Arnold postwar wind-up locomotive

Nürnberg, Germany has always been a center of toy and model train production. Over seventy different companies of different sizes have operated in Nürnberg in the last one hundred years.  Most notable are LGB, Fleischmann and Trix, but one other Nürnberg model train company had a significant effect upon the model train hobby.

Founded in 1906 by Karl Arnold, this company began its life producing tin toys and related items. They produced an extensive line of model ships, doll house items and other toys.  In 1935, K. Arnold & Co. hired Max Ernst as their managing director.  Ernst, not to be confused with the German realist artist of the same name, was a significant factor in the future of Arnold.

Nürnberg was number one on the hit parade for allied bombers during World War II, and, at the end of the war, all of the Arnold Nürnberg facilities were in ruins. There were apparently three factories located in Nürnberg. Plant 1 was located at Deutschherrnstraße 47.  Plant 2 was located at Gartenstraße 17. Plant 3, whose location is not known at this writing, was presumably located nearby.  In addition, Arnold also had a facility in the Oberpfalz region of Germany. Both Plant 1 and Plant 2 were located in the heart of Nürnberg, near the major railway lines in the area. There was likely to have been collateral damage to these factories as a result.

Postwar production continued at the facility in Upper Pfalz, with the company beginning its slow recovery with the manufacture of window hardware. Karl Arnold died in 1946, and postwar operation of the company was under the direction of Ernst Arnold, (Karl’s son), and Max Ernst. The factory buildings in Nürnberg were rebuilt and the Arnold Company continued to grow.

In the postwar period, smaller model train sizes became the order of the day. In earlier times, model trains had been largely the plaything of the well to do who had enough money to live in houses large enough to support the display of the larger scales of model trains. The growth toward smaller scales had begun in the early 1900’s, with 0-Scale being the first “small” scale.  In the 1930’s, H0/00 scale became the “small” scale.  In the late 1940’s and 1950’s, TT was the “small” scale, allowing for realistic model railroad displays being situated in relatively small areas. Three companies led the TT revolution, H.P. Products of Indiana, USA , Triang of Great Britain and Rokal of West Germany. The Rokal company is detailed on other pages of this site.

But TT-Scale was not to be the smallest scale in model railroading. Led initially by Lone Star of Great Britain and Trix of Nürnberg, there was a movement toward an even smaller scale. Both companies experimented earlier with “floor toys”, unpowered model trains designed to be moved about by child power.  Lone Star dropped by the wayside after a period of time, but Trix continued experimentation and development of what would be their electric powered Minitrix product line. Arnold was to come up with a workable solution, also. The introduction of Arnold rapido was from scratch because nothing like this had been done before. Arnold was literally establishing what would become N-Scale.  This is not to say that it was the sole developer of N, but Arnold rapido was there first.

Although Karl Arnold’s son, Ernst, was involved with the company, several sources cite the presence of Max Ernst, who was Managing Director from 1935 until 1976, as being the prime mover behind this new product line. Ernst has been described as a dynamic businessman, the person most responsible for the introduction of the Arnold Rapido product line.  Much later, an Arnold Sales Manager, Ferdinand Graef, would marry Max Ernst’s daughter, Sonja, keeping the Arnold company as a family operation.  It would continue to be so until 1995.

There are several distinct phases of Arnold’s model train production. In the period of 1960 - 1962, Arnold marketed the Arnold Rapido 200 product line; this line was very crude yet it also was a sensation because of its much smaller size than TT. 

The next phase is the period of 1963 - 1967, when the rapido product line begins to swing toward scale representations of the trains.  It is during this period that the “Rapido Coupler” comes into production, beginning its widespread use by all model train manufacturers in N-Scale.  It also is during 1964 that the term “N-Scale” comes into use.

The last phase covered by these pages is 1968 - 1970, when the Arnold rapido line of trains reaches maturity. It is during this period that Arnold introduces its turntable and roundhouse.  It is also during this period that Arnold enters into a business relationship with Revell, beginning the marketing of Revell rapido model trains.  This marks the beginning of wide production of North American prototype models by Arnold.

As mentioned earlier, Max Ernst retired from Arnold in 1976.  At that point, Arnold employed perhaps 200 to 250 people, using three facilities in the Nürnberg area.  The Company continued under family control until 1995, when Arnold went into bankruptcy and was sold to the Rivarossi Group of Italy.  At that point, the Nürnberg factories were closed and production moved to a facility sited at Meisenweg 1 in Mühlhausen, Germany, a town in a province of the former East Germany. Several model railroad companies opened facilities in the former East as a result of tax incentives of the German Federal government.

Rivarossi, in turn, would also go bankrupt, leading to the sale of all assets to Hornby, of Great Britain.  At this writing, Arnold is now owned by Hornby and production has been suspended.  This is widely attributed to the fact that Hornby had purchased more than it could manage; Rivarossi production also has apparently been put on hold, too.

There is an active market for Arnold rapido on eBay.

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