Custom Brass – the first Importer

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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;-

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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.

Manufacturer

Year

Quantity

Original Retail Price

Brass Guide Number

Combine

#15

Orion

1974

200

Coach

#19/20

Orion

1974

300

$120

30477

Loco 0-4-4T

#6

GOM

1975

350

$250

30820

Baggage

#8

Orion

1975

190

$120

30476

Caboose

#556

KMT

1976

270

$65

30535

Loco 2-6-2

#16

Daiyoung

1979

125

$350

30826

Loco 2-6-2

#18

Daiyoung

1979

125

$350

30821

Loco 2-6-2

#24

Daiyoung

1983

125

$450

30825

Loco 0-4-4T

#20

Daiyoung

1985

50

$370

30822

Loco 0-4-4T

#21

Daiyoung

1985

50

$370

30823

Loco 0-4-4T

#22

Daiyoung

1985

50

$370

30824

Caboose

#551

WooSung

1985

75

37815

 Brass Guide number;-   http://www.brasstrains.com/

 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;-

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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;-

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

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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;-

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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;-

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

Custom Brass – SR&RL locomotive #6

The SR&RL #6 by NJ/Custom Brass was the first commercial Loco to be offered to On2 modellers way back in 1975. Custom Brass imported 350 pieces of this model, and its original selling price was $250. The model was supplied with an etched brass plaque suitable for display purposes and a sheet of dry transfers to enable to modeller to letter and number the model for a number of prototype lines. This is shown partway down the page.

This model generally requires a 33″ minimum radius for satisfactory operation.

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These pictures published by kind permission of Keith Wiseman show a model painted and weathered by an unknown hand.

And here are some pictures of the model in its original brass/gold lacquer finish with some of its original documentation;-

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The picture below shows a model purchased at the Whitman meet in 1995, again painted and weathered by unknown persons;-

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The old open frame motor and rubber coupling was quickly changed to a Faulhaber 1624 coreless motor driving the original gearbox through a NWSL 483-6 universal drive coupling set, with a wire torque arm stabilising the gearbox. The coreless motor was fitted the boiler backhead with two screws, and additional pickups were fitted to give the loco superb performance.

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This is a view of the original open frame motor and drive arrangements with the boiler backhead in position.
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This view shows the original rubber tube “universal” and a different view of the boiler backhead.

Bob Schlechter’s models       Added 20th February 2014

Bob Schlechter is a well known Maine Two Foot modeller and enthusiast, as well as an excellent photographer. We are delighted to show these pictures of two of Bob’s models. The first is detailed, lettered and painted for an early SR&RL #6;-

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The second is detailed for the same loco, in one of its later guises, as Kennebec Central #4. This model has its cab and tank in Brunswick Green and the Black toned down to better match the prototype scheme.

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And here are both models side by side;-

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The models are owned and were photographed by Bob Schlechter who supplied the photographs. The models were re-motored with DCC added, detailed and custom painted by Jerry Kitts of Foothill Modelworks. Great job guys! and Thanks for sharing.