The World of Lehmann Aerial Cable Cars

14 November 2012
imports_CCGB_cable6_12142.jpg The World of Lehmann Aerial Cable Cars
Eric Bryan takes a ride through the German toy manufacturer's famous cable cars. ...
The World of Lehmann Aerial Cable Cars Images

Lehmann Rigi 795
In 1928 Lehmann created a tinplate toy of the Rigi 795 cable car. This model was inspired by Richter’s 1927 honeymoon in the Swiss Alps. The design of the toys was similar to that of the old cable cars of the Wetterhorn in Switzerland. These Lehmann cars are known to exist with the main cabin colour yellow or orange; grey window frames; and white, cream or blue tops. The cabin featured a swing-open door, and seated inside at either end were two figures. This Lehmann model came with cord and a mounted tin cranking mechanism with which you could reel the car up and down the cable. Lehmann produced the Rigi 795 until 1945.

Early Lehmann Rigi 900

The predecessor to the version of the Lehmann Rigi 900 which we brought back from Zürich was also a Rigi 900, but with several differences. The earlier model was all of tinplate with no plastic pieces, had no window glass, and it had a swing style rather than a sliding opening cabin door. The roof and top-mounted bracket were likewise of metal. This variation of the Rigi 900 could be had with a tin lithographed mountain terminal and an electric motor instead of the hand crank device. This system allowed for smooth and steady operation of the cable car up and down the rope, a quality difficult to duplicate with the manual crank method. Some sets included cardboard cut-out figures which could pose as cable car passengers. The next step in the Rigi 900 evolution came when the metal bracket of this model was replaced with a larger plastic A-frame bracket.

The next Lehmann Rigi 900
This was the Rigi 900 which my dad bought in the mid-1960s. The main tinplate body of the cabin was red, the window frames were white, and the plastic roof was dark blue. This cable car had a silver plastic tower or bracket mounted to its roof, atop which was the truck or wheel set designed for riding along the cable system. The car came with heavy cord which acted as the cable, and a manual cranking system to wind the car up and down the line. As with the earlier model of the Rigi 900, you could find the motorised variation in a set complete with a lithographed mountain terminus and cut-out passenger figures. In later sets, Lehmann replaced the cut-outs with moulded plastic figures of skiers and tourists. This version of the Rigi was also sold in a two-car set as the Rigi Duo. The cable operating systems were later elaborated with large pulley and crank mechanisms, allowing for smoother operation, and were also offered with an electric motor option.

Later Lehmann Rigis
Lehmann continued its tradition of the Rigi 900 with later models of the cable car. These cars were made entirely of plastic. The cabins were red with white trim and grey roofs. Occasionally you’ll see them with blue roofs, or with yellow cabins. They often had green tinted plastic window glass (variations here too), and a black plastic bracket and wheelset assembly. The cabins featured a sliding door and an opening roof hatch.

This later model was also sold in a Rigi Duo pack which included two cars, plastic passenger figures, a paperboard kit lower terminus, and either manual or electric pulley system. Especially with these latter Rigi models, there are several variations, such as battery vs. AC power, automatic vs. manual reverse, etc. Some sets were made to represent particular cable car systems around the world as well.

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Anatomy of a cable car system.

Mounted to the top of a cable car is the bracket or arm which links it to the overhead cables. At the top of the arm is the wheelset or truck with pulley-type wheels. The basic cable arrangement is made up of two or three lines. In the three rope configuration, the car rides on two of the lines, with the cables fitting into the grooves of the wheels. (These two cables serve rather like rails on a railway. In fact, some of Lehman’s literature and packaging referred to their cable cars as cable railways.) The car is latched to the third cable via a grip. This third cable is powered by an electric motor at the mountain and/or lower elevation terminal, pulling the cable car up and down as it rides on the two other lines.

The two rope arrangement works the same way, except that the car rides on a single line while being pulled by the other. Setups which have two cable cars feature two sets of single or double lines on which the cars ride, but they share the same powered rope which in this case forms a loop from the lower station to the upper station for one car, and from the upper station to the lower station for the other car. With this two car setup, each car is attached at points on the powered cable so that when one car is at the lower terminal, the other is at the upper station. With this arrangement, the cars pass each other at the midway point of the entire cable system. In this twin car array, a motor at the lower terminus pulls one car downward, the weight of which assists in simultaneously drawing the other car upward.

Though the history of the cable car for carrying materials goes back to ancient times in Japan and India, one of the first passenger car systems was opened in 1908. This was the Wetterhorn line in the Swiss Alps, intended to reach the Wetterhorn summit at over 12,142 feet. In order to accomplish this massive climb, the plan was to divide the cableway into four sections. However, only the first stage was built, and operations were then interrupted in 1915 by the Great War.

The Wetterhorn cable system operated on the two-line, two-car shuttle principal described earlier. In case of failure of the power plant or the propulsion cable, an automatic braking system gripped the support cable, holding the car in place until repairs or rescue could be implemented. The cable car’s popularity surged in the 1920s, when cable car systems were installed to reach peaks in the German, Austrian and Swiss Alps. Part of the design’s success was that it was acknowledged that they were simpler and less expensive to construct than mountain railway systems.

Photographs are courtesy of Lloyd Rich.