Before World War II, model train technology was metal technology. Locomotives were made of die-cast zamac, bronze and other metals. Passenger cars and freight cars were often made of stamped tin-plate which had lithographed decoration. As a result, the level of detail available was limited to what form the metal could be cast as or stamped into. After World War II, injected thermoplastic would come into the fore. As the technology improved, the number of plastics to choose from grew, leading to stronger, better detailed model trains.
Ade’s method improved both the manufacturing of model trains and increased the level of detail. The individual components of a railroad car, by themselves, were relatively weak, but could be decorated quickly. As the different pieces of each car were snapped together, the car became stronger yet the actual walls of the car were very thin. As a result, the car had realistic looking thin walls. In addition to the improved manufacturing process, Ade also enjoys a reputation for technical accuracy and fidelity to the prototype car. The Ade designed cars quickly became popular with model railroaders.
Willy Ade did not design every item produced, but his influence is everywhere. As other model train designers looked at Ade’s approach, their own designs improved as a result. Nor was Klipstechic his only contribution:
- Screen printing - Ade led the way with advanced screen printing that was an improvement over the lithographic process.
- Longer cars - Earlier, cars had been of considerably shorter length. Although easier for older style layouts with sharp radius curves, as model railroading became more realistic, demand grew for cars that were closer to scale length.
- Close coupling - Ade also developed a reliable close coupling system which kept individual cars close together on straight track and then pushed then away from each other so that they could operate on model railroad curves.
- Car interiors - As the exterior of the cars improved, the interior details also were improved by Ade. Because the car walls were thinner, the viewer’s eye was drawn to the interiors.
- Interior lights - Earlier, interior lighting in passenger cars, if present at all, was a large incandescent light bulb. Ade improved this with plastic light channels and fiber optics.
Willy Ade started in the model railroad business when he opened WIAD (WIlly ADe) in 1948. WIAD manufactured H0-Scale injected plastic model structures for several years. These new structures were better detailed and more colorful than what had been manufactured up to that time. Previously, most model railroad structures had been manufactured with sheet wood materials, then hand painted. The new plastic technology significantly improved what was available for model railroaders. WIAD closed in the late 1950’s after the untimely death of two of his business partners. Ade then joined with Horst Röchling to form Röwa; as with WIAD, Röwa was an acronym (Röchling Willy Ade).
In the early years of Röwa, much of the company’s efforts were devoted to performing consulting work for other model railroad companies, most notably Trix. During the 1960’s, Trix’s H0 product line improved as they began producing more highly detailed locomotives and cars, much of it a result of Ade’s skills. It was also during this period that the very successful Minitrix product was rolled out, also an outcome of the relationship with Ade. It was also at the end of the 1960’s, in 1968, that Ade fell out of favor with Trix management, supposedly over the length of the cars he wanted to manufacture. Trix management wanted to stick with their existing car sizes so that existing Trix owners were not closed out of the market, while Ade wanted greater realism.
So, Willy Ade started production under the Röwa name, and some very interesting cars were the result. In addition to a medium-sized product line in H0, Röwa also offered a small but interesting N-Scale product line. At about the same time, Rokal was the the process of ending model train operations, while still continuing with their metal casting manufacturing operations. Ade picked up the Rokal line and some items were issued under the Röwa name.
Most sources describe the Röwa / Rokal era as being unsuccessful. At the time of Röwa’s purchase of the Rokal assets, a commercial loan agreement was signed between Rokal’s management and Röwa. In the early 1970’s, Rokal (which manufactured automobile carburetors) lost considerable business when the 1973 oil crisis spread around the world. Demand for inefficient carburetors plummeted, leading Rokal to try to raise cash to survive. The Röwa note was an early casualty. This led to the closure of Röwa, and the Rokal tooling was supposedly sold to Roco (of Austria). The remaining Röwa tooling was sold to several other companies.
Ade has continued producing H0-Scale passenger cars on a “boutique” basis. He celebrated his 80th birthday in 2003, and still conducts business in Altheim, Germany, with his granddaughter’s able assistance. His web site is located, here.
Willy Ade passed on May 27, 2011. He was preceded by his wife, Charlotte. Although Ade is no longer with us, his designs and ideas live on.