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.

Custom Brass – SR&RL locomotive #18


This model generally requires a 36″ or larger minimum radius for satisfactory operation.

The model was reviewed by Bob Brown in the Narrow Gauge & Short Line Gazette January/February edition of 1980 with additional input from Peter Barney. Bob Brown wrote “Right out of the box my locomotive ran smoothly, slowly and with good throttle response. I do not plan to modify the power mechanism at all”.

It was noted that the model lacks a valve gear/cross head yoke and that the ashpan was missing. The sand dome is 6″ too high and the sander lines on #18 are those for #16. The prototype #18 had metal grid running boards whereas the model has wood grained boards. It was also suggested that the front boiler braces be replaced by more detailed brass castings.

The Custom Brass models of SR&RL #16 and #18 were produced at the same time and incorrectly share some features, while other prototype differences are correctly modeled. See also our post on the CB SR&RL #16 by clicking here.


Terry Smith writes; I acquired this example of #18 at the Edaville Rail Fan fair in 1988 as a non-running not quite basket case. It was my first On2 brass loco. The “non-running” turned out to be caused by someone replacing the original motor with a very small coreless motor fitted with a 63:1 gearhead driving the original 40:1 gearbox. In my inexperience, I decided to update the drive to a Portescap RG4 unit driving on to the rear axle which entailed dismantling the rear axle and wheelset and replacing the RG4 drive gear and bearings with their 3mm diameter alternatives to suit the axle. The loco was back dated cosmetically to match a picture of the prototype just after it had been rebuilt into a 2-6-2 by the Maine Central around 1915 and before the electric headlight was installed. The sand dome was reduced in height and the steam dome was sleeved to increase its lower diameter. The stack was turned parallel and a Baldwin style cap was added. The firebox sides were set into the boiler cladding and an ashpan/lower firebox was fabricated to house the PFM ballast/boiler glow bulbs. The rear truck was modified to work on 36″ radius curves without electrical shorting.

Other modifications not visible in the photographs include fully equalising the tender trucks, adding all wheel electrical pickups and installing the PFM Sound System.







SR&RL loco  models CB #16 & #18: model similarities and differences.

Here’s my dilemma, I have one of the Custom Brass, On2, “Could be a 16, could be an 18?” models and I want to get it painted, etc. The tender trailing truck is an archbar (16), the tender deck tool box is missing and the brake cylinder is “under” the tender, not hanging out on the right side as on “18”.  The engine has an “18” number board on the front of the smoke box and an “18” style headlight. When I got the model, the cab roof hatch was missing, so it’s anybody’s guess as to which configuration it is, although it does appear to have the stamped slide rails as on “18”. Bottom line: I have an “18” engine and a “16” tender. Was this common with the way Custom Brass imported this “run” of models? Does anyone out there have an 18 tender they would want to swap for my “16” tender? I’d really rather model the “18”.  If not, who might have a “16” number board for the smoke box front? The rest of the work (headlight, etc.) I can do myself. Or, I can take care of moving the brake cylinder and building the tool box to convert the tender to make an “18” version — but, I’d need a tender trailing truck replacement for the archbar on the “16” tender. Finally, should I manage to get the engine and tender “matched up”, then come the lettering and striping questions. I assume I’d want gold lettering and aluminum (or white?) striping with a “red lead” roof?

John Hitzeman – MaineOn2 posting   _     _     _    _     _    _     _     _     _    _     _

Hi John, I heard about your tender mismatch so I thought I'd add to your confusion. Both the 16 and 18 models have some unique characteristics making the conversion difficult. 

Your model, the 18, has strap-end side rods. The 16 has round end rods, correctly modeled on the CB #16. The smokebox fronts are different. The CB model has the first #16 smokebox front, the original smaller front with an extra ring riveted to the outside. It was later replaced with a standard Baldwin design of the period with no door dogs, just boltheads showing. The 18 had a smokebox door with dogs throughout its life as it appears on the model. 

To further confuse things I don't believe the 16 had the mismatched trucks and the early smokebox front at the same time.

The tenders from both models use the same shell. The differences are the brake cylinder and trucks as you already noted plus the handrail placing. Plus the 18 had a builder's plate on the tender when the new tender came from Baldwin. Precision lists a 2-foot tender truck that should do for the 18 if it is still available.

Another thing to note is the sander lines. The 18 never had the air sanders on the model, just the single pipe gravity lines. Plus the domes are the wrong height. If you can get a pair from Portland Products they are much more accurate. If you want more, get my number from Bill and call me.

Ray Christopher - MaineOn2 posting

To view Chuck Collins’ prototype information on this loco, click here.

Updated 14-12-2018.