The Gilbert American Flyer HO Index

Gilbert Imitators

 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 may bear Gilbert numbers, they are easily distinguishable from Gilbert cars because of the different construction.  Interestingly the capacity and weights on the cars have 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 and are included below.  The B&O Timesaver box car, in particular, has features that make it clear that it was patterned on the Gilbert HO car.  The prototype B&O Timesaver had both a much larger herald and much smaller "Baltimore & Ohio" lettering.   Most manufacturers were closer to the prototype in these two features than Gilbert, who made the herald smaller and the lettering larger.  The similar treatment of these features on the Sakai car makes a strong case for it being an imitation Gilbert car, even though it does not bear the Gilbert catalog number.

For an excellent discussion of the B&O Timesaver paint scheme as done by various manufacturers, see an article by Tony Lucio in HO Collector Magazine, 4th Quarter, 2021 at page 14.

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 

Lionel by Rivarossi & Associated Hobby Manufacturers - AHM

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 and marketed by AHM, which featured a variety of products of different manufacturers.

Lionel/Rivarossi 502 MKT-Katy Stock Car

The earlier Lionel/Rivarossi car had screw mounted trucks and less detail on the underside than the later AHM car and also had some metal parts on the coupler pockets.  The Lionel/Rivarossi car is marked "Como Italia."  In the 1957 Lionel HO catalog, the car is shown with the Gilbert "502" number  By 1958, the catalogs show it with a Lionel number of "0866-1, so Lionel must have discovered its error fairly soon and corrected the catalogs.  There are still several examples of the car bearing the "502" number.  I am not sure how many, if any, bore the later Lionel number.

Associated Hobby Manufacturers - AHM 502 MKT-Katy Stock Car

1963 AHM car

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 1960's.  It appears that this car is listed in the 1963 AHM catalog.  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 the catalog.

Illustration and Catalog Page Courtesy of - Click on image to see full catalog page.
AHM 502 MKT-Katy Stock Car
Dale Smith Collection - Ebay Photo
This appears to be a case in which both AHM and Rivarossi/Lionel decided to decorate their stock cars exactly like the historic Gilbert car, including the Gilbert number.  It is quite possible that they thought the "502" was a prototype Katy car number as most HO rolling stock carries prototype numbers, rather than the model maker's catalog number.  The slogan "Serves the Southwest Well" was taken from the Varney version of the 502.   The Gilbert Version simply said "Serves the Southwest."