Custom Brass – the first Importer



Front page of the NJ/Custom Brass catalog.

The most prolific producer of brass items for the Maine On2 modeller has been the Custom Brass line of SR&RL items produced by NJ International. The items were imported into the USA at four different times from builders in Japan and Korea, and covered locomotives, passenger coaching stock and caboose’s. The items are regularly available second-hand via private sales, dealers and eBay, and even today (in 2016) can be acquired in “mint condition”, ie not run or “test run only” in the original gold lacquer finish. In addition, Custom Brass also produced wooden kits for a SR&RL boxcar and turntable.

More pages from the NJ/Custom Brass catalog;-




In a posting to the On2 Yahoo group, Tony Koester noted that the N.J. in N.J. International stood for “Nick (Riess?) and Jack (LaRusa),” the two partners in N.J. International. They both lived on Long Island, not in New Jersey. I am not sure of the spelling of Nick’s last name, but it was pronounced “Reese”.

Tony continued;- when I was editing Railroad Model Craftsman in the 1970s, Wayne Daniels was our advertising manager, and he was and still is a big two-footer fan. Wayne had several NJI On2 models on his credenza, and I suspect he and Jack (more so than Nick) collaborated on this in some way. This was a common practise. Jack may indeed have realized that the limited run of brass models made it feasible to make money on a narrow-interest field (pun intended) like On2.

Jace Kahn writes;- I think Tony Koester is probably correct that his colleague was able to persuade one of the CBR partners to test the market for On2. There were a few specialty basement manufacturers of On2 before 1970, but it was still very much a scratch-builder’s niche.

The first Custom Brass items, the loco #6, caboose, and passenger set, which arrived in 1974/5/6, all came from a smaller builder in Japan calling itself Orion (they also built some of the NWSL brass for Raoul Martin).

By the early 1970’s, Japanese model builders had pretty well reached their capacity, and most, such as KTM were fully committed to the major importers, such as PFM and US Hobbies and Balboa/Westside, and the rising standard of living there and the exchange rate between the dollar and the yen began to really price brass models out of mass-market pocketbook.   

Later entrants, such as NWSL and NJI/CBR had to scramble to find other builders who could still produce the requisite quality at an affordable price, such as Orion. Both Raoul Martin and the NJI/CBR partners had to hunt for builders because they came on the scene after the boom times. Related to this both were among the earliest importers to try to move production to Korea; later CBR imports were mostly by Lhee Do , including the three prairies (each a bit better than the previous one, the long cabooses, and the Eustis locomotives.

What is not commonly known is that originally Raoul Martin of NWSL had plans to import both SR&RL #24 and the “Rangeley”, but nothing came of that until CBR did the #24 and Car Works–much later–did the Rangeley along with other On2 passenger stock.

The SR&RL #6 listed for around $250 – 300 in the mid-1970’s, which was NOT a bargain: it was sort of in-between the price of most HO brass locomotives at the time and comparable O scale brass. As far as I can recall, the Korean made #24 listed at $425 ca. 1983; I think the previous two Prairies (#16 and #18) also made in Korea sold for around $350.

 Chronological order of Custom Brass imports

 Based on the original list “BRASS MODELS IN On2” put together by Walter Orloff & Terry Smith in 2004, and updated Terry Smith in 2013.




Original Retail Price

Brass Guide Number













Loco 0-4-4T





















Loco 2-6-2







Loco 2-6-2







Loco 2-6-2







Loco 0-4-4T







Loco 0-4-4T







Loco 0-4-4T













 Brass Guide number;-

 A selection of adverts and announcements.

The first news that an importer was working in On2 surfaced at the 1974 NMRA Convention when a pilot model of a Portland Forney in On2 was shown and reported in the July 1974 edition of Finelines magazine (the predecessor of the NG&SL Gazette).

There were two adverts featuring this locomotive in the September 1974 edition of Finelines. The second, in page order, was from Custom Brass themselves and announced both the SR&RL #6 and the range of other items to follow to complement the loco;-


The first advert, in page order, was from The Hobby Barn, run by Pauline & Bob Werner who announced that they were now accepting reservations for the loco, and also listed a pretty complete set of major items that impatient persons could order to build their own loco, which incidentally included a number of their own castings released under their Portland Products banner;-


The November 1974 edition of Finelines magazine carried this advert for the SR&RL Caboose #556;-



It would appear that the schedules suggested were a little optimistic, as the first report of the production locomotives being seen was in the September/October 1975 edition of the NG&SL Gazette, and the narrative stated that the passenger cars would be delayed until 1976.

Custom Brass had posted the following advert in the July/August 1975 edition of the NG&SL Gazette;-


This advert was followed closely by this announcement of the wooden boxcar kit in the September/October 1975 edition of the NG&SL Gazette, which also gave advance notice of the turntable.


The wooden turntable kit was announced in the January/February 1976 issue of the NG&SL Gazette.


SR&RL Coaches 19/20 were announced in the March/April 1976 issue of the NG&SL Gazette.


Followed by Combine 15 in the July/August 1977 edition.


This was placed in the March/April 1978 edition of the NG&SL Gazette announcing the impending arrival of Baggage Car #8.


This was placed in the March/April 1979 edition of the NG&SL Gazette announcing the intention to build models of SR&RL #16 & #18.

cbad01 (612x800)


This was placed in the November/December 1979 edition of the NG&SL Gazette announcing the models arrival.

cbad02 (613x800)


This was placed in the November/December 1982 edition of the NG&SL Gazette showing the pilot model of SR&RL #24.


The advert below was placed in the July/August 1983 edition of the NG&SL Gazette announcing the intention to build models of SR&RL #20, #21 & #22.

cbad06 (800x285)

In the January/February 1984 and repeated in the May/June and July/August editions of the NG&SL Gazette the advert had changed to offering models of SR&RL #20 & #21, followed by #17 & #22. When the models finally arrived in 1985, no model of #17 was imported.

cbad05 (800x284)

The last model imported by Custom Brass was the SR&RL Caboose #551, but was announced by this advert placed in  September/October 1982 edition of the NG&SL Gazette;-



Updated 23-08-2015, text revised (2x) with additional pictures 29-06-2016.

Track gauges – On2

In this post we show some of the commercially produced gauges available at various times.

Simpson roller track gauge.

Russ Simpson produced these gauges to suit variety of rail sizes (eg codes 55, 70, 83 & 100). They were first announced in July 1977 and were available direct and from suppliers such as Coronado Scale Models, Caboose Hobbies and BK Enterprises.



Portland Products NMRA style gauge.

Bob Werner produced this style gauge back in the mid 1990’s, and examples may turn up on eBay. One was offered as recently as mid-June 2016.




We know that SRE produced a cast brass three point gauge way back in 1970’s but we don’t have a picture or two – can you help?

On2 Yahoo group member John Rogers also produced a three point gauge in the late 2000’s to early 2010’s, but again we don’t have a picture or two – can you help?

Revised 02-07-2016.

Temporary Post: The Beeches Light Railway Carrabasset Parlor Car

This post is temporary to support a thread on the Maine On2 Yahoo! group. It does not form part of the Maine On2 FAQ’s, but is posted here for convenience.

Terry Smith writes: “we’ve just got back from our first caravan trip this year – to our favourite site in Wales – up in the hills near Tan Y Bwlch on the other side of the valley. So I’ve now seen the Beeches Light Railway’s Carrabasset Parlor Car on a daily (or more frequent) basis – it seems that it never moved for the whole week that we were passing by – it was stuck at Boston Lodge on the track leading to the passenger equipment storage sheds nearest to the sea. It was pretty visible, but very awkwardly placed for decent photographs. I did not want to trespass or climb over sea walls for better pictures.”


General view of the Festiniog Railway’s Boston Lodge Works with the Carrabasset Parlor Car.


Just in case there happens to be a question about the location…….



Close – up view.

Update: 18 – May – 2016: while Carrabasset appeared to be stationary throughout my sojourn in the neighbourhood, it has been put to use at other times as on trips such as the Snowdonian and the Afternoon tea party. Click on the blue words to see the Festiniog Facebook pages showing these events.

Click here to visit the Wikipedia page for the Beeches Light Railway.

Click here for more pictures of the Carrabasset Parlor Car.

Update: 01-07-2016: for additional views of this car on another modellers’ site click here.

On2 Mounted Wheel Standards

In the following table, we show three different wheel standards compared to prototype dimensions derived from measurements of photographs and also a sample of measurements taken from commercial wheelsets. The ¼AAR for Two Foot Gauge – 1966 and the NMRA – 1974 Standards are included for historical purposes, as they reflect the standards in place when many of the brass locomotives and rolling stock were first produced.

Experience has shown that the back to back measurement of the wheels is most critical single dimension that affects the running of On2 trains through pointwork, and paradoxically this is also the dimension which is most likely to vary outside the control limits of the various specifications.

The table can be enlarged by clicking on it.

On2 wheel standards 2016-01


1/. Scaled from known object placed on central plane of wheelset.

2/. Scaled from track gauge with allowance for perspective.

3/. Measurements based on set of 4 wheelsets bought in the mid 1990’s. Measurement accuracy estimated at +/- .002 inches.

5/. By calculation.

7/. Back to back variation in a wheelset: three wheelsets had no measurable variation, one had .006” variation. This wheelset showed wobble on the insulated wheel.

8/. Back to back variation in a wheelset: all four wheelsets showed variations ranging from .002” to .005”. Three wheelsets showed wobble on the insulated wheel, one on the un-insulated wheelset.

9/. Back to back variation in a wheelset: one wheelset had no measurable variation, three wheelsets showed variations ranging from .002” to .003” and wobbled. Larger variations in measurement between set of four wheelsets, as expected by use of injection moulded axle with double shoulders. (Range of .018” versus .010” for NWSL and Portland Products).

10/. Back to back variation in a wheelset: wheelsets showed variations ranging from .003” to .024” and wobbled. Larger variations in measurement between set of four wheelsets, as expected by use of injection moulded axle with double shoulders. (Range of .027” versus .010” for NWSL and Portland Products).

Grandt Line Wheelsets.

The original Grandt Line On2 wheelsets consisted of metal rims with cast plastic centres featuring ribs on the back of the wheel and a moulded half axle outer profile with a steel functioning axle.

A later version was produced using the metal rims and cast centre only with a moulded plastic functioning axle. This combination can give problems with true running of the wheels, and most serious operators at the time chose to upgrade to NWSL wheelsets.

Grandt followed suit and supplied their freight truck with NWSL wheelsets. More recently Grandt has chosen to supply their freight truck without wheels.

Sample locomotive back to back wheel dimensions.

The following data was provided by Terry Smith from his own locomotives;-

Portland Products, F&M #1, from the front;-   .422 – .426 – .430 – .432

Putnam & Stowe, SR #2,     .417″

The Car Works, WW&FR #7, from the front;-   .417 – .4145 – .4205 – .4105 – .4105

The Car Works, B&SR #6, from the front;-   .410 – .412 – .4165 – .4115 – .4115

The Car Works, B&SR #7, from the front;-   .4025 – .4175 – .4135 – .408 – .4135

The Car Works, B&SR #8, from the front;-   .415 – .4165 – .422 – .413 – .413

Custom Brass, SR&RL #6 (1) , from the front;-   .4195 – .425 – .418 – .4165

Custom Brass, SR&RL #6 (2) , from the front;-   .420 – .421 – .421 – .419

Custom Brass, SR&RL #6 (3) , from the front;-   .424 – .421 – .415 – .4155

Custom Brass, SR&RL #6 (4) , from the front;-   .421 – .426 – .416 – .4155

Custom Brass, SR&RL #24,   .413″


Is “On2” P48, Proto 48 or Finescale? No, not according to current NMRA definitions or Standards. Click here for more details.

Updated 22 – May – 2016 and 28 – May – 2016

Yikes! …we are three!

Is it really three years since we made our first tentative public disclosures of this blog?.

Yikes! ……….They say that time flies when you are enjoying yourself – or is it because as you get older your perception of elapsed time changes and that you have many more distractions?

Update added 03 – April -2016;-

The anniversary post has previously contained a quick review of the past year – this year the anniversary seemed to come round a lot quicker than previous years (hence the Yikes!), and then other circumstances conspired to prevent me posting the review portion on the anniversary – but here goes.

Around 20 posts/topics have been added in the last year, split fairly equally between Maine Two Foot prototype data, and On2 modelling topics. A few were re-publications of topics from the old HTML version of the FAQ’s, but the majority were new topics.

 We were fortunate to be given permission to publish Dwight Smith’s pictures of his visit to Bridgton in 1940, the announcement of which resulted in our biggest one day surge of viewers and viewings after Day 1 (our all time record, so far).

The blog receives a spike in the viewers and viewings when a new topic is posted and/or an old topic is referenced on the MaineOn2 Yahoo! group board, so it would seem that the blog is functioning to support the group as we and our founder intended.


We hope that you have enjoyed your visits, and thanks to all our contributors (and not forgetting the administrators),

Terry, Matt and Trevor.

Maine On2 layouts – Bob Harper’s Franklin module

Editorial note: The early pictures of Bob Harper’s Franklin module shown here were originally published in one of the last galleries to be revised on the original Fotopic pictures FAQ site. As noted elsewhere, that site went belly-up (without warning), and the backup copy made temporarily available a year or so later pre-dated the Franklin gallery revisions, so all the original work was lost. The recent work on Bob’s latest module, (Megantic, click here to view on another browser page) unearthed some of the original Franklin pictures and drafts for the accompanying text, so we present this topic as if it were published in the 2010 to 2012 timeframe or so.

Foreword: UK Style small exhibition layouts, owned and shown by individuals.

The Franklin module is typical of many UK Exhibition layouts in being relatively small,  consisting of three major units; the visible part of the layout is in two pieces with an integral (and solid) backscene and ends, and a non-sceniced fiddle yard section using a multi track centre pivotted sector plate. The two scenic units fold together for transit, and the turntable unit fits on top forming a pretty complete and strong cage to protect the permanently attached scenery and structures whilst in transit. The size of the units is essentially dependant upon the owners’ vehicle or vehicles.

At the UK Slim Gauge Circle meet, I helped Bob bring the layout in from his car to the hall in the morning and back again in the afternoon. Bob confirms that his vehicle is a Ford (UK) Mondeo estate car, pretty similar in size to the Audi A4 estate, and quite compact compared to the American cars that I used to rent on my business trips throughout the 80’s and 90’s. The layout sections were loaded in lengthwise from the rear door.

The fiddle yard section has two sets of legs built in and is erected first, and then the sceniced sections are added as they only have/need one set of legs each.

In many cases the exhibition layout is the owners home layout, built so that it is easily transportable for exhibitions or even house moves. In other cases, like Franklin, the exhibition layout is part of the owners home layout designed and built to be easily removable as a section. In a few cases the owner may actually store the layout between exhibitions and only run trains at shows and exhibitions.

This style of layout is ideal for a first layout and for those who may have space or other restrictions, or who do not wish to commit to a larger layout. An added advantage for an On2 modeller is the linear nature allowing the larger radius curves required for satisfactory running of the larger Forney locomotives.

The Man and his module;-

When Bob joined the Maine On2 Yahoo! group he posted this introduction;- “My name is Bob Harper and I live in Manchester, England. Modelling in On3 since 1998, I have been adding an On2 feeder line to the On3 main line for the last 4/5 years. The On2 branch leaves the mixed-gauge junction and climbs up to the terminus, “Franklin”, which is detachable and can be taken out to exhibitions around the country. I was introduced to this Group by Terry Smith, and you can see a couple of photos he took of Franklin at the recent meet (13 May 2012) of the UK Slim Gauge Circle meet at Hillmorton, near Rugby”;-


Bob continues;- “The white-bearded figure on the left of the photo is myself, controlling the layout from an i-pod. This is my latest painstaking mastery of modern technology, and creates a lot of interest at exhibitions. The scenic part of Franklin is 10 feet by 2 feet, and is fed by a 5 foot long turntable “fiddle yard”, with 5 tracks. The station is roughly based on Bridgton, but greatly compressed.” Note the legs and various boxes under the layout that transport the rolling stock etc.


This picture shows a train of Terry Smith’s Bridgton freight cars arriving at Franklin on Bob Harper’s On2 portable layout.












This view emphasises the track-work, which is all hand-built by Bob using Karlgarin code 82 rail. This rail is specially drawn in the UK with heavier sections to suit O scale (and larger) narrow gauge track work.

Click here to visit the Karlgarin home page, and here to download a .pdf of the rail sections available.

This picture shows the wider head (and base flange) of the Karlgarin rail.

Unpacking and erecting the layout at a show (Wigan 2012)

On the 15th June  2012, Bob sent these pictures and wrote “It’s still raining here in Britain, but I managed to dodge the showers and get the layout into the Exhibition Hall in Wigan, where I took photos of the rotary fiddle yard and the lighting beam.”


The turntable style fiddle yard as folded for travel.


The legs hinge upwards (in this view) and are locked in place by struts with toggle latches.


The unit is rolled over and upright. This view shows the wooden wheels and upturned furniture castors which assist in taking the weight of the turntable when rotating.

The turntable fiddle yard is fitted with two sets of legs, and so is free standing. Both of the scenic boards are fitted with one pair of legs only and so must be erected and connected to the fiddle yard and first board in sequence. The legs are visible in the heading picture.


The picture also shows the travelling position of an essential piece of equipment, the folding stool which Bob and other operators can sit on at the front of the layout while  conversing with visitors and occasionally operating trains.

Bob explains;- “the track on the turntable looks complicated as it was originally built for my On3 exhibition layout, “Cascade Yard”, which has 2 entrances to the yard and is a different width to “Franklin”. When I was getting Franklin ready for its first show I realised that I could share the old fiddle yard with the new layout, by adding the On2 track down the middle of the On3. Hence the 4 rails – 2 gauges, not check rails!”.


After generating some interest on the Maine On2 Yahoo! group, some of it in error, Bob wrote “picking up a few points that have been raised, the micro-switches are needed to isolate the tracks, not flip the polarity. One is needed for each track at BOTH ends of the table. Isolation is required with DC operation, but not essential with DCC. I put the facility in to stop the sound of 5 trains at once driving fellow exhibitors mad at shows, not to stop the locos moving.”


Like many UK exhibition layouts, Franklin has its own lighting system, built into a folding fascia that frames the layout like a theatre proscenium arch. Illumination is provided by a set of CFD “bulbs”, which were rather expensive on initial purchase in the UK when the layout was built.


In transit, these expensive bulbs are housed in dummy bulb holders (ie not wired up) under a protective cover;-


The fascia is supported by cantilevered brackets attached to posts at the rear of the layout, and held in place by toggle latches. Just visible at the top left of the fascia is the locking strip which fits across the top of the hinge line to hold the to parts open and in line;-


The picture below shows the general arrangement of the layout from rear;-


A “before the storm shot” below; the layout has now been fully erected, and after an electrical check can be connected to the mains supply, and rolling stock un-packed, and the paying visitors admitted.

Note the use of a cloth curtain in the picture below to hide all the detritus under the layout visible in the heading picture.


– and here’s the continuation shot showing the turntable fiddle yard ready to accept the rolling stock.


The red end stops are always kept down at the outer end of the table, and at both ends when it is being rotated.

Bob comments;- “As a space saving device, a turntable fiddle yard is very useful to save length, but do remember that you will need more width – you need a square space  to allow full rotation of the table. So it can’t be set up close to a wall. However, a friend has got round this by having the whole thing on runners, like a drawer, which pulls out and then allows rotation. Also I now use much niftier castors to support the table, which fit into a recess in the sub-base.”

Footnote 1: Bob and the Franklin module are booked to attend the National Narrow Gauge Convention 2016 at Augusta later this year. Click here for more details of the Convention.

Footnote 2: The Slim Gauge Circle is an informal group of around 200 UK (plus some overseas) based modelers interested in North American narrow gauge railroads. The Circle was founded 30 years ago to provide an alternative meeting place where the emphasis was on modeling, exchange of ideas, meeting old and making new friends plus some trading. Members’ interests include Colorado, Maine, logging and mining in all scales. The Circle holds “get togethers” twice a year at Hillmorton, near Rugby, in May and November.

Click here for more details about the Slim Gauge Circle.