Gilbert Imitators

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For some reason the A.C. Gilbert Company attracted more than its share of imitators.  Other companies had imitators too, and in some cases those imitations were made possible by the travels of their tooling between different companies in Asia.  It was rare, though, that the imitations bore the original manufacturer's product numbers, as they so often did on Gilbert imitations.  Also, many Gilbert imitations used different construction than the Gilbert models, yet still appeared "Gilbert-like."  This was due in large measure to the use of the Gilbert numbers on the imitations, but even where the numbers differed the graphics suggested Gilbert.

Some manufacturers imitated mostly the S gauge line and many were so far off that all they really presented were products featuring Gilbert names and color schemes.  There is a really good article in the Train Collectors Quarterly by the late Bruce Manson that presents some of these others.  Train Collector's Quarterly, October 1999, Vol. 45, No. 4, page 28.  It is available to TCA members in the TCQ Archive on the TCA members website.  Click here for a direct link to the article.

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One of the most prolific imitators of Gilbert rolling stock was the Japanese manufacturer Sakai.  Sakai's models actually looked pretty good.   Some Sakai box cars and refrigerator cars are shown below.   Sakai also made hopper cars which appear to be made from Revell tooling, though they could easily be mistaken for Varney cars, such as those marketed by Gilbert in 1955 and 1956.  The Sakai caboose appears to be made from the same tooling as the Gilbert caboose, which was a New Haven product, but close examination reveals different rivet counts around the curved grab irons by the steps and on the cupola. 

Sakai HO Metal Cars

The cars shown below are made of stamped metal and while they bear Gilbert numbers, they are easily distinguishable from Gilbert cars because of different construction.  Interestingly the capacity and weights of the cars has been changed from that appearing on Gilbert cars and they have solid trucks, rather than sprung trucks.  Other metal cars were produced and sold in sets with these cars.  Some of these cars, while not bearing Gilbert numbers, bear a striking resemblance to Gilbert cars in both the HO and S gauge lines.  Two of these are also shown below. 

Sakai 512 New Haven Box Car Sakai New Haven Box Car
Ebay Photo
Sakai 520 Northwestern Refrigerator Line Reefer  Sakai Northwestern Refrigerator
Ebay Photo 
Sakai 522 Boston & Maine Box Car Sakai Boston & Maine Box Car
Ebay Photo 
Sakai Baltimore & Ohio Timesaver Box Car  Sakai B & O Box Car
Ebay Photo 
Sakai State of Maine Bangor & Aroostook Box Car  Sakai State of Main Box Car
Ebay Photo 

Sakai Caboose 

There are many different HO versions of the Reading style caboose manufactured by Gilbert, Varney and its successors, and others.  Most of these have passenger car style steps.  The Gilbert caboose and this Sakai Caboose are the only ones I have seen with ladder type steps.  This caboose is so close in styling to the Gilbert Caboose, one might think it was made from the same tooling, but a careful examination of the rivet detail on this caboose and comparing it with the rivet detail on Gilbert and Varney models reveals that this caboose was made from its own unique tooling. 

Sakai B&O Caboose Sakai B&O Caboose
Photo Courtesy of Frank Olear 
Gilbert, Sakai, & Varney Caboose Rivet Detail  Gilbert Rivet Detail lower  Sakai Rivet Detail lower  Varney Rivet Detail lower
Gilbert Lower Rivet Detail   Sakai Lower Rivet Detail  Varney Lower Rivet Detail
Gilbert Cupola Rivet Detail  Sakai Cupola Rivet Detail Varney Cupola Rivet Detail
 Gilbert Cupola Rivet Detail   Sakai Cupola Rivet Detail   Varney Cupola Rivet Detail 

Associated Hobby Manufacturers - AHM 

AHM marketed a variety of products of different manufacturers, including Rivarossi.  There appear to be two versions of this reproduction of a Gilbert 502 stock car, an early Rivarossi car dating from 1956, marketed as Lionel HO, and a later car, produced in 1963.

The earlier car had screw mounted trucks and less detail on the underside and also had some metal parts on the coupler pockets.  The earlier car is marked as "Como Italia."  Several catalogs showing the earlier car are available at the Lionel Literature page on  The car is shown with the "502" numbering in a 1957 Lionel HO Brochure.  In the 1958 Catalog and in a 1958 Brochure, a Katy car is shown, but bears the "0866-1" Lionel Catalog number. 

The later plastic car is marked as being made in Yugoslavia, most likely by Mehanoteknika.    A comparison with both the Varney and Gilbert Versions of this car reveal distinct differences in the tooling.  It is even different from the later Gilbert stock car tooling used in the 60's.  What I am assuming is the later car is listed in the 1963 AHM Catalog, which can also be found at the AHM Literature page on  The car was offered in a variety of road names, but the Katy 502 car was illustrated and listed as AHM No. 5400.  Interestingly the illustration was labeled "prototype" and indeed that appears to be what the Gilbert car was, right down to the Gilbert number.  The car was listed as late as 1967 with the Katy 502 car as the illustration in that year's catalog.

This appears to be a case of different stock cars that AHM/Rivarossi decided to paint exactly like the historic Gilbert car, including the Gilbert number.  The slogan "Serves the Southwest Well" was taken from the Varney version of the 502.   The Gilbert Version simply said "Serves the Southwest." 

Associated Hobby Manufacturers - AHM MKT-Katy Stock car AHM 502 MKT-Katy Stock Car
Dale Smith Collection - Ebay Photo 
Catalog reference links are to