Introduced: circa 1969 (Switcher) and 1978 (Old Timer) - both discontinued circa 1999
Minitrix's 0-6-0 came in two basic flavors - the "switcher with slopeback tender" and the "old timer" (I exclude Minitrix's venerable 0-6-0 "L'il Donkey" cuz it's not a North American prototype and it has a completely different mechanism). Minitrix's 0-6-0 "switcher" was originally imported into to the US by Aurora and marketed under their "Postage Stamp Trains" line. Aurora sold these separately or as part of train sets. Unfortunately, Aurora's commitment to N scale was fairly shortlived, and the entire Postage Stamp line vanished sometime in the early 1970s (around 1972, or so I've been told). Shortly thereafter, ATI/Model Power stepped in and became the new importer (a relationship that lasted for decades). In 1999, Minitrix was bought out by Marklin (another German outfit) and ultimatately the Minitrix 0-6-0 (along with Minitrix's entire line of North American N scale locomotives) vanished from the face of the earth.
All of the post-Aurora Minitrix packaging simply lists "Minitrix" as the brand (making no mention of Model Power). This packaging came in two basic flavors - an off-white box with green lettering and graphics, and the (more ubiquitous) Minitrix "green and yellow box". Since the former is marked "Made in Germany" and the latter is marked "Made in West Germany", I'm assuming the green and yellow box represents earlier production runs. Also, none of the green and yellow boxes out-and-out say what model is contained therein - some have a picture of the model and others just have a catalog number. I'm not really sure how those variations fit into the timeline.
The original Aurora-era 0-6-0 "switcher" differs from the later Model Power imports in a couple of ways.
Firstly, not all of the Aurora imports had working headlights (as opposed to the later Model Power imports, all of which did). According to early Aurora catalogs, the 0-6-0 was available with or without a headlight (the inclusion of which would cost you a couple of bucks extra). The non-lit ones had some extra weight added in place of the lightbulb (presumably for better pickup and increased pulling power).
The other noteable change between the Aurora and Model Power imports is the motor. As pictured above, the motor in the Model Power version (on the right) is definitely higher quality, making for much smoother and quieter running.
Overall, the Minitrix 0-6-0 "switcher" is a decent looking model. On the other hand, performance is pretty much all over the map (not surprising, given the age of most of them). As mentioned above, the motors in the early Aurora imports are noisier and less smooth than the ones found in the later Model Power imports. However, based on my experiences, these models are all (regardless of era) generally pretty mediocre runners. And I guess that overriding mediocrity boils down to a handful of major problems. First off, pickup is very limited. The engine conducts current from the forward and rear drivers only (the tender has no pickup whatsoever). Couple that with the fact that the flanges are ridiculously huge, and basically you have a locomotive that's entirely useless on anything but pristine Code-80 rails (and forget about turnouts). The next problem is the three pole motor. Frankly, it doesn't offer much subtlety in terms of speed control (and with the top end speed being ridiculously high). The last nail in the coffin is the running gear. Now, I actually have one of these where all of the rods and cranks move together in a symphony of smooth motion that is amazing to behold. Unfortunately, such behavior seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Most of these are out of synch to one degree or other, and as a consequence, they shimmy and wobble down the rails like a punch-drunk boxer.
Oddly enough, the 0-6-0 slopeback switcher remains popular to this day. I guess owing mainly to the fact that it more or less resembles a popular PRR prototype.
A popular modification with these is to wire an extra set of power feeds to the tender wheels (to enhance pickup).
In the late 1970s, Minitrix/Model Power released the "Old Timer" version of this model. In addition to the new wood-laden tender, it also features a new smokestack, a new "cow-catcher" style pilot (sans coupler), and (once again) no headlight. As in the first Aurora version, the lightbulb was left out in favor of a weight (a nicely machined brass one this time around). The most noteable change (at least from a performance perspective) is the lack of a third set of cranks and rods (the ones connecting the middle set of drivers to the "hangers"). This change alone probably accounts for why I've always found these "old timers" to run more smoothly than the switchers. Fewer moving parts to get screwed up I guess. Lastly, the tender trucks on these models are held in place with screws (as opposed to the tender trucks on the "switchers", which have unreliable push-studs).
Although some of these old timer models were equipped with black wheels, the majority of them seem to have come equipped with red, European-style wheels. And the road name doesn't seem to matter, as I've seen UP versions equipped either way.
Collector note- if you're looking for any of these models on eBay, take careful note of the bell (as in the above photo, often missing), as well as the front handrails on the "switcher" version (very brittle, and often broken or missing).
Trivia- As mentioned above, "American Tortoise International" (ATI) imported these models in the 1970s (post-Aurora). That company later merged with PMI and became "Model Power" (circa 1977). Also, Con-Cor imported some of these models into the US and painted them in livery schemes unavailable from Minitrix. These were sold in Con-Cor packaging.
Grade: C (and I guess maybe "B" for the old-timer version)
Postage Stamp mania: