Ken Kidder Models

On the business side of model railroading, there are some very large companies such as Bachmann, Hornby and Märklin.  After that, there are a number of companies that have perhaps 100 employees. Yet, many of the famous names in model railroading were, in fact very small in terms of employees but large in terms of influence.  Many of the companies that import brass from the Orient are, in fact, very small yet they are well known to model railroaders.

One such “company” was Ken Kidder, of San Francisco, California. To many model railroaders, Kidder would be their first brass locomotive. This ad is typical of the era:

This from an online discussion group:

  • Ken Kidder has a fairly long history and his product line is best remembered today as centering around very small, unusual steam locomotives, particularly a host of little 0-4-0 "Plantation" or "Mud Hen" engines, available in a range of inside and outside frame, standard and narrow gauge, some with tenders, some with just coal bunkers! However, Kidder did venture into numerous other areas over the years, including trolleys. One of the most collectible items today is the Ken Kidder "Steam Dummy", a totally unique model representing a small, shrouded, steam engine for urban street use.

Kidder was a model railroader and a train enthusiast.  Online searches turn up photo citations in books about the California Western, electric traction and Nevada narrow gauge railroads, among others. He also was a man of modest means, employed by The Emporium, a San Francisco department store, apparently working in their shoe department. This from Ken Harrison:

  • "In any event, he never intended to make a lot of money on the project; he just wanted to cover his costs, including trips to Japan.”

A Few Observations

In preparing the accompanying table from the catalog sheets, I have left out a lot of smaller items. Kidder also sold “Parts Items”, much of which were parts that were used in the manufacture of the line items imported from Japan. So, you could buy individual siderods and crossheads for use in other projects.  Likewise, Kidder sold drive wheels, trucks and track parts for H0n3 layouts; this at a time when H0 narrow gauge was a rarity. All of which proved to facilitate the model railroad hobby in an interesting sector. Many of those buying a Kidder locomotive promptly set about modifying it to meet their individual needs.

Some of the items imported by Kidder were clearly items that had originally been manufactured for the Japanese market. Items in the 4000 series were all originally meant for the domestic market, but Kidder brought them into the United States, probably in small quantities. Again, this was to serve the possible needs of American modelers who wanted to modify them further.

 The typical Kidder small locomotive has a vertical mounted motor:

Even the bigger 0-Scale electric locomotives seem to have similar design.  Various online sources, especially on eBay, describe Kidder locomotives as being manufactured by the Japanese firm KTM (Katsumi Tetsudo Mokei), but I don’t have any information to support this.  At the same time, there is a certain commonality with many of the Kidder powered units.

In the 0-Scale items, many of them are meant for the three-rail tinplate train market:

So, too, the 0-Scale list from the late 1960’s shows a series of items which are clearly for the “toy train” trade such as bridges, station platforms and such. How many of these were actually imported into the United States is not known, but they too probably got modified by the end users.

In earlier years, Kidder had brought in a number of brass 0-Scale traction models.  Not shown in the accompanying list, but apparently attributed to Kidder are a Gary, Indiana trolley, Ohio Electric No. 98 (a traction combine), at least one Pacific Electric car body (a “Hollywood” car) and it is assumed that there are a number of others. 

In some cases, such as the Cincinnati & Lake Erie freight motor in H0 (and possibly 0-Scale, too), the prototype being modeled later showed up on California railroads.

Regardless, this web page is a small beginning to a larger amount of information about Ken Kidder.  Only small bits and pieces are known about Ken Kidder based upon what is online. In my years of collecting books and reading the magazines, I don’t remember seeing anything about the man.

The End

The 1972 catalog sheet clearly indicates that things were winding down.  Where once there had been more than a dozen locomotives in H0 alone, now there were only the 2101 Plantation Engine and the 4010 Japanese electric. There were still some individual parts, along with H0n3 track parts and a switch machine. It is possible that the 1972 catalog sheet had been prepared by Kidder’s heirs & assigns as part of the closing of his personal estate.

At the top of the 1972 catalog page was a two-truck Birney streetcar which was to be delivered to the U.S. in December, 1972. In earlier days, Kidder had brought in Birneys made of brass, but there also have been Birneys with plastic bodies.  This promised Birney for December, 1972 is probably the same plastic body unit.

Ken Kidder was quietly influential in the model railroad hobby, an interesting importer that many modelers found to be of great value.  While there were some who collected the Rubys and Crowns from Tenshodo, there were others who opened a Kidder box and moved over to their workbench with an idea in mind.

And, you can see a family resemblance:

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