American OO Today

The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Saturday, April 19, 2014

American OO in 1951-52, part II: What Happened?

The early 1950s are interesting years to look at. Just ten years previously there was quite a lot on the market and for sure OO gaugers were a bit stunned how fast things “went south” for their favorite scale.

One overall point to make right off is how if you follow along in the magazines things really drop off quickly in terms of advertising and OO coverage these two years, to a point where many issues of magazines have no reference made to American OO at all. In the June 51 “At the Throttle” column in Model Railroader it is stated that “OO gauge … has endured a supply famine ever since the last war.” But really the issue was HO was so much more popular, and manufacturers figured out there really was no money to be made in American OO.

Bur certainly there were still some very dedicated American OO gauge enthusiasts working away on their layouts. The best OO photo of these two years of publications I think is this one, found in the April, 1951 issue of Model Railroader. I included the original caption with the scan of this photo of the engine terminal on the Norfolk & Ohio layout of Carl Appel; click on the photo for a better view. Another angle on this same scene may be seen here.

So if you were building a layout what could you buy?

Sources of OO included used items, old stock, and new production. While Scale-Craft was available as noted in part I, many people seem to be getting out of OO entirely, selling out and selling cheap. The ad seen in the scan ran in the Readers Exchange in MR, August 1952.

Some new products were coming, but were not on the market yet. So far the only bright spot really are the intermittent ads run by Schorr for their F-3.  By later in 1952 their advertising turned a bit of a corner, such as this ad in the December, 1952 issue of RMC. It does not make it clear exactly what they had for sale but clearly they had what you needed!

According to a 1955 letter from Myron P. Davis (cited more fully in the Nason Railways 101 article) the final Nason Railways owner Edward Kelly died in 1952. So by or around this date Myron P. Davis had purchased the residual of Nason and also Jerome B. Foster had purchased the patterns for the Nason 4-4-2 and was laying groundwork for his Guild of the Iron Horse production. To jump ahead for more on those two lines see:


The original sale of the Nason patterns to Foster must have occurred by about 1951. There is a very interesting item about this in the November, 1953 issue of Model Railroader. In the October issue there had been an editorial relating to dormant dies and kits and them hoping to bring former and future model railroad manufacturers together. Foster was an architect and must be the person mentioned in the quote below.
OUR OCTOBER ISSUE containing the editorial about inactive dies was hardly mailed before it stirred up some activity. Two years ago and eastern architect completed dies to produce a OO gauge Pennsylvania RR. 4-4-2. Then he became so busy at his profession that he couldn’t get production started. He read the editorial and decided to sell his dies so that someone else could produce the engine.…
With good luck all around, OO gauge might get a new manufacturer and a fine new engine.
I don’t know if there was a buyer or not at that point, but the engine did eventually make it to the market and things were in motion by 1951. In the big picture there was still a critical mass of people that had no interest to change scales with the trends of the time, and to serve that market besides the models hinted at above some great NEW models soon would come on the market from Kemtron, Johann, Schorr, and others. More on those models as the series continues.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The J-C Models Baggage Car and Coach

As years go by I realize there are a few “common” OO models that I do not have good examples of and actually, today, those models may not actually be so common due to the passage of time and time having been hard on the materials used in the model.

Very recently I fixed part of that situation with this pair of J-C Models cars, a coach and a baggage car. Available from 1939 until into the 1950s, my overview of J-C Models is here; these were also produced in O gauge and HO. They also in their OO line produced a heavyweight combine and a Pullman.

I have a number of the Pullmans and have recently been working on them to get them running well. As part of that I also have several ATSF locomotives and it occurred to me that a Santa Fe baggage car would be a great model to have to run with the Pullmans. The example seen here was made up from parts on hand. The roof and floor had been built up into a car but came to me loose, someone had taken it apart and got side tracked after doing some modifications to one end, I think to convert a baggage car into a combine. I opted use these baggage car sides that I had as loose parts and to also fix up the modified end of the body. As the ATSF looks to have typically set up their heavyweight baggage cars on six-wheel trucks I have opted for that for now (S-C trucks upgraded with vintage Ultimate wheelsets), although I may switch it to 4-wheel in the future if the 6-wheel trucks are needed for a longer car. This car has worked out great and has been leading around a string of Pullmans beautifully on the layout.

I should note that nominally this is a 60' baggage car, but actually the sides are long enough to allow you to build it up as a 70' car, which is the length of this model. I suspect the wood parts varied somewhat depending on the year the kit was boxed.

The coach is in a state of “before” and needs work. I am still puzzling over it but I think what I will do is put new sides on it and work it over a good bit with a removable roof. This car is more typical of how J-C cars often look today. The sides have not held up well and the paint job was really heavy to begin with. It has no roof vent details, but on the plus side the original builder used Selley ends, frame, and step details to upgrade the car a bit. These cars were shipped out with only wood and cardboard parts, but I have actually never seen one with the steps built up from wood as described in the instructions. For purposes of this photo I put S-C 4 wheel trucks on the car, which are very appropriate (J-C did not make a line of trucks). The fresh sides there are set aside for this project. These actually vary a bit in length, I really don’t know why, and this car matches up to the shortest set I have extra, which is part of why the coach is a bit shorter than the baggage car.

In either case these are classic models that can be built up into very nice cars. The rivet details are very nice and with good paint and proper handling they operate well.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Graceline/Transportation Models “Utility Flat”

Up today is a rarity. Graceline and successor Transportation Models both cataloged what they called a “utility flat.” For a long while I puzzled over what it might be, then in some loose parts found the key parts that cleared up that it is in fact what would typically be called today a bulkhead flat.

Then, this example recently came up in eBay, which gives the full visual impression of the model. It seems to be built up from the Transportation Models version of the kit (since it does not have the Graceline cast frame) but when it came to me was not on Graceline or Transportation Models trucks.

Periodically I will have weeks where I do nothing but assemble and tune up trucks. I have parts for a number of pair of Graceline Andrews trucks. These were reviewed in MR in 1941 (see more here) and besides being rather overscale are frankly not easy to get running today and probably never were easy to get running. By now a lot of the castings have deteriorated in particular, and even with all the effort to select the best parts out they may not track well. In any event, I did get a good pair together with modern wheelsets and they are now on the car. Visually they are interesting at least and correct for the brand of car.

This second photo is of the “comprestic” parts and frame. Graceline sold this as a comprestic kit (the sides only) during WWII. Note also the trucks and frame details.

Between these parts, even more loose vintage parts, and now the complete car to compare them to, I should be able to build up at least one more of these unusual and rare models. The actual design is a bit freelanced, but it is a nice model, out of the ordinary compared to what is usually seen in American OO.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

OO Models by Howard Winther Featured in The Train Collectors Quarterly

I am very pleased to have authored another article on American OO that has been published in April, 2014 issue of The Train Collectors Quarterly. 

“Then and Now: Early American 00 Gauge Models Built by Howard Winther” is a compilation of materials from a series of articles developed for this website, reorganized for better flow and focus on prize winning models by Winther that were featured in early hobby publications, showing how the models look today and giving additional context to the early days of American OO.

The layout of Howard Winther was featured for example in The Modelmaker and in The Model Railroader in 1934, and he won a number of prizes at NYSME events before and during WWII. For some flavor of the content of the article start here and click on the links. Or click on the label “Winther” on the sidebar or here for the full run of articles related to Howard Winther models (in reverse order).

I can’t thank enough the sons of Howard Winther for their photography of models such as this one and notes on their father. It is great that the Internet can bring together people and make possible an eight page TCA article such as this on these very significant and beautifully built and preserved early American OO models.

Finally, as new readers may find this article based on seeing the TCA article I would offer this on my personal perspective on model trains. The best description I can come up with is that I am a “retro-modeler.” I talk about this in a longer article (here) but this is the gist of what I do and relates to why I appreciate so much the Winther models.
For years I have known what I do but at the same time it always is hard to explain to others outside the OO community. It is a little bit like Hi-Rail but not really as there is no toy-train basis to what I do. I am sort of a collector but not a pure collector; I like exploring the history of OO a lot but I also very much like rebuilding old models (these days quite often junkers or old unfinished projects) to fit the theme of my layout, with the idea of running them realistically. My main goal is a functioning model railroad in 1/76, so while I do use vintage items such as these I also have models made with modern techniques and materials that I enjoy as well. 
Another way to say it is I like Lionel OO but have no big collecting desire to own every variation of their production or the budget to achieve that goal. I am much more interested in the bigger picture of all the OO lines. Some items I have were purchased or have been kept purely from a collector standpoint but the ones that excite me the most fit into the theme of my operations.
In short, while I am working to collect for example all of the different models produced by OO makers such as Nason and Schorr, I actually run American OO on a layout (as in the photo above, see more here) and really enjoy OO the big puzzle of sorting out history as well. Great to see the OO coverage with the TCA, and if old scale model trains are an interest keep coming back to American OO Today for more.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

American OO in 1951-52, part I: Sunset for Scale-Craft

Regular readers of this series know by now that Elliott Donnelley clearly loved his Scale-Craft model trains. The time had come though to move on; their product line did not fit with the hobby trends of the time, and his career had gone in other directions.

Exhibit “A” being this letter from Elliott Donnelley. Dated February 28, 1951, the letter is to Lewis English (who ten years later would become the owner of Bowser). If you click on the image you can view a larger scan, and from that you can see several details. Note that the letterhead is rubber stamped with a Chicago “corporate office” address. As to the Scale-Craft product line, “ …we have just sold our entire “O” gauge line of model railroad equipment; the car line to the Thomas industries of Wenonah, N. J., and the locomotives to the Central Locomotive Works….” But the OO line was still available through a Mr. Gunnard Stark of Lake Forest, IL.

Later copies of the Scale-Craft Round Lake catalog have a rubber stamp on the cover reading “ONLY “OO” EQUIPMENT AVAILABLE” and that same new address on a second rubber stamp in Lake Forest, IL. When I look up 849 N. Summit Ave. in Google street view it shows it is a residential neighborhood across from a park, a pretty middle class looking area. My guess is it was at that time the home address of Stark, who was evidently the caretaker of the Scale-Craft OO line for owner Elliott Donnelley, with the Scale-Craft inventory and toolings likely stored elsewhere.

An article on Scale-Craft by Glenn Guerra in The O Scale Resource for Jan/Feb 2014 has a slightly different theory on the Summit Ave. address, which may be absolutely correct as to why this specific street address was used.
When I was visiting Art Miller [emeritus archivist of special collections] to look at the catalogues and other information at Lake Forest College [there is a special Donnelley collection there; he was at one time a trustee in addition to being mayor of Lake Forest], we went to see the Summit Avenue location. Summit Avenue is a two block long street with houses on one side of the street and a park on the other. Across the park from Summit Avenue is the Donnelley estate. Art told me that quite a few of the estate owners in Lake Forest owned homes for their help to live in. We suspect that this was the case with Scale Craft, and that whoever was in charge of production, was now living in the house at 849 Summit Avenue.
The Scale-Craft ad run in MR and RMC ends with the sale of the O gauge line, but two more advertisements for the OO line later ran in Model Railroader.  First up is this from September, 1951. In it we learn that Scale-Craft “is back and going strong.” The fine print is encouraging, as they were now shipping the following items:

  • 4-8-4
  • 4-6-0
  • Gas Electric (coach/baggage)
  • Hopper
  • Flat
  • Reefer
  • Stock car
  • Caboose
  • Coach
  • Baggage
  • Pullman
  • Diner
  • Observation
  • Power unit for Gas Electric or MU cars
  • Fibre tie strip
  • Midlin track kits

That last item is interesting as Midlin had quit advertising their OO track products several years earlier; most likely this was old stock that Stark or Donnelley had obtained to fill out the OO line.

Following that ad, so far as I can tell the final Scale-Craft ad is this one, from the January 1952 issue of MR. Note that it plugs the MU cars as new. This car was featured in the look at the 1950 Round Lake catalog (where it is illustrated), but it is possible that it did not finally get produced until 1952, which is why it is so rare. And, as the ad says, “watch for many other new items in the near future.”

Related to that MU car, I have an updated link. There is a type of passenger truck sideframe that is very rarely seen among Scale-Craft items. This article has much more on these plain bearing truck sideframes, and if you scroll to the end of the article I have added a photo of a variation of this with a different truck mounting. Perhaps the odd mounting seen on this sideframe relates to the very late MU car production?

To close (and jump ahead slightly in our story), Kemtron ultimately purchased the residual of Scale-Craft OO by 1954. More on that may be found in this article.

When this series continues the topic is that of “what happened.”

Continue in 1951-52 series

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A HO Pullman Conversion

A variety of models have been converted from HO to OO. Today the model featured is one such example, a conversion of the AHM (Rivarossi) heavyweight Pullman. It was a part of a 1920 heavyweight series of models.

In the first photo the conversion is seen on top of a vintage J-C Models Pullman. It is full scale for OO and in comparison the AHM model does look a bit undersized from the side. William Gilbert started this conversion and it was about 90% done when it came to me. What he did was split the car down the middle, add an OO scale roof (J-C models roof stock), and add a very nice interior, seen in the second photo. My main tasks were to finish up the roof details and add trucks and Kadee couplers

I suspect a sticky point for Gilbert was the trucks, as there is not enough space to use Scale-Craft trucks under the car and it really needs six wheel trucks. However, I have four pair of these trucks around that were modified by a prior owner who filed off the ends of the trucks. With both ends of the sideframes essentially gone they would fit the car. I had used them on another car previously, adding at that time upgrade wheelsets.

On this car the trucks work great! It handles the curves on my layout beautifully being a bit under 80 foot in OO and I enjoy seeing the interior and details of the model, with the windows being another nice touch (I usually leave them off – have seen too many cars where the windows are damaged). On the down side, it really does look a little small. It does match a few other cars I have though (some Nason in particular is closer) and I have two more of these HO conversion projects that were started by Gilbert (but less far along) that I can build up to match as well.

The J-C Pullman in the photos is also notable, one of a pair that I just finished up that had been started by the late Pierre Bourassa and came to me about 80% done. He had brush painted them a shade of green that was a bit off and there were some details not completed and no decals. They were a little rough; I worked the pair over, more details, new paint, HO decals. One interesting detail is he used Scale-Craft frames on the cars, seen in the last photo. It is those frames actually which make the pair not presently operable on my layout, there is not enough truck swing allowed. I could modify them, but even if I did 80’ cars don’t operate well on my layout. For now I will leave them as shelf models. I believe Bourassa planned by leaving the roof removable to add an interior similar to what Gilbert had added to the AHM car, and if I work on these more I will add the interior details.

UPDATE: I got inspired just a few weeks after posting this article and got a train of five full size J-C and Famoco Pullmans set up and running on the layout. It is all about good trucks, clearance for the trucks, and sufficient coupler swing to actually get the cars to operate, even if they do "look" a bit big for the layout. With that for inspiration I got the Bourassa cars running as well, with modified frames, upgraded trucks, and new couplers. They are nice cars and I like the removable roof; at some point soon I plan to add interiors that match the Gilbert HO conversion Pullman, I have all the parts to do it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Nason PRR Diner

Up today is a rarity, a pre-war Nason PRR Diner.

This model was a part of their line of EZ-Built passenger cars with stamped brass sides and was introduced in 1937. With the Scale-Craft line coming in that year they must have felt it a good time to expand their passenger car line in the growing OO market. Also, clearly the owners of Nason were enthusiastic about passenger cars, with several unique PRR models produced that would look great pulled by their classic P5-A model. The line also included a P-70 coach, a PB-70 combine, and a PRR postal (RPO). More on Nason Railways in general may be found here.

From the side I would note to check the small details on the roof, which include an ice hatch casting, which is original to the kit. When this model came to me (via eBay) it was not on Nason trucks, which it runs on now as seen in the bottom view. Normally I like to restore models to the level that they could operate on my layout, but at this time this one is a shelf model. I would have to modify the frame a good bit to allow for enough truck swing for my curves—or build a new layout! This car as designed/built needs something like 36” or larger curves. Also, while it could be disassembled and repainted/lettered, as I am not a PRR modeler I left it as it is, a nice example of the model but showing some age.

This final scan is from the instructions for this model. The builder followed them pretty closely and put in the time and effort to build what was not a simple kit. The instructions are dated, if I am reading them correctly, 8-9-37, with the drawings by "F.W." That would be Frank Waldhorst, business partner of Hugh Nason at that time. Both of them may be seen in this article. I can’t say how many of these were produced, but again these models are not commonly seen, the Scale-Craft diner is much more common. A classic model I am happy to have in my collection.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

"The Giant," a look at two Transportation Models 50' boxcars

This car some readers may have seen pass through eBay really recently, the big gray UP 50' boxcar. It was built up very neatly from either a Graceline "comprestic" kit or from from the successor Transportation Models kit. It caught my eye as this so rarely seen for sale and this is a great example.

In the first photo the car is with a Transportation Models 50' boxcar, featured previously in this article. This was rebuilt from a junk car but informed heavily by the two additional kits I have for this car, one complete and one partial. Look from the side first get used to the visual proportions of the boxcar red car, as they are about right. Then look at the gray car. It is made with the same sides and doors but note that the builder fit them to a larger body, so large that the model would pass as a 40' boxcar in S gauge instead of being a OO scale car.

Those that saw the listing on eBay will note I traded out the trucks for a set that were painted boxcar red (correct for the car) and also I gave it a quick coat of Dullcote, to seal the decals.

Looking from the end the body is the same width (too wide) but is shorter. The ends are exactly the same ends but on the shorter car they are cut down a bit on the bottom and on the taller car they were not cut down to the line it would seem Graceline intended.

I was especially intrigued by the different body size as this was driven by the wood parts. I pulled out my kits and discovered they had smaller wood body parts, closer to correct for scale. My guess is one batch of the same parts had the oversize bodies and Transportation Models shipped them out in kits. Maybe the original builder of the boxcar red car noted this and cut down the height?

Digging in the parts supply and in the kits on hand I discovered that there are two different sizes of ends. Click on the photo for a better view but note the larger one is the type on both of these cars but the smaller one is correct for OO. Also note that both are clearly Graceline parts, stamped right there plain as day. The larger one has to have been an "oops" on their part, corrected with the smaller end before they sold the line. They shipped out the big parts probably, and it would also seem the big parts were shipped out by Transportation Models too as they repackaged and sold off the residual of Graceline.

And also I found the same thing with the doors. Again, these are both Graceline parts as seen in the stamping, but there is the larger version as seen on both of the cars above and a smaller version that is correct for OO scale.

It is a bit of a puzzle but going back to the gray car, the builder made it up beautifully. After it was completed if it was ran on a layout I don't know, but the car looks huge and will certainly see little service here! But both cars inspire me a bit to work more with some of these parts I have on hand this summer, neat cars can be made from these kits with some effort.

For more background see:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

American OO in 1950. Part IV, Articles and Layouts

By 1950 there was not a lot of American OO coverage in the magazines. However, two items stand out from the year.

First up is this photo of the great Norfolk and Ohio layout of Carl Appel. The main article on this layout (here) is one of the better traffic articles on this site, and in the September issue of Model Railroader we find this additional photo of the layout. The caption reads,
One of the scenic wonders of model railroading is Carl Appel’s OO gauge Norfolk & Ohio layout in Allentown, Pa. Colored photo murals on the walls realistically simulate an infinite horizon. Foreground details blend subtly into the background. “Water” in foreground is glossy green paint.
What a fine scenic setting for that Lionel OO Hudson. And if you have the issue it is worth also a quick look as another OO layout is found in the same issue in Trackside Photos, the layout of Verne Jenkins of Tacoma, Wash.

The big article of the year has the simple title “OO Articulated,” and ran in the November issue of MR. By Dr. S. L. Casper of Quincy, Ill., the article subtitle reads “This beautiful engine was constructed chiefly from HO gauge commercial parts by a resourceful OO gauger who succeeded in making HO gauge his biggest asset.” The article begins,
As a long suffering but confirmed OO gauger, I have often felt like a hungry, penniless waif gazing longingly through the window of a lavish bakery when I visited hobby shops and inspected the varied and excellent HO locomotive kits. But rather than change gauges I decided to make up a OO gauge locomotive kit by utilizing HO gauge loco parts.
As shown in the accompanying photographs, I tried out something big to test my construction theory, namely a Union Pacific Challenger….
He used published plans but also credits OO gauger Jim Trout of Los Angeles for additional “snapshots of the prototype,” noting too that “it was his superb workmanship in the construction of various Santa Fe locomotives in OO guage that prompted me to being construction of this articulated project.”

In short what he did was elongate a Scale-Craft 4-8-4 boiler and work out a drive using Varney 72” drivers and other parts. The article is a great read and for me reminds me again that I have a group of steam locomotive projects to work out drives for, I hope to get back to those with a block of time this summer.

To close out this brief look at 1950 I would also note that the MR club directory in their June issue lists four different OO clubs in New Jersey. Even with articles and advertising tapering off there were some very active OO gaugers out there, and as this series continues into the 1950s we will look at a number of those individuals and the products they brought to the market.

Return to beginning of 1950 series

Continue to 1951-52 series 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

American OO in 1950. Part III, Notes on Other Manufacturers

Besides Scale-Craft, in my survey of magazines for the year I note four other American OO manufacturers with advertising in 1950.

Starting with the oldest firm, in the September 1950 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman is found what must be the last advertisement from Nason Railways. If you have been following this series of articles in fact I think you would have guessed that they were completely out of business not long after regular advertising ended in 1947. However, the owner Ed Kelly ran one more, final ad.

This image is the top portion of it, an open letter to OO gaugers, and is actually a scan of the proof sheet of the ad, which somehow made it to me. Besides reporting generally that owner Ed Kelly was in improving health (the address given is a P.O. Box in Miami) we learn that he was attempting to sell "special packages" of parts for the 2-8-0 and the 4-6-4 locomotives. Each was priced at $15 and the 2-8-0 set for example contained
…the following bronze castings: Boiler, Tender, Tender underframe, Cab roof, Valve Hanger, Boiler Front, Tender front deck, Worm bearing, Cylinder block, Main frame, Rear cab support, Reverse Shaft Arms, Links, Side Rods, Main Rods, and the lead truck bolster. Also a headlight, crosshead guides, bell, whistle, handrail supports, pop valves, steel worm, jack shaft coupling, steam turret, couplers, air tanks, chock valves, machine screws and complete drawings and instructions are included.
Next up alphabetically would be Schorr. This scan is of a print of a photo used in Schorr advertising in 1950 for the F-3. The model was advertised regularly, and this photo may be seen in the ad in the November RMC for example. Click on it for a better view, as being an original print more detail can be seen than from the actual advertisements, which were very small format.

Zuhr also advertised regularly, with this example from RMC in May, “now we’re ready with the observation.” The line was reviewed Trade Topics in Model Railroader in June of 1950. There we read,
The Duraliner streamlined cars include a coach, an 18-roomette Pullman, a combination Pullman, a baggage coach, a mail car, and a diner.
All parts are aluminum. Windows are punched in the one piece roof and side side sheet. Ends and floor are 1/8” stock. All parts are cut to size and all holes required are drilled….
Self-tapping screws retain the floor, couplers and trucks. Trucks are Varney HO F-3 diesel freight side frames with OO gauge 36” scale wheels and stamped brass bolsters.
Window strip, sponge rubber diaphragms, roof hatches, and rivets for smokejacks complete the kit….
The printed instruction sheet, although lacking illustrations and dimensional data, covers the assembly well.
My overview article on Zuhr is here.

The fourth firm seen with advertising is Famoco. Famoco however only advertised their HO line with the exception of including their OO tracklayer in some advertising (such as RMC, July).

Other firms had models available. Eastern cars were available certainly if not advertised, for example. Midlin track was available for sure but I am thinking maybe by now their OO line was actually out of production. One other manufacturer perhaps coming in now or soon would be Myron P. Davis. This article has text from a letter he sent to Pittman in 1950, looking for a specific Nason motor. 

One more article is to come in the series on American OO in 1950, this time looking briefly at layouts and other models in the hobby press.

Continue reading 1950 Series

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John Ericson firmly believes everyone needs a hobby. TCA 01-52672