The Significance of Brass Trains
In the summer of 2016, the Railroad Artifact Preservation Society received a donation of model railroad equipment and supplies from an Amarillo family. The donation was the entire personal collection of Judge Donald Maxwell Dean, a Santa Fe Railway enthusiast and historian who planned to build a historically accurate model railroad in his home. Unfortunately Judge Dean passed away in late 2015.
The collection contained 49 pieces of brass model trains. Fourteen brass steam locomotives, two Doodlebug motorcars, four cabooses, five passenger cars, five MoW cars, two covered hoppers, three stock cars, five box cars, three gondolas, two tank cars, one ice box car and three water tanks.
In 2019 the Society purchased a brass model of AT&SF Dynamometer Car #29, added to AT&SF Steam Locomotive 5000 acquired by the Society in 2010, brings the total brass collection owned by the Society to fifty-one. Why is this important, and what is the significance of brass trains?
The Rarity of Brass Trains:
To answer that question, we need to look closer at how brass trains are designed and manufactured. First, anything that is rare or limited in production is generally thought of as valuable. Brass models have extremely limited production runs compared to plastic models. For instance, some brass models have less than twenty-five produced, while even the largest runs are generally limited to a few hundred. This is due to the fact the brass model is a handmade, meticulously designed, highly accurate scaled down version of the prototype. Hundreds of man-hours are involved in the production of a single model, researching the prototype’s design, development and historical significance before a model can be built.
In the production of a plastic model, compromises are generally made to allow the model to perform better on a model railroad. For instance, driving wheels on plastic steam locomotive models may be made slight smaller or axle spacing may be adjusted larger in order to make the model run better on the tight curves of model railroads. This is not so with brass models. Brass model manufacturers keep the scaling accurate to the prototype. Sometimes this gives brass locomotives and cars tight clearances and may cause operational problems on a model railroad. For example, the Coach Yard model of AT&SF Steam Locomotive #5000 is extremely accurate to
the prototype and the clearance under the pilot (cow catcher) is very close and can cause electrical shorts on some section of the model railroad when the pilot touches the top of the rails.
However, newer plastic models have improved significantly, and it can be hard to distinguish them from brass models when visually inspected. Therefore, the Society will utilize high quality plastic models on Santa Fe’s Raton Pass Model Railroad to represent models that are not available in brass.
After the research has been done on the model, highly skilled craftsmen begin to make the brass parts of the model by hand all the while maintaining the accuracy of the prototype drawings. If prototype drawings are not available, they must be produced by hand. Today, drawings for brass models are generally produced using CAD software, but still very time consuming to make a drawing of the thousands of parts needed for a new model.
While the model is in research and production stages, it is advertised in trade magazines alerting collectors of the upcoming release of the model. This is the time to order the model if you want it. Generally, you will only be able to acquire the model if you reserve it before it is released. By the time the model is complete, most if not all the production will have been sold or reserved. At this point the only way to acquire the model after production is to get lucky enough to find a used one for sale. Therefore, the Society is very grateful to the Dean Family for the donation of Judge Dean’s brass collection.
Fine Art Collectible:
The fact that the models are hand crafted also means that they are a work of art. Although not thought of as fine art so much in the past, today many agree that brass trains are indeed fine art.
The Railroad Artifact Preservation Society considers another very valuable asset of brass trains to be very important – the history they represent. Since brass models are highly detailed scaled down replicas of the prototype, they naturally represent the historical significance of the prototype. Brass model replicas are so finely detailed that the Society plans to use the Dean Collection of brass models to bring the history of the original prototype to life in HO scale on Santa Fe’s Raton Pass Model Railroad. The Brass models will be used to educate the public about the historical significance of Santa Fe Locomotive Development and the men and women who designed and manufactured the Santa Fe’s motive power during the steam era and eventually, early pioneer diesel development.
Today with miniature electronics, brass model trains can be taken to a new level. Brass model trains have always been “eye candy” for trains enthusiast, but today operational performance, sound and lighting can be added. By using Digital Command Control (DCC) sound decoders operational performance of brass locomotives can match the prototypes performance exactly.
Most of the brass models owned by the Society were received unpainted. The Society is slowly going through its entire collection and painting each model according to Santa Fe Railway specifications. Once the painting is complete, steam locomotives receive DCC sound decoders which brings the model to life. Operating headlights are installed, and speakers placed inside the models to bring prototypical sounds to the operating brass model. The prototypical operating possibilities of today’s DCC decoders is incredibly realistic and will help the Society educate and demonstrate the exact operating characteristics of Santa Fe prototype locomotives from the past.
Long Term Value Retention:
Labor and material costs to upgrade brass locomotives can be expensive, but the rarity of available brass model trains and the quality of construction and highly accurate detail causes the value of brass trains to sustain. Not only sustain but increase in value if the model is properly cared for and high-quality improvements are executed.
The Society needs more brass trains to complete their collection. If you have brass model trains you would like to donate, please contact the Society at 806-674-0472.
Ways to Donate:
- GoFundMe Campaign for Colorado & Southern Coach 535.
Colorado & Southern Coach 535 an important piece of history from the early 20th Century that is worthy of restoration and preservaton. It was built by the American Car & Foundry Company in 1905 Company for the Colorado & Southern Railway. We must get it inside to do a complete restoration to original condition and to protect the car from the elements.”
To donate to Colorado & Southern Coach 535 – click here.
- Santa Fe’s Raton Pass Model Railroad.
The Santa Fe’s Raton Pass Model Railroad is about much more than merely having fun with scale trains. The model railroad provides the Society with a testing and proving ground for the donated model railroad equipment in the Dean Collection and other collections we may acquire in the future.
To donate to Santa Fe’s Raton Pass Model Railroad – click here.
- Become a Member.
You can become a member of the Railroad Artifact Preservation Society for only $20.00 a year. Join the hundreds of RAPS members around the world.
To Purchase a RAPS Membership – click here.
- Visit our Store.
The Raps Store has many items not found elsewhere for the railroad enthusiast. Check out our unique books, videos, caps and other items.
To Visit the RAPS Store – click here.
The RAPS is a 501C3 Non-Profit Corporation.