American OO Today

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

Sunday, September 21, 2014

American OO for 1958-59: Part II, Schorr and More

The good news is that as of 1958-59 there certainly were still American OO products that could be purchased new by the dedicated OO gaugers of the day.

To kick things off, the May, 1958 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman has a mention of Schorr “keeping OO gaugers happy” with “custom built equipment imported from Japan.” The folks at RMC were not only familiar with the active OO gaugers in their state but I think were at least in part working to book a bit of advertising from Schorr. Which they succeeded in doing, as we see this ad that ran in October 1958. The RS-2 model is very notable as it was a brand new product, and also note besides the full line of cars also the passenger car trucks. More on Schorr here.

The only line that advertised really steadily an OO gauge product was Monroe Hobby Products, or MHP. They advertised their line of passenger car diaphragms (for all scales, not just OO) in Model Railroader and their subsidiary magazine Model Trains until into early 1959. More on MHP here.

Kemtron was of course still in business, but things were slowing down for them in respect to American OO. Niche markets are good, but not if they don’t make much money! The 4th Kemtron Master Catalog (1958) was first mentioned in Kemtron advertising in the December, 1957 issue of MR, and the subsequent 5th Kemtron Master Catalog dates to 1959. Both may be seen in full online here in the HO Seeker site. In short the 4th still lists their OO GP-7 and the Scale-Craft freight cars, but the 5th only has diesel drive parts and trucks (including Scale-Craft trucks). They were winding down their involvement with the American OO market.

RMC had an idea for a type of content that had not before been seen, and published a series of “directory” issues which list all the models on the market of various types in ALL scales. Their Diesel and electric locomotive directory in the January, 1959 issue lists the Kemtron GP-7, Schorr F-3 and RS-3 [listed that way in the article--but actually it is an RS-2], the Schorr RDC 1, 2, and 3, and also, as a “supplement” to the directory of steam locomotives in the previous issue, the Schorr 2-8-0 and 4-6-0 as seen here. Who would not want to buy one at those prices today?

The only OO rolling stock in their directory in the February issue is the Eastern boxcar. It had not been advertised in years at this point, but I suspect that the folks at RMC knew the owner A. W. Rinck and were perhaps hoping to generate some advertising. More on Eastern here.

Continuing their series, the Eastern reefer shows up in listings in the next issue of RMC, along with a most interesting thing in the club directory – there was now a third OO club in New Jersey! In addition to the North Jersey group and the ABCOOR group we now have the New Jersey Model RR Association.

In short there was some activity in the American OO world. When the series continues the topic is 1959.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

American OO for 1958-59: Part I, Rolling Along…Slowly

Starting our look at 1958-59 a good place to begin is with layout photos and other published content from OO gaugers in 1958.

Not a lot was published! Only one layout photo made it into the hobby press, this photo of four OO locomotives, presented in the April, 1958 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. The photo shows a scene on the layout of Len Franckel, a member of the ABCOOR club in New Jersey. From the caption, “They are, L to R: 1949 Scale Craft 4-8-4, Pennsy 4-8-2 M-1a custom built in 1954, 1949 Scale Craft 4-8-4 with super heaters, and a Pennsy K-4s built from an old Star Atlantic kit but with a Nason Hudson main frame.” I can’t really offer any more details than that but the four track line with the group of big engines is impressive.

Letter writing is another way to get the word out that your scale is not dead! In reading the magazines of the year I found letters to the editor that were published from three different, very active OO gaugers.

First up is Bill Johann. The June, 1958 issue of RMC has long letter from Bill on layout design and operating his OO layout. First though, I would mention that Johann is an excellent example of someone building and operating his model railroad for a lifetime; this article gives a view of operating his later layout out in California. But for now the location is New Jersey and he is an active member of the North Jersey club (more here). 

To his letter, it is in reaction to the problems of the typical big layout designs of his day, that they had excessive track and equipment, with limited potential for real operation. After a good bit on that large topic he wrote,
By now you’re wondering what kind of a baloney merchant is writing this. I’m snowing no one. My railroad is a large one, finished except for completed scenery which is in progress. This road has 380’ of track, 9 locos, 57 cars, no fancy switches or trackwork. Operation is point to point with a run around. There is no excessive maintenance. Provision is made for club style timetable operation (with a timetable!) requiring 8 men to operate the schedule and covering 370 well lit square feet. Yet I can run the railroad alone.
Our club, the North Jersey Midland Model RR Association (OO) has six other railroads of a similar nature and a seventh about half completed. These layouts are all big but they’ve been designed so that they are not only buildable but easily maintainable. I don’t claim our methods are the living end for everybody, but I do think that there is a large segment of the model fraternity who would go for this type if it were pushed by the pros! We think we have something that is rarely seen in model railroading.
There is a letter in reaction to the Johann letter in the August, 1958 RMC, and that response (which focused on layout maintenance) led to a long letter in the October issue from another member of the North Jersey club, Newton Guerin, on his layout and operation. He starts,
In reply to V. H. Coley, Mr. Johann was very conservative when he said that his layout keeps eight men busy. In fact, I am one of the fourteen mem who operate his railroad and for the past seven years have enjoyed it to no end and his operation is as faultless as you can get. 
Guerin continues with a number of details about his layout and others in the North Jersey club.
Speaking of layouts, Mr. Johann’s is only one of seven such layouts in our association. In fact, his is the smallest, having 385 feet of operating track. My layout being next to the largest has 525 feet of track and takes 12 men to operate it and if you were shocked before, I too, can run it by myself…. My layout has fifty turnouts, 22 of them electric machines, 100 cars, 15 locomotives and rarely is a piece of equipment missing from its’ run. In fact, one loco just reached it’s 20th year of operating, and many other pieces of rolling stock are not far behind in age.
My layout is 72 feet long and averages over 4 feet wide. I have a mainline run of over 300 feet and goes around 3 walls of the cellar. There are six major towns where train meets and terminal movements are made. There are six other towns, namely flag stops with an odd spur or so for the local freight. I hold my trains to 10 cars, as I run small line power mostly 4-6-0, 2-8-0 and 2-6-0 locos.
Mr. Johann’s railroad has over 250 feet of run, his heavy power is Mikados and he runs twenty car trains. His layout layout is the oblong type with a central operating opening. His layout, I believe, is about 12 by 30 feet as a guess.
All layouts are equipped with cabs, that when the engineers are through, a toggle is moved to auxiliary control, this transfers everything to a center control unit. This allows each individual to operate his own layout, til next meeting time.
Our layouts, all of them, are set up to handle the following jobs: In the main cab is Engineer 1, 3, and 3 respectively, who handle main line trains. Engineers 4 and 5 are Yard Engineers at each terminal. Towerman “A” handles the main terminal switching. Towerman “B” handles the junction tower. Towerman “C” the other terminal. Towerman “D” and “E” mainline towers and Towerman “F” the branch. In addition we have the Turntable Engineer (Hosteler), and use any extra men as brakemen in the terminal yards.
This is believe it or not less than half of the letter, but it gives quite a window into the operation of these OO layouts. He mentions the Johann 2-8-2, see more on that engine here.

As you may have figured out already, most of the OO “coverage” for 1958 is in RMC. But to close I would note that the October, 1958 issue of Model Railroader has an interesting letter from Temple Nieter. He wrote the first article published in MR on American OO (see this series for more), and in his letter speaks of the older days of model railroading and that OO kits are now rare.

But there are still products that can be purchased. When the series returns the topic is American OO products on the market.

Continue reading 1958-59 Series

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Recent Project: An AB set of Santa Fe F-Units

One thing I have wanted to see for some time was a set of ATSF F-units running on my American OO layout. This pair, seen “before” in this article (second photo) are now running and ready for final details.

The only F-unit produced in 4mm scale was by Schorr, their bronze F-3’s. The ATSF owned many F-3s but they were all passenger engines, in passenger colors, not what I wanted for freight trains. Looking though I realized they had some F-7s that had a similar look. Specifically, F-7s numbered 259LABC through 268LABC were visually similar to F-3s as they were delivered without the stainless steel grills and had the “chicken wire” openings of the F-3.

These F-units still are not quite right for the prototypes as they have F-3 fans on the roof and the A-unit still has the steam generator details (and neither has dynamic brakes), but visually they are about as good as you are going to get in American OO. Noting as with the recently completed RSD-5 that the blue color is not nearly so “electric” looking in normal light, without the flash of the camera.

Under the hood is the power plant of the A unit. The original builder was Pierre Bourassa, and I think actually it is pretty clear this is the second drive that has been installed. The end with the “open” area had the original drive unit which had a smaller Pittman motor mounted on a gearbox. I have an example of that unit on another Schorr engine (I think it is a type of Baker drive), but he thought it small or it burned out, as he replaced it with this big Pittman connected to a Baker drive with the big drive belt (more on this here). I replaced the belt and tuned things up--this thing has a ton of power!

The decals are vintage Walthers products (HO) which worked out fine. Note that the open areas in the chicken wire were masked off and darkened. This helps the look a lot. I also like how the masking on top of the cab of the A unit came out.

To what I am not completely happy with, some blue paint got behind the masking, especially on the lower edge of the B unit but also the same area of the A unit. I thought about re-masking and painting more but decided that cure was a bit risky. Instead I will follow up with some weathering at some point to blend things a bit more. More difficult to fix, I did not realize there should have been a shape to the masking right in front of the cab windows until it was too late, so I have to live with that error.

The models are not quite done, there are areas left to paint black as of now on the shell and a few details to add. But even now the engines are in much better shape than when they came to me which is a goal I try to keep in mind. Looking forward to running these on freight trains!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Trix Twin 0-4-0, Converted to American OO

A few years ago Dick Kuehnemund sent me photos of a mystery model, this 0-4-0.

It clearly has a factory body with a new drive, and had Schorr tender trucks on it. It had to be a HO conversion, but what was it? I puzzled over it at the time and actually Dick sold it on eBay a few years ago and I did not bid.

Another recent project has been reading 1950s magazines and I realized I skipped reading the issues I have of Model Trains. This was a Kalmbach publication of the late 50s and early 60s aimed at “All Gauges—All Ages: HO – S – O – O-27.” The topic of American OO very rarely comes up at all, but the magazine is a good quick read and has an interesting prototype feature in every issue.

Reading along I came to an article in the December, 1956 issue. It is on reworking the Trix Twin 0-4-0 for use as a heavy switcher on a HO layout. The article has quite a title: “Trixie the trollop from the Thames.” The article is written in an interesting, narrative style and was probably aimed at younger model railroaders. Various handy things are noted though, such as the model is two inches longer than a Mantua HO shifter. One primary change was to upgrade the tender trucks, which was part of a general goal of reducing the size of some of the clunky details and adding more detail. There are two before and after photos, including this one.

A key photo though was this final one below that shows their modified model with a Mantua Shifter. The Trix Twin is huge in HO, the body castings are probably OO, a fact that must have caught the eye of some OO gauger who rebuilt the one at the beginning of this article with a new drive and Schorr trucks.

There are websites devoted to Trix Twin, and on this page it notes that this model was introduced 1948/49. It was originally manufactured for export to the USA, and they refer to it as the “US Switcher.”

In a follow-up item in the March issue a reader noted that Trix makes British OO scale models and the editor noted that this model is “actually oversize for American HO gauge.”

This model is certainly collectible and has value if in good shape (and not modified), but still it is one to keep your eyes peeled for, it actually would have made a great American OO model.

Monday, September 1, 2014

An OO scale Schorr “RSD-5” for the ATSF

One model that is seen in photos of the layout of Willam Johann is a Schorr RS-2 model that he modified with a low short hood and a drive built up from Athearn HO parts with six wheel EMD style trucks. It looked a bit unique but I believe it probably ran great for him.

That model gave me and idea for a project for the future, to approximate an Alco RSD-4 or RSD-5 using the Schorr body and a modified Athearn drive. This model is the result and was yet another summer project, just completed, seen here in several views on the layout.

First, let me say up front that under normal lighting the blue color is not nearly so “electric” looking and is much closer to the proper ATSF color. I painted the whole model yellow, masked off the yellow areas and then painted the blue. This was a new thing for me to try to do and it came out pretty well for an amateur, as my dad might have said. I used Testors paint and Microscale decals.

This particular Schorr model, a late 1950s import from Japan (my introduction to Schorr is here), came to me partially finished. It had been painted green and was set up with a drive but was not completed or operable. I stripped the paint, fixed some minor issues, and set into some minor modifications.

There are two big visual differences between this model and an actual RSD-4 or 5. I think the most obvious one is the lack of the battery boxes on the short end of the hood next to the cab, a remnant of this being based on a RS-2 body. I could have added that detail with great effort but decided against it. Another visual difference that is pretty visible is the exhaust stack should be oriented across the hood rather than lengthwise, which I do notice; I left that detail blue on purpose to not make it so obvious (it should be painted silver).

The other main, big difference are the trucks. They are not that obvious seeing the model operate on the layout (being black helps) but the trucks used on this model are from an Athearn U-33C drive (modified for OO gauge, as in this article), as is the motor. On this particular model the frame had been modified somewhat to begin with, and I cut it out a bit more to accommodate the end pieces of the original Athearn frame to support the trucks and also mount the motor directly on the frame. It all fits like a glove and the original motor if it were any bigger would not fit in the hood!

The last two photos show the drive in more detail. There was no room for a flywheel but the model still runs great as it is. Kadee “whisker” couplers were used to complete the model.

I picked the number 2135 out of the Microscale decal set used, and that number would pin this model down as an RSD-5 built in 1953. It is decorated as it would have appeared in the 1960s. (Prototype photos may be found here). The decals being HO scale are fractionally small but I really don’t think it is noticeable.

I am very happy with this model in terms of how it came out, I plan to run it a lot! I have not fully tested pulling power but it is pulling a train with five die-cast tank cars right now and has plenty of power to do the job.

But I would be remiss if I did not mention that this model runs backwards. Due to the pickup method I would have to reverse the motor on the frame to correct this situation, and to do that I would have to drill new holes for the motor, etc. There is more risk to damaging the finish than there is of “cornfield meets” with other engines on the layout, as I plan to run this in local freight service.

Painting this model I also painted a pair of Schorr F-3 models for the ATSF in similar, 1960s schemes. They are still in progress and will be completed soon to be sure but won’t run quite as good as this model I suspect.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Rutland Milk Reefer

The February, 1996 issue of The OO Road had a focus on milk cars, and one seen is this one, primed in gray paint. This car was not described further there by William Johann except to mention that certain HO trucks could be modified to fit it.

This car then sat, ready to be finished, in the OO inventory for years and years. It was a nice car and it seemed to me to be time to complete it.

Looking at the car closely, I noted that in pencil on the underside of the car it is written “was N&N 94” and “Roundhouse RB 2935.” The N&N would be the Newton & Northern of Newton Guerin, and the Roundhouse notation relates to the model of the MDC Roundhouse trucks modified to fit the car. The sides are hand scribed, nicely but if you look close things are a little uneven. It has Scale-Craft doors and some Graceline parts on the frame. It might be based on a Graceline car, but it is hard to say.

With the car out and painted what to letter it for was a puzzle. Design wise it is a bit different than many express reefers, and I did not have a lot of options for decals (and did not really want to buy more). Finally I found online photos of a Rutland car that had similar general details and I had decals that would work. Not that I model the Rutland even remotely, but I did want it to be a good looking car.

It came out nicely! This photos were taken before the decals had been completely settled in (as I was taking other photos), it looks even better on completion. Note in the bottom view I saved the areas that William Johann had written the notations given above. May it give good service to owners beyond me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Recent Projects: Five Wood Hopper Cars

Back last year I posted an article in which there was a wood hopper car with some work train cars, one that it turned out had been built by the very young Ed Schorr (son of OO manufacturer/importer Fred Schorr) but came to me in pieces.

Since that time I have received five more of these hoppers! They are all similar cars but actually there are some differences and I will describe them by type.

First, as a general reference this type of car is not often seen but I think they may have been inspired by an article published in the October, 1958 issue of Model Railroader. The Jack Work article is titled “Wood hopper car” and one of the photos is of a very similar twin hopper (with steel hopper bottoms) similar to these cars, complete with the same vertical grab irons on the ends of each side. The hopper bottoms on these cars are metal castings, HO parts (I think maybe Varney).

The best two cars today are the first two above. None of these so far as I can tell had ever been lettered. I decided after a lot of deliberation to letter all these cars for my Orient, thinking I could justify running them in company coal service when I run 1930s era trains. These two cars as the best of the lot got the big, splashy “Orient” lettering, along the lines of that used by the actual KCM&O. (More on my freelanced version of the real KCM&O here).

When these cars came to me most were broken apart to a degree and it was a big puzzle to put them back together. Also they lacked trucks and bolsters which must have been taken off to use on other projects and also lacked couplers. Plus the loads were in variable shape and needed refreshed.

The second best car was the single car in the second photo that is with the original car I received. The original was in worse shape actually and I had to repaint it completely. Note the very different design and these 5 hoppers cars are smaller.

The final two cars I suspect may be the original two made as the build quality is not quite as good. These had actually been rebuilt at some prior point previously, as the ribs don’t all match and some are plastic. They now have more of a “stealth” KCM&O scheme, using lettering from a set of tank car decals from Microscale.

I had some work to do to get these cars back together. When the cars and loads were glued back in I sprayed the cars with glosscote to refresh the loads and to prep the sides for decals. After the decals were on I spayed dullcote on but masked the loads so that they would stay looking like coal.

Keen observers will note the new cars do not have couplers yet! They will have them soon, the problem being lack of enough couplers at the moment and also the holes are pretty stripped out so it is not quite as simple as it could be. I plan to use Kadee whisker couplers on the cars which should work out fine.

They roll GREAT on the Schorr trucks and it is fun to see this string of matching cars together on the layout.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Recent Projects: Boxcars of Yellow and Silver

I try to paint models in groups and these four boxcars are among recent projects completed.

First up is this pair of MKT 37’ boxcars. They came to me as an unfinished project and I think I deduced correctly where the original builder was heading. The bodies are Picard 36’ bodies and they were mounted on the cast frame visible in the second photo. I do not know the maker of the frames. They seem almost purpose made for this body and project (they look quite correct from the side of the car) but may actually be HO parts. Also with the bodies as they came to me was two sets of vintage Champion HO-OO (!, old sets) MKT decals, highly suited to this model.

Luckily, when I first was planning these out there was information online on these cars (related to an Ultra Scale O scale kit) that I printed out, as now that information is not there! The MKT had a large number of these cars in the number series from 74105 to 75597, dating to the early years of the 20th century. They were it seems still in fairly wide use still until the end of WWII but all were out of service by the early 1950s.

Using the photos I had printed out (mostly no longer online, but one may be found here, scroll down) I used Eastern/Famoco ends on both cars and came fairly close to the actual prototype cars in a number of dimensions (including length) and details. The ladders are Eastern parts as is the brake cylinder.

The cars are both on trucks made using the side frames of PBL Sn3 Andrews trucks, as described further in this article. Super free rolling and the right design for these cars! I could wish a few details were sharper/better (and I forgot to add hand grabs on the left ends), but they came out as nice vintage looking models. Periodically I run trains from more of a 1930s era and these will fit right in those sessions, looking freshly shopped as they do. The “Sloan Yellow” Scheme dates to the era of the MKT presidency of Matthew S. Sloan, 1934–1945. Prior to that, these cars would have been boxcar red.

However, mostly I run trains representing a late 1950s era. The silver cars are a little less exotic; they are both pre-war die-cast Scale-Craft cars but decorated to imitate post-war prototypes.

The Rock Island car was inspired by finding the decals in the parts supply (and I like the Rock Island). The Orient car was my solution of how to paint another silver car using decals on hand. It came out pretty well really and would also fit in with my more 1960s-70s operating sessions (if I overlook the shortcomings of the S-C body casting). Both cars are on reproduction Lionel trucks, which has become a de-facto standard for these S-C cars on my layout, I just think they look better on the longer/lower trucks than on the original, stock trucks.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Recent Projects: A Gulf Tank Car and two ATSF Heavyweights

This summer a major goal was to paint and move through the shops generally a number of projects.

Among the recent projects completed one that really pleased me was this tank car. It is Scale-Craft, a vintage car that was stripped and repainted with a two tone (sliver/black) scheme. Looking in the decal supply I spotted a vintage Walthers HO set of Gulf tank car decals and I really like how this car came out.

Liking it as much as I do it seemed like one suited to receive a special pair of trucks. I had a couple Scale-Craft trucks in the parts supply that had side frames that had been modified with brass bushings. What a predecessor had done was drill out the holes larger and put in pieces of brass tube to make new brass bearing surfaces for the wheels. I had some years ago another car come in with these from Pierre Bourassa, and it had Schorr wheelsets on it; the combination rolls great. I also had four orphan Schorr wheelsets that Pierre had used in a scenic application and cleaned them up to use in these sideframes, resulting in a car that rolls and looks great.

As to the ATSF heavweights, the coach is the finished version of a J-C Models car that the “before” may be seen here. I put new sides on it, cleaned up details, repainted.

The baggage car has more of a tale. I have various loose parts, remnants of the unfinished projects of others, and one effort I have made is to try to get things back together when I can. In this case I had the roof and ends for a Graceline baggage car and the sides and frame from a J-C baggage car. What I did was modifiy the frame to match the roof (adding some more Graceline detail parts in the process) and put it all back together as a hybrid model. The sides had been previously used and were painted red, as can be seen with the flash showing the inside of the car through the windows.

Both cars have good Scale-Craft trucks and the same vintage decals. They are probably from the 1940s and would not quite snuggle down as well as I would have liked. But in the big picture that is OK, these cars have a nice vintage look and make a nice pair that are in much better shape than when they got to me.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

American OO for 56-57: Part IV, Articles in 1957

In 1957 Model Railroader was pretty much devoid of coverage of American OO gauge, but the topic does come up a couple times in Railroad Model Craftsman.

The first item of note is found in the May, 1957 issue of RMC. It is a photo of the layout of George Jones, his layout having been described further in this article. The caption mentions the Lionel Hudson “freshly coaled and ready for any run,” but there is more to see here. The diesel pulling the train is probably one of his scratchbuilt models; the passenger cars are neatly painted for the Union Pacific, the car on the left being a cast Scale-Craft coach and the next one looks to be Zuhr on the Varney F-3 trucks. The cars in the yard are obscured but finally I would note that it looks like his switch stand is a DPDT toggle switch with springs connecting it to the turnout. A practical solution to the issue of wiring the points and frog of the switch for the correct polarity; he was clearly an operator and was ready to run trains with his OO club friends.

The same issue has a photo of a TT scale engine built by a modeler with a name I recognized; Howard A. LeVan Jr. He started the firm that put the first OO gauge locomotive on the market, the OO Gauge Model Co. More on that early firm here (they did not last long), and clearly LeVan was enthusiastic about trains still but not active in OO.

The other interesting item is found in the October, 1957 issue of RMC, a letter from Dave Sacks with a photo of his back yard and mention of both New Jersey OO groups

First off, how many photos have you ever seen of an OO gauger’s back yard? I am not sure from the text but I am guessing that is a detached garage, not his train building over to the left. In his letter Sacks mentions that “This buckboard was donated along with the Liberty emblem by the Jersey Central for our North Jersey Midland Model Railroad Assoc.” He plans to add a board with “Green Brook Lines” and also noted that the marker light at the top “has been wired up electrically.” To this the editors added, “Dave is a double-O gager, has just put up a new 55 foot long pike having 650 feet of track and 60 turnouts. The North Jersey area is still an OO stronghold with two very active clubs, the NJMRRA and ABCOOR.”

George Jones was active in the ABCOOR group and Sacks in the NJMRRA group. And there were OO gaugers many other places. Looking ahead to 1958-59, if you are anxious to read ahead the November, 1958 issue of MR has a great feature story on the layout of Carl Appel, for more see this article.

When the history series returns the topic will be 1958-59.

Return to the beginning of the 1956-57 series

Continue to 1958-59 Series

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