Sakai trains were made in HO and O gauge by a Tokyo-based manufacturer and sold abroad, particularly in the United States and Australia after World War II. Sakai’s O gauge product bore a curious resemblance to Marx. I have read speculation that Marx once used Sakai as a subcontractor, and Sakai used the tooling to make its own trains rather than returning it to Marx, but there are enough differences that I don’t think that’s the case.
What I do know is that Sakai’s O gauge product was a curious blend of cues from Lionel and Marx and the trains worked pretty well. They’re hard to find today, but not especially valuable since few people know what they are. They turn up on Ebay occasionally.
The Sakai 301 locomotive
The Sakai 301 locomotive was die-cast and looks like a Lionel 675 shrunk down to the size of a Marx 999. It’s about 2 1/2 inches too short to be a 1:64 scale model of the Pennsylvania K5, though its height and width are about right, but it looked more detailed and costly than anything Marx made in its price range. It also runs really well, as long as the reverse unit isn’t too dirty–a malady most postwar-era trains share.
The tender, made of pressed tinplate, closely resembles the Marx tender it directly competed with, but there are subtle differences. The most noticeable difference is that Marx’s tender was slightly wedge-shaped, while the Sakai tender was squared off. Marx’s design disguised the differences across its product lines, and Sakai had no reason to do that. That’s why I think Sakai made its own tooling.
Hutton and Pacific
Sakai’s rolling stock was a nearly exact copy of Marx’s 3/16 tin lithographed trains, placed on Lionel-sized trucks with a Lionel-compatible knuckle coupler made of sheet metal.
Unlike U.S.-made trains that often had real brand names on them, Sakai used the name of a fictional railroad. They meant to label them “Hudson and Pacific,” which would have reached nearly across the entire United States, but the early trains were misspelled “Hutton and Pacific.” Sakai corrected the error in later runs. This variant is rather rare.
Hudson and Pacific
Later trains were labeled Hudson and Pacific on the tender, box car, caboose, and gondola. The paint scheme and lettering closely resembles Marx’s New York Central-inspired cars of the early postwar era.
Looking at a U.S. map, Hudson and Pacific probably sounded like a good name for a U.S. railroad, but even the giant Class 1 railroads of today don’t span the continent like a railroad joining the Hudson Bay or Hudson River to the Pacific Ocean would.
Tank cars have always been popular, and Sakai supplied one lettered “Pegasus,” likely taking a cue from Mobil Oil, whose trademark was a red Pegasus. The paint scheme and overall layout closely resembles the yellow Shell-lettered tanker that Marx sold in the early postwar era.
Track and switches
Sakai sold O27 track that looked a lot like contemporary Marx or Lionel track, but the ties were further back from the end and the ties weren’t painted or blackened. Sakai’s switches are similar internally to the Marx 1590, although the controller is wired differently. You can use a Marx or Atlas #56 controller with them if the controller is missing, and if you want to make them non-derailing, you can use my instructions for Marx switches. Sakai’s switches work pretty well with either Marx or Lionel trains due to their design. The controller left something to be desired so they’ve been maligned over the years, and they’re prone to developing internal shorts. So be sure to test them out before you install them on the layout, and consider a different controller.
Running Sakai trains
The 301 locomotive is usually rather dependable and it runs very smoothly, like a costlier Lionel or American Flyer train. The knuckle coupler is similar enough to Lionel that you can run mix Lionel cars into a Sakai consist or vice-versa if you want some variety. And since Marx cars so closely resemble Sakai, they look good together. You can put Lionel trucks on common Marx cars to run them with Sakai, and before people realized Sakai trains aren’t very easy to find, it was common for Marx fans to put Marx trucks on Sakai rolling stock to get more variety.
I’m not convinced that changing the trucks on Sakai rolling stock does much to harm their value, but I would hesitate to modify pristine Sakai items.
Sakai’s eventual fate is unknown. “Sakai” is a common Japanese word that means “border,” so contemporary use of the brand name is likely to be completely unrelated from the company that made tin trains that irritated Marx in the 1950s.