (1971) are useful books describing not only the use of Arnold rapido products, but also proved to be generally helpful books for many early N-Scalers.  He also was the apparent translator of Arnold’s catalogs during the 1960’s and 1970’s; you can tell when his relationship with Arnold ended, for subsequent English language catalogues from Arnold have rough translations and frequent odd words.

Part of the utility of both the Arnold books and catalogues is based in Rice’s translation itself.  Here you had someone who was able to teach the German language to English language speaking students, but also someone who was conversant with model railroading itself and model railroad technology.  Truly a rare combination and truly an early pioneer of model railroading.  The results were clear to understand, which helped sell Arnold’s advanced (for its time) technology.

It has been reported that in Rice’s final years of life, he had obtained some N-Scale items.  Given his established relationship with Arnold rapido, it makes you wonder what he would have come up with next.

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