American OO Today

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

Sunday, September 9, 2018

An HO Arch Bar Truck Conversion

One thing you need on train cars are trucks. Bill Gilbert has been focusing on building a fleet of 19th century cars lately, and with a truck shortage came up with an interesting conversion.

What he noted was, to quote him, “the Mantua HO arch bar trucks with the steam engine have a sheet metal bolster that can be flattened out with pliers.” You would do this just enough to put widened out HO 36” wheelsets in the frames. “They are short (4’-6”) vs (5’-0”) but look good under the short tender.”

As he noted, the wheelbase is short on these Mantua/Tyco trucks but it is a decent stand in, and I think better than another possible substitute, On3 trucks. I tried to arrange the trucks in the photo to show the bolsters and side frames. These are not yet modified for OO and I’ll be sending them to Bill.

The best though I still think are Sn3 conversion trucks, the PBL trucks being a little pricy but they roll and look good, worth the effort. More on those here.


Monday, July 30, 2018

Two modern tank cars

Recently restored were these tank cars, both kitbashed in August, 1993 by Bill Johann.

I have actually a group of 8 different tank cars from Johann, kitbashed and scrathbuilt, obtained either from eBay or the OO Inventory. These two cars are both part of pairs of HO cars modified for OO. These models are described briefly in the November, 1994 issue of The OO Road. 

The basic idea is a really large HO tank car will look like a somewhat smaller OO car. The models themselves are Walthers cars, Johann in the article scales the longer one at 57’ in OO and the shorter one at 47’ in OO. Of the two pair I think the bigger pair looks somewhat better on the layout, bigger is better in this case.

All four cars needed a lot of repair -- these are rather fragile models -- and there are still a few missing parts such as the end ladder on the car on the left. Still, fixing these four cars was a great end of summer project and they run great on the layout with my modern (70s-80s) era models.

As to the other cars hinted at earlier, the scratchbuilt car needs some soldering and will be fixed soon – it is metal and quite nice. The other three are kitbashed TankTrain cars. Of those, one is missing a lot of parts and will require a lot of work to get it going; those will also be the subject of some future article when they are together.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

American OO in the 1960s, part III: The last advertisement and more

In part II (here) we learned that Alfred “Bud” Spice Jr. purchased the residual of the Guild of the Iron Horse in February of 1968.

Highly notable in relation to that, he ran in June of 1968 what I would peg as the last “true” OO manufacturer advertisement in RMC, for his Ultimate Screw Machine Company, OO Division. I have more about that ad here, and he ran exactly what it sounds like he ran, a screw machine company, but did some OO gauge production as a sideline.

New Jersey was the final hotbed of interest in American OO and Bud Spice was there to serve their needs. In this late 1960s time frame he used post cards to communicate what was for sale and what was coming, the second scan being an example from the three I have. They are all 5 cent postcards which curiously lack postmarks but were mailed to an OO gauger in Maryland and would date to 1968-71. I love this wording: “Coming soon from America’s headquarters for OO scale, F-3 A & B units for those who like Diesel power.”

Another small sheet that came to me with the postcards reports,

At long last! F-3 Diesel Castings in OO Scale. Good detail French Sand Castings in Brass. The castings will clean up rapidly with a file. Same units as Fred Schorr formerly produced. Complete set of castings consisting of two roof sections, one A unit body, one B unit body, two tank sections and eight side frames. $60.00 per set plus postage. Single unit set $35.00 plus postage. 

On the same printed sheet he also lists a group, “while they last,” of Scale-Craft kits, Schorr trucks, etc. I also have letters from him dating to 1980 that outline his OO production. In summary he had

Residue of Guild of the Iron Horse
Patterns & Materials from Myron P. Davis
Fred Schorr diesel patterns
Pennsy P5A and New Haven BB electric patterns
Quite a variety of old stock Scale-Craft and etc., and of course his
Ultimate OO wheelsets, produced in his screw machine factory (more info here! The best wheelsets ever!).

As to the "more" mentioned in the title of this article, there was more going on, people doing their thing, it just does not show up in the hobby press particularly. But there are examples here and there. One notable person of the era was Commander Moale, who has been covered in this site previously (see this article). I don’t have a copy of it, but there was (according to the Jan., 1986 issue of The OO Road) some coverage of his trolley models in the September, 1969 issue of Traction & Models.

With that we close this brief look at the 1960s. Soon I hope to keep going forward into the 1970s.

Return to Part I of 1960s series

Friday, July 13, 2018

Castings! Postscript, kits produced

As a postscript to the Castings series (which starts here), beyond the cars I have assembled already, a group of kits were put together from the runs of parts.

All told 17 kits were bagged up in three versions, the reproduction Nason boxcar and the Graceline quad hopper with either an open body or an original wood block body. The bagged kits include the parts for complete bodies, with soft metal castings for some smaller parts in addition to the resin castings which are the main body parts.

I suspect there really is no great demand out there, but in any case if you are interested in a kit or two, contact me privately.

The second photo shows the entire production run in one box. At this point I have used up all of my mold release and casting resin, and I’m done with making resin castings for a while.

This was in any case a very interesting project. I was able to explore new skills, make some interesting parts, and also, I’m able to scratch off my bucket list the topic of “OO gauge manufacturer!” The last car of the project I plan to build is one more Nason boxcar, the project that kicked this off really, as I had a complete model and a partial model for this car. The final car will be the one that is a combination of original and reproduction parts.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

American OO in the 1960s, part II: Brass

The most notable OO brass importer of the 1960s was of course Fred. E. Schorr Jr. In my files are a pair of mimeographed price sheets from the later 1960s which offer some business insights.

The first one is dated June 20, 1966 with an address on Lee Park Avenue in Wilkes Barre, PA. The text makes clear that one purpose is to take pre-orders with “deposits not less than 10% of total order.” “The following items will be available from Japan in approximately 90 days,” specifically,

The prospects of more Bettendorf trucks in “OO” depend on confirmed responses to this announcement. I must order a minimum of 500 pairs and while the price is higher I feel I can reasonably offer them at $1.50 per pair. Your response to this will determine if I should at this time order a minimum or 500 pairs.

Following that is a list of what he actually has in stock, with prices. He has 7 of the RDC2 models at $18.95 each, 3 of the RDC3 models at $21.95 each, 24 pair of arch bar trucks, 12 of the twin pocket hoppers, two gondolas, and one final 4-6-0, “the very last,” at $49.95.

The second mimeographed price sheet is not dated but dates to after 1968. The street address is now in Millersburg, PA. Mostly it is used OO, he seems to be disbursing items from an outside 3rd rail layout, but he has 24 pair of Schorr Bettendorf trucks and 6 pair of arch bar trucks at $2.50 each. So, prices have gone up a bit, perhaps he could not order that larger batch of 500 in 1966 and had to pay a higher price per unit? The kicker though is that the final item on the list is “Penn Central decals as used on PC diesels.” Penn Central did not start up until 1968, so this list could actually be from the early 1970s. Perhaps he had a buddy who worked up some OO decals for the PC? It would have been clear to him and whoever received it at the time. Schorr passed away in 1976.

The other brass maker of the 1960s is one with only a little info out there, Guild of the Iron Horse. One thing is clear, they never advertised, it was all by correspondence. Appears to really have been conceptualized as a guild with members working together toward producing OO models. If this was a viable model, it seems not. I’ve written on this firm before (here, and be sure to scroll down to the updates); the main things to note are the owner started off trying to make a better version of the Nason 4-4-2, then seems to have had a maker in probably Japan produce an even better 4-4-2 and more. This comment below, received in February, 2018 to another article from ruxtonite, sums it up well:

The mystery maker is Jerome Bailey Foster. He was an Architect. He was the owner of "The Guild of the Iron Horse" which was located in Winchester, Massachusetts. The company was inherited by his daughter who then transferred the ownership to Mr. Alfred Spice Jr. In February 1968 on the 27th day.

Which leads us to the final part of this series on OO in the 1960s, where we look more at Alfred “Bud” Spice.  More soon.

Continue reading 1960s series

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

An amazing ATSF 2-8-2 by James Trout, and the art of scratch building steam

The name of James Trout has come up a few times in this site now, but for quick reference he was a longtime Disney illustrator and an American OO enthusiast (longer overview here).

Among his interests were the ATSF, and he built this fine model of ATSF 2-8-2 4027. Internet resources I’m finding would indicate the prototype is a Baldwin product from 1923.

This model is simply outstanding and a prime example of scratch building from a time before the Internet and other distractions. All in all, the craftsmanship is just so high, it is intimidating if I am honest. I could never duplicate this model. Click on any of the photos for a bigger view.

When 4027 got to me it would not run, as the motor was damaged. I was able to fix that by switching out some parts; and the model bench tests fine now! Unfortunately, there is a short on the insulated side of one of the drivers, so it won’t run down the track. It might be due to some subtly bent part that I’m not seeing, but, even then, the model is too large to run on my curves, so I think it is best to leave it as it is, a beautiful display model.

I still had it in a box to work on among my projects, as a cab seat fell out after working on the drive. With the model apart, it was a good time to also take some photos for this article. The boiler is held on with just two small screws.

Starting with the boiler, wow. Maybe some commercial fittings here and there, but this is quite an impressive, one of a kind model in 4mm scale. Lots of Santa Fe specific details, so many neatly fabricated and soldered parts and wires, and of course the hand lettered numbers. It is a little dusty from prior display, but I’m thinking it would not be a good idea to clean it aggressively.

Surprisingly, the back head of the boiler, in the cab, is not detailed at all, but note the side curtains made from tissue paper. And the window glass is, of course, real glass.

The frame holds a secret that is not easy to see in the photos; this model is actually built on a Nason 2-8-0 frame and possibly drivers, with the lead truck being modified Nason. Look at all those added details! The front coupler it should be noted is a working coupler, built to scale. The side rods and such are certainly not Nason, he fabricated parts that are accurate to scale.

To the tender, that is all scratch built, other than the Kadee coupler on the rear. That I believe was added much later, the model itself I would guess to date from maybe 1950. There is an old repair to the back of the tender that is not nearly as finely done as the model itself, perhaps done at the same time as the Kadee installation.

Speaking of scratch building, this is also not very visible in the photos but what are those trucks on the tender? They are not commercial and are actually built up from many parts. The journal boxes are sprung with small springs, etc.; the work that must have been required merely to fabricate those trucks from scratch is mind boggling. Today one would think about 3D printing unusual parts such as these.

This is absolutely the most exquisite model I own. Growing up on the ATSF it is a huge treat to own this engine.

In addition to this one locomotive, I own a variety of passenger and freight cars from his workshop. I am so glad to be able to own a group of the Trout models, some of which have been featured in this site previously. With others of his needing similar small repairs, and an ongoing reorganization of my storage system, be watching for more of his models to be featured here.

A final note would be there are other Trout locomotives out there. I have photos of some of them, models for his West Coast Lines and for sure one more big ATSF engine, 4-8-4 3763. May they all be long enjoyed by others.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

American OO in the 1960s, part I: Too invested to quit

After a hiatus of a few years it is finally time to continue the OO history series. By the 1960s products had commercially slowed down to a trickle in American OO, but there was a core group of individuals very dedicated to the scale and gauge active over this entire decade. This series, as it continues, will begin to be their story.

Kicking off things off, 1961 was a year that saw the Greenbrook of David Sacks on the move! Two articles in particular have been previously posted here that relate to the Greenbrook, with the layout being featured in the August, 1961 issue of Model Railroader:


Moving on in 1961, a second run of Schorr 4-6-0 models were reaching the USA from Japan. Schorr by this point relied on essentially direct mail correspondence to market his models, and this photo has a hand-written note from Schorr on the back. Delivery was slated for December, 1961, price $39.95, “reserve yours now!” The original run of this model was listed as being available in 1956, and the 1957 price/sales sheet says “only a few of these left.”

There was more quietly going on, a good example being found in the March, 1964 issue of Model Railroader. There we find an article on signals, but the layout featured is actually an OO layout with nice photos. The author, C. Kenneth Hurd, a dentist by profession, had published several prior articles on signals and other electrical concerns. There is an earlier photo of his layout in an article on automatic interlocking in the June, 1946 issue of MR, and intriguing photos of a trolley layout in an article on train control in the Feb. 47 MR, but it unfortunately does not state that those models are OO. This present article, “How I built my layout – with signals” provides an “easy-to-understand contact arrangement” that “controls signals and stops trains automatically.”

There is a scale drawing of his large, 8 x 20-foot layout and several photos, this being the best of the group, showing how the passenger train has “passed far enough beyond the signal bridge to change the signal at right from green (upper lamp) to red.” That the signal system is applied to an OO scale layout he only notes well into the article, where he states, ”I’m afraid the gauge I use dates me, for old-timers will spot Nason, Lionel, Scale-Craft, and other makes of OO scale equipment in the photos.” He also in the next paragraph talks about his track; a large layout with signals needs good track!
I discovered that the die-cut paper tie strip I used would not hold the gauge; the ties would warp and pull the rails together. I changed to the Midlin type with one rail fixed in wooden ties and a slit for the other rail. [Midlin track has not been made for some time, and few, if any, shops still have it. – Ed.]
The editor’s note is significant too (and I have more on Midlin here). Taken together, American OO was not a major player by 1964, but people like Kenneth Hurd were invested enough in the scale to keep on going with projects that interested them, such as developing a working signal system.

Worth mentioning as well, from the same issue of Model Railroader, Eastern was still in business and had just moved their operations from New Jersey to Montana. They would run a monthly ad in MR. for many years; you could still buy their OO kits from them into the 1980s.

Before closing, an aside on this series as it continues into the 1960s and beyond. With years of effort and some much appreciated help I own physical copies of all but about a dozen magazines before 1960, and I have in fact skimmed/read and taken OO related notes on nearly every issue of every model railroad magazine before 1960. But as this series goes forward I have not read every magazine (owning a lot, but not all), and I turn to other notes I’ve developed. I don’t recall who pointed me at this 1964 article, but in short I am in appreciation to many people over years of looking at the history of American OO.

As the series continues we look to the late 1960s.

Continue in 1960s OO history series

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Mantua 4-4-0 converted to OO

It is fairly well known in the American OO community that the Mantua/Tyco 4-6-0 is actually a 1/76 scale model, but gauged to run on HO track. The tender and boiler are correct for OO, and even the cylinder block is wide enough to work with no modification. The model is based on Sierra Railroad No. 3. More on this model here, along with a view of the below model "before."

I was never wild about how that model turned out. It ran OK but the drivers just seem so small. Then recently I had an idea. I have some spare drivers which I think were made for Bill Johann as part of his 2-8-2 project by Mantua. They are too big to fit on the model as a 4-6-0, but if you leave the front driver off entirely you get this I think rather successful model.

The cab, as noted in the prior article, is a Scale-Craft 4-6-0 cab instead of the stock cab. I wanted to give the model the look of an old engine still in use in the 1930s or 40s even. For an older time look, you can of course use the original cab.

Being really very pleased how this came out (I like the spacing and size of the drivers a lot) I am doing a second conversion, and this view shows the frame. I have another shortline 4-4-0 in mind, along the lines of engines seen in the classic book Mixed Train Daily, a favorite of mine when I was first getting into the hobby.

The only touchy part of the job is that you have to pull apart a driver and mount the original gear on it using a NWSL quartering jig. It ended up not being as difficult to do as I thought it might, which was encouraging as I have a number of steam projects backed up on the workbench.

I should note that Mantua/Tyco sold this same basic model also as a 2-6-0 and a 4-8-0. I had always liked the look of the 2-6-0 and purchased one of them as well. Alas, the setup of the drive rods is different and it would be a lot more trouble to get that all set up correctly with OO drivers. But the good news there is I can see a way to use that frame and the vintage Mantua/Johann drivers on another project engine, a 2-6-2. If I can get that one running by the end of the summer I will feel that I got something big done.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

An ATSF 4-6-0 in OO

Fresh off the workbench is this nice, vintage styled American OO model of an ATSF 4-6-0.

First the wider shot, at the station. The numbering is correct for an ATSF 4-6-0, but none of theirs were quite as modern as the Scale-Craft model. This particular model has the early, 24 volt DC motor which I find runs great. It was an eBay purchase, without a tender.

The tips of note to share all relate to the tender. I built up the tender from fresh parts, making use of a fresh set of Nason Andrews trucks which had bronze sideframes and also a square brass bolster, something only rarely seen and maybe not an original Nason part. This improves the electrical pickup and operation in general. Also note that after lettering the model I masked off the coal bunker before spraying with Dullcote, so that the "coal" would remain glossy relative to the dull finish of the model, an effect more visible in person. The decals are vintage Champion HO.

The boxcars are both Eastern and the passenger car is a vintage Scale-Craft kitbash described here. I ended up having to tweak the trucks on the cars and also my track. Due to a combination of factors, clearly you need better track to run passenger trains than freight. One key thing is these cars presently have S-C dummy couplers, which I had to adjust as they would catch and cause the cars to derail.

The engine will pull three S-C cast passenger cars in a nicely controlled range of speed. I'm happy with how it came out, on to the next project!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Castings! Part VII, the Graceline Hopper Car

The final model of this project has been completed in two versions, standard and open versions of the Graceline quad hopper.

In Part V of the series (here), the cars are seen before painting and lacking some details. Digging around, I realized I had a nearly complete original Graceline hopper with the card sides, so I completed it with the two I made. 6031, in the back, is the original model, 6035 is mine built with an original wood block body, and 6037 is all my parts, built up as open.

After some struggle for a paint scheme I lettered these in a simple scheme for my Orient, with the idea that they are old cars being used as ballast hoppers. The loads are simply sheets of sandpaper cut to size and fit down in the car, a trick I saw on some hoppers that had been on the layout of Fred Schorr. The open car is nearly empty as modeled, and the other two as full as they would ever be, with ballast being heavier than coal. Note I added decals that indicate how full they can be at maximum.

The most notable car of the group is the open one. The original Graceline model was not an open car, it was always to be built loaded, using a wood block sub-body as the sides were cardboard and needed the support. The open car is striking to see. It was a bit of a challenge to glue together solidly due to likely some residue of mold release. I did my best to scrub it off but perhaps should have invested in a specialty product to remove it. If I build more of these I likely will investigate that further.

The trucks are all mixtures of original Graceline parts and reproduction parts. They took a lot of effort (described more here), and are somewhat overscale (wheelbase too long), but operate great.

As to a final comparison, I have to admit the original car looks a bit better than my reproductions, the rivets are sharper, but I think all are good enough to be suited to the layout in a work train context which was my goal.

I started this particular project as I had the side mold that Temple Nieter had made, and also had six of the wood block bodies. I will make enough parts to make all the wood block bodies up into complete kits, and will also make a few more sets of the open cars while I’m at it. As I don’t model a coal road, I don’t much need more than three, but if anyone out there wants a kit or three do feel free to ask.

Return to Part I of Series

UPDATE: Continue to postscript