In Context - Minitrix

To every thing there is a season

It’s hard to believe that it has been almost 40 years since Minitrix was introduced at the Nürnberg Toy Fair. Yet, at the same time, model train technology has definitely moved on. 

It is important to consider things within the limits of their time.  Consider that the first Arnold rapido locomotives of the early 1960’s only had two powered axles. And were on the crude side, too:

Things would soon get better because there was a large market developing for these small trains.  Soon enough, Arnold improved their F-unit with the able presence of Revell:

Things got better sooner also because of the presence of competition, in the form of Minitrix.  The Trix Company of the late 1960’s and the late Willy Ade left us a legacy that is incomparable in so many ways. And not just for models of North American prototypes in N-Scale. Their presence is equally significant for European prototypes, too.  But their presence was equally valuable because it offered competition to the Karl Arnold company, the developed of what would become N-Scale.

What I’m saying is that these were very fine trains in their time, and they remain fine trains today, but the market has moved on. That said, we also have to acknowledge that many of the old Minitrix items are valuable for their memory rather than for their current accuracy. And in studying these old models, we can also see the goals the model railroad manufacturers’ and limitations of their market.

As you leaf through the pages of the old catalogs, you see a lot of very familiar faces.  The ubiquitous Minitrix F-units, the Pennsylvania Railroad K-4 Pacific steam engine, the numerous freight cars. If you’ve been in the model railroad hobby for a number of years, you probably have owned some of these trains.  What Minitrix brought to the N-Scale market was a series of very robust locomotives which helped raise the bar for quality model railroad items.

It is interesting, on the other hand, that when Märklin bought Trix in 1997, the purchase did not include the tooling for these locomotives.  At that time, when word came out that a large, well established manufacturer such as Märklin had bought Trix, it might mean that these locomotives would be again manufactured.  The N-Scale enthusiasts were excited at the prospect, but it quickly became apparent that there would be no reissue of these engines.

At that time, the enthusiasts were crestfallen, but in looking at the model railroad market in 1997, the Minitrix engines, which had been designed in the 1960’s, would have been hopelessly out of date in comparison to what is currently manufactured in China. Yes, there’s not an awful lot of steam locomotives being manufactured, but it proved to be more than just a matter of redesign. It turns out that Trix, known at that time as Trix-Schuco, did not own the tooling for these locomotives in the first place.  And whoever did own the tooling was reluctant to remanufacture a dated design.

It is also interesting to compare rolling stock between the different manufacturers. Consider the various representations of the Santa Fe “Pleasure Dome” cars (#’s 500 - 505):

The Arnold North American prototype cars were “shorty’s”:

The English-made Lone Star dome was hopelessly outclassed:

In the context of the times, the Minitrix dome looked pretty good:

Now, of course, today’s passenger car models are clearly superior. Consider the N-Scale Kato dome car:

At that time, the Minitrix passenger cars looked pretty good, but the passage of time has not been kindly to them. To begin with, these cars are considered to be “14% too small”. And they do not have interior detail nor lighting. Had Trix chosen to keep up, they would have produced improved versions, but their focus became strictly on European prototypes.  By today’s standards, their European train models are excellent, they simply left the North American market to other manufacturers.

More than a few of their 1960’s designs still hold up favorably in comparison to modern manufacture. Consider the Class 110 of the 1960’s:

Yes, the newer locomotive is nicer, but the old locomotive has the look and feel of the prototype. Considered in context, the old Minitrix Class 110 still holds its own.

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