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Kitmaster Model Trains
Kitmaster was the model railroad line of Rosebud Dolls Ltd, of England’s Nene Plastics. In 1959 they released their first dozen Kitmaster models. All but one was OO scale (1/76), the standard scale in England. All were locomotives, representing nine British types, and one American, Italian, and Swiss engine. These spanned locomotive development from the first 'modern' locomotive, Stephenson's Rocket of 1829, to the modern “Deltic” diesel-electric then under development in England. Nine were steam locos, two were diesels, and an electric Swiss engine.
Kitmaster's box art was quite stunning. Well-rendered subjects caught the eye with colorful dynamic depictions of the trains in action.
Colorful brochures in each box advertised the other models available. Another color pamphlet showed Humbrol railroad paints.
Over the next three years Kitmaster was very busy. Twenty-two kits of locomotives and passenger cars were engineered and issued. Though most were OO scale, the "Royal Scot" series was another departure from continuity, prepared in TT scale. Even this was a double departure from continuity as TT is 1/120 scale (2.5mm/ scale foot) almost everywhere in the world except the UK. There it is actually TT3, or 3mm/scale foot, 1:101 scale!
“Kitmaster came late to the conclusion that non-British prototypes should be in 3.5mm (HO scale, 1/87) rather than 4.0mm (OO scale), but they did concede this with their final locomotive release – the New York Central Hudson. Their earlier mistaken idea had been that “collectors” would want to build a complete collection of models all to a constant scale of 4mm to the foot. Of course, the “Collectors” were far out-numbered by the modelers who wanted their Continental prototypes modeled in the universally-accepted HO scale. Whilst the first Kitmaster US loco was indeed HO (The General) this was only because Rosebud had shamelessly ripped off an existing kit by US-based Advanced Molding Corporation in their 1957 Trailblazers series. After that, they returned to a “constant scale” of 1/76th. Ironically, it was Airfix Products Ltd who pioneered “Constant Scale” with their 1/72nd scale aircraft line. In trying to adopt the techniques of their main competitor, Rosebud sowed the seeds of their own destruction – the OO continental kits failed to sell, clogged the warehouse and never recovered their tooling costs, ultimately contributing to the financial meltdown that demanded a sell off to – none other than Messrs. Airfix! Rosebud Kitmaster Ltd. was liquidated during 1962, and Airfix bought up the remains of the company.”*
Tragically, most of the Kitmaster plans, blueprints, original artwork, archives and marketing material were trashed--literally. Some was rescued by employees. Artifacts have been preserved in a museum, and by Kitmaster enthusiasts.
Ultimately, Kitmaster produced thirty-four kits plus two of other subjects, a motorcycle and a sci-fi rocket.
1 (1959) OO "Rocket"
2 (1959) OO Diesel
3 (1959) HO Early American General
4 (1959) OO Coronation Class
5 (1959) OO Schools Class
6 (1959) OO Saddle Tank
7 (1959) OO Prairie Tank
8 (1959) OO Italian Tank
9 (1959) OO Stirling 8ft Single
10 (1959) OO Deltic Diesel
11 (1959) OO Battle of Britain Class
12 (1959) OO Swiss Crocodile
13 OO Standard Corridor Composite
14 OO Standard Corridor 2nd
15 OO Standard Corridor Brake 2nd
16 TT Rebuilt "Royal Scot"
17 TT Standard Corridor Brake 2nd
18 TT Standard Corridor Composite
19 OO Baureihe 23 (German)
20 TT Standard Corridor 2nd
21 TT Standard Restaurant 1st
22 OO Class 92000 “Evening Star”
23 OO 241P Mountain (French)
24 OO "City of Truro"
25 OO Beyer-Garratt
26 OO J94 0-6-0ST
27 HO DB B4yge Coach
28 OO Standard Restaurant 1st
29 HO SNCF A9 myfi Coach
30 OO BR 4MT Mogul Class 76000
31 OO Midland Pullman Power
32 OO Midland Pullman Kitchen
33 OO Midland Pullman Parlour
34 HO New York Central Hudson
To make these run on model railways, three motorizing kits were created.
Three sets were released:
• 100 Years of British Steam
• Battle of Britain Set
• TT3 Royal Scot Set
Airfix EraAfter the sad demise of Kitmaster, nine of the locomotive kits were released by Airfix for their Airfix Railways series, and successive Airfix Railway System. The molds were reworked with rivets, steps and vacuum hoses. The box art was modified, too. Airfix continued the kits until its hard times in the early 1980's. As Airfix began its relationship with Heller, the tooling was moved to France. Tragically, it was not treated well. Damage and loss occurred.
Dapol DeliveranceHappily, Dapol founder David Boyle hunted down the Kitmaster survivors and secured the rights to many of the Kitmaster/Airfix molds during the Spring of 1981 and followed this by later acquiring the molds for the Airfix Trackside Accessory range. Most of these kits can still be purchased today direct from Dapol.** Dapol Ltd., was originally a Welsh model railway manufacturer named after the couple who founded it, DAvid and POLly. Now under new management, it now specializes in N scale, ready-to-run, models of British prototypes. The models are world class, made in the UK and give the Chinese a good run on both price and quality. In 2004 Dapol were awarded the 'UK Small Business of the Year' award, and in 2007 were awarded the Model Rail (magazine) 'N-gauge Manufacturer of the Year' award. As well as developing their own range of N gauge and 00 gauge models, the company produced products using the molds and designs from Airfix and others.
Kult of KitmasterKitmaster models have quite a following. There are two excellent sites dedicated to the subject, and a third that include Kitmaster within the history of Airfix. They are:
Kitmaster Collectors Club
The Kitmaster Collectors Club was formed in 1990 by a small group of enthusiasts to document the history of Kitmaster models and also to help and encourage the collecting of them. It is a non-commercial organization which aims to link collectors together for the exchange of archive material, advice & information...The club has over one hundred and fifty members worldwide and many associates.
The Kitmaster Collectors Club founder, Mr. Steve Knight, has authored the definitive work for those interested in Kitmaster and Airfix railway kits, his masterful Let's Stick Together. This glossy page book and his website, which he graciously permitted me to use material from, are full of in-depth history, excellent photography, both black and white and color, and are a joy to read!
The other Kitmaster site is Kitmaster Model Railways, featuring twenty-seven links to all aspects of Kitmaster kits. An impressive archive of full color boxes, photos of kits, colour charts and accessories can answer most any question one may have.
Finally, the famous Airfix Collectors Club will also provide you with much information about Kitmaster models of the Airfix era.
Rosebud Kitmaster RequiemMr. Knight mused in his book Let’s Stick Together,
- Where does the fascination with these models lie? Could it be a yeaning for the brash kitsch of a bygone age, or the wonderfully eccentric planning behind the Kitmaster concept; or perhaps enthusiasm born from a realization that these were, and still are, some of the finest scale railway kits ever produced. They are certainly varied and interesting, to the point of becoming idiosyncratic. In an attempt to provide something for everyone, we are faced with a range of kits that lines up a diminutive L&Y Pug next to a towering Hudson locomotive; models that are geographically and historically in two different worlds. Here lies the magic: the unanswered questions, the enigmas lost in the mists of time, submerged under a mountain of dusty paper work. My research over the last eight years has taken me far and wide in search of the answers. I hope you will enjoy the fruits of my labour, for this is truly the story of a remarkable company with a remarkable product. At the time advanced and innovative, Kitmaster and Airfix models are today cherished collectors' pieces in their own right. Wherever they are, Kitmaster models always manage to create a sense of excitement in people. The older ones fondly remember them from their heyday, saving their pocket money to buy the latest model. Younger observers are fascinated by the wealth of detail in these vintage 'toys', which once used to keep their fathers and uncles very creatively occupied on a Saturday evening!
For me, it is all of the above coupled with that full color brochure that came with my Kitmaster No. 2 Diesel Electric. Used to drab American steam locos dressed in ubiquitous black, vivid crimson or green English engines displayed therein was too much to keep my curiosity in check. I recalled how I wanted those engines as a boy, and now began to seek them out. It has opened up a world of model railroading I never knew existed. I am glad to share it with you.
** Steve Knight
Copyright ©2019 by Frederick Boucher. Images and/or videos also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. The views and opinions expressed herein are solely the views and opinions of the authors and/or contributors to this Web site and do not necessarily represent the views and/or opinions of ModelGeek, KitMaker Network, or Silver Star Enterrpises. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of ModelGeek. All rights reserved. Originally published on: 2008-07-20 00:00:00