Stein am Berg, Part 3

Stein am Berg, Part 3


This is the third installment of a series about the ideas, structures, and background that went into the development of the town of Stein am Berg on my current layout project. What follows will make more sense if you first read the previous parts:

By Ernest H. Robl

In the previous posts in this series, I mentioned that the station building I am using for Stein am Berg is a Pola structure based on a real Austrian station — Flirsch on the Arlberg line in far western Austria. Actually, the two other major structures in Stein am Berg — a hotel and an agricultural co-op — also use Pola kits that were derived (by the manufacturer) from the original kit of the Flirsch station.

This installment provides some background on

  • The town and real station of Flirsch
  • What happened to the Pola brand of kits’

This background didn’t quite fit in with the previous installments. And, yes, there is still at least one more installment of the Stein am Berg series to come.

Flirsch, Austria

Flirsch is a real town in far western Austria — and the station depicted in the Pola kit still exists on the Arlberg main line between Innsbruck and the Swiss border. However, the station now appears quite different due to the facade having been covered in smooth white-washed stucco. That station no longer has passenger service but now fulfills another important role, that of a maintenance base, particularly for catenary crews. Often you can also find track maintenance equipment parked there.

Flirsch is only about a dozen kilometers east of the winter sports hub of St. Anton am Arlberg. And, like St. Anton, the major business of Flirsch, a town of just under a thousand permanent residents, is now tourism, particularly winter sports. Flirsch’s main claim to fame is that it offers access to some of the same winter sports areas as St. Anton — though the hotels and other businesses in Flirsch are much less expensive.

In fact, if you plan to spend time along the Arlberg route any time of the year, Flirsch would probably make a good base — if you have a car — because, as already mentioned, passenger trains no longer stop at Flirsch or several of its neighboring towns.

You will still find Flirsch listed in Austrian railroad timetables — but a footnote indicates that local service, with connections to the train station at St. Anton (and Imst to the east), is provided by bus. (This is a combined railroad and postal bus service.)

There are actually two good reasons for this:

  • Approaching the Arlberg Pass, the railroad is climbing to gain altitude — and therefore clinging to the sides of steep mountains, while the actual towns are located in the valleys below. During severe winter weather — not uncommon in this Alpine region — just getting from the town to the station was a major effort. The bus stops are in the middle of the towns and closer to the centers of population.
  • The Arlberg line itself has developed into a major east-west link through central Europe, particularly with increased traffic from the former East Bloc countries that were once behind the “iron curtain.” The line was already at capacity at the beginning of the 21st century. A major double-tracking effort (for remaining single-track segments of the line) has been underway for the last two decades, but, with the line clinging to the sides of mountains, this is extremely expensive — and at some locations nearly impossible. So, removing slow-moving local trains that made many stops from the line made sense.

Railroad employees still live in the stations that no longer have passenger service, giving them quick access to tracks during severe weather. Though mainline switches have heaters to keep them from freezing up, manual work to clear snow around some trackside equipment is still often necessary.

Flirsch is one of the oldest communities in western Austria, first mentioned in documents in the 1200s, but believed to have existed well before then. Originally residents of this area spoke Romansch, a Latin-based language that is still used in a few areas of Switzerland and is the fourth of Switzerland’s official languages.

In the early part of the 20th century, a large textile mill, located at trackside near the Flirsch station, was the major industry in the area. When that mill closed down, the building was taken over by the catenary maintenance department of the Austrian Federal Railways, making it one of the more unusual facilities of the ÖBB. The already mentioned severe winter weather in the area keeps the catenary maintenance forces quite busy. The territory of the Flirsch-based forces extends through he Arlberg Tunnel.

You can drive up to the Flirsch station, and, when I visited briefly in 2000, an employee on duty (and living) there was quite friendly.


If you are relatively new to model railroading, you may never have heard of the Pola brand of plastic kits of structures and other model railroad items. Or, you may only know it as Faller’s line of G scale accessories.

However, in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, Pola was one of major European brands of plastic kits, and, particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, Pola was a pace setter, pushing the state of the art for structure kits with is “Meister” (master) series at a time when plastic molding technology was advancing rapidly. You’ll find Pola kits — sometimes substantially modified — on many older major European club layouts. For example, if you look hard enough — and know what you are looking for — you will spot Pola HO kits in the catalog layout illustrations of such manufacturers as Roco.

And, though the firm has not existed as a separate entity for many years, you can still find a surprising number of unbuilt original Pola kits for sale on the Internet. Some of these come from hobby shop closures, where the person or firm that has bought out the remaining inventory of a store finds boxes of Pola kits in some dusty back room.

Actually, you may have seen or may even own a Pola kit without realizing it. Some of the structures that looked or could be made to look American were offered in the U.S. under the AHM and IHC brands. (However, these were mostly Pola’s simpler kits, not their master line.) Walthers also imported Pola items under the Pola name — and probably sourced some Walthers brand items from Pola. And, of course, to this day many structures based on original Pola molds are offered by Faller, which bought out Pola. Those not in G scale now only carry the Faller name.

What set Pola apart?

Here’s a partial list of innovations, particularly applicable to its master line:

  • Pola offered kits of 1950s era structures that showed war damage from WW II and deterioration that occurred during the war when there was little money to maintain buildings. This group of products even included kits for buildings in the process of demolition, including piles of rubble. Other kits simulated the renovation and repair of older damaged buildings.
  • Pola offered kits with multi-colored components, with some of these colors indicating aging and weathering. (Some of these parts were hand-painted — a production technique that would be prohibitively expensive today.)
  • Pola produced kits that included vehicles and figures (sourced from other manufacturers), that made it possible to create entire scenes from one kit. Many kits even included interior lighting.
  • Pola kits included some that had windows and doors that could be opened. Some kits had interior details that could be seen through the windows.
  • Pola also had a sense of humor. One of its more popular kits was the burning tax office — which is still available from Faller today.
  • Pola produced some very large and complex structure kits, which were fairly expensive for their time, well before some competitors ventured into this area. One example was a three-kit set that consisted of a large hydro-electric dam, the generator building, and an adjoining electrical substation.
  • Pola also looked outside the core German-speaking market, offering models of distinctly Dutch, French, and Scandinavian structures.

Like the products of most other manufacturers during the late 20th century, most Pola kits were compressed vertically, meaning that doors were not to scale height.

A brief history

Businessman Horst Pollak founded Pola (in all caps in its logo) in 1975. In 1985, at age 49, Pollak died in an airplane crash.

Munich-based businessman Otto-Andreas Schrüfer operated the company until 1997, at which time all toolings and intellectual property (patents and copyrights) were sold to Faller. Faller integrated the HO and N products into its lines for those scales, only keeping the Pola name for its G-scale products.

Faller did not retain any existing Pola employees and dissolved the Pola operations that had been based in Rothhausen, Germany.

Pola continues to maintain a substantial following among some German model railroaders, in part because of the innovations listed above. Model railroader Ingo Mögling has a privately operated Pola fan Website at

Faller recently (spring 2018) released a special set of “1950s buildings” — all of which are based on Pola molds, and all of which were previously available individually, first as Pola kits, and then as Faller items..

To be continued

The next installment looks at what turned out to the the major project of the town, the agricultural co-op, that incorporates parts from several kit manufacturers..


As always, comments are welcome.


One Response to Stein am Berg, Part 3

  1. Gordon Preller says:

    Thanks, Ernest! Bit by bit you are chipping away at my ignorance.

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