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Model railroad manufacturer Con-Cor celebrates 50th anniversary

By Jenny Maaske
Published: February 22, 2012
Model railroad manufacturer Con-Cor Trains International Ltd. will celebrate its 50th anniversary in March 2012.

Founder Jim Conway said it all started from his interest in model trains. He received a Marx train set for Christmas in 1950 and began building his first layout in 1956. By hanging out in hobby shops, Conway became aware of a popular line of train kits called Main-Line Models, which stores never could get in stock. He saw this an opportunity to “build a better mouse trap” and fill that void in the market.

The company began as a part-time venture with his father and uncle in 1962. Based in Chicago, Con-Cor’s first kit was a wood and metal HO craftsman model of the General American Airslide hopper. The kit was re-released in a ready-to-assemble plastic version in 1992. The Illinois warehouse and plant closed in 1999 and moved to its current location in Tucson, Ariz.

The National Model Railroad Association recognized Conway as an Industry Pioneer in 2008, and he was inducted into the Model Railroad Industry Hall of Fame in 2010.

Today the company offers an extensive line for N-scale model railroaders and continues to expand its HO line.

As with any business, running a family company can be rewarding and, at times, frustrating. “The biggest challenge we face is the government and the rules and regulations that, in many cases, make no sense at all,” Conway said. “One of our bigger issues was changing from solvent-based paints to water-based paints about 10 years ago (before many other industries had to change over). It’s virtually impossible to duplicate the paint colors the railroads used from 1910–1950 with water-based pigments and paint.”

Con-Cor has never had a staff of more than 30 employees. Almost half of the current employees have been with the company for more than 10 years — some more than 20 years — and all are considered to be part of the company’s extended family. Hard economic times have made it challenging to retain these employees, and Conway said it’s an aspect of small businesses that politicians don’t seem to grasp. “Most politicians think every small business owner is just out to screw the employees,” he said. “I don’t know where this attitude comes from, but it exists. Our company management has been working long hours to keep product flow moving to keep these long-term employees working so they can support their families.”

Over the years, some of Con-Cor’s best-selling products have been the N-scale PA-1 and J-3 4-6-4 Hudson steam engine. Conway's favorite N-scale product is the PA-1, which is an icon in the industry and the first N-scale diesel he helped design. His favorite HO-scale item is the North Shore ElectroLiner.

For special anniversary sales, visit www.con-cor.com.
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