American OO Today

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

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Help wanted, pre-war American OO

As has been mentioned in the site a couple times, I’m working on a book. The draft is now quite a ways along, but there are things I’m looking for either photos or additional information. The following is my list for the pre-war portion of the book, in the order that these items appear in the book draft. 

  • Nason combine and observation with brass sides, need photos
  • Limco – everything! Including die cast MP54 MU coach, the trailer for the MP54, the 64’ die cast coach, the WFE wood reefer, the boxcar, or the brass tank car 
  • Strombecker, photos of the 2-4-0, 4-4-0, 4-6-0, and boxcar 
  • Scale-Craft, the pre-war 4-8-4 with the sand cast frame, there are some detail differences to show compared to the post-war version, need a good photo
  • Hoffman’s flat car (Reading), caboose, boxcar (PRR X29), and boxcar (Reading double door)
  • Parmele & Sturges stock car, and any other model or info you have
  • Any examples of a Little Gem Models building
  • Graceline outside braced boxcar and steel caboose
  • Roland Haddaway track
  • Model Lumber Co. coach or combine
  • Yardmaster – any freight car, these were produced
  • Vanden-Boom, anything! Especially the caboose, reefers, and wreck train

On all of the above, I do have these covered to a point, but more information would be very helpful. Certainly most if not all of the above were actually produced, so they may exist in some corner of your collection. 

To highlight this point, this model just came to me today, an eBay purchase. It was posted for sale unobtrusively, but from the photos I could tell it was a very uncommon model, a Hoffman’s reefer. Note the distinctive trucks, and if you could see the frame and couplers those are very distinctive too. I could point you at where to find this information in the website, but I am excited that this info and much more will soon be easy to find with the American OO book finished. Plus, writing this article, I am very reminded that Blogger really has made the site hard to use on my end, the "Labels" function is broken, etc. So it is important to preserve the information developed for this resource in a more permanent manner, I'm glad I had time to get the book this far over the summer.

As to this specific model, I’m looking to finish it, and I have an unbuilt kit for the same model to use for comparison, to be sure it is 100% Hoffman’s.

I’ll soon follow up with a list of post-war items I’m looking for more on, and thank you in advance for any help.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

A quick look at Vanden Boom track (and other updates)


As the summer nears an end, I have been working furiously on the draft of a book on the history of American OO. While based on content from this website, it will be a very new product, making many new connections and presenting quite a bit of new information beyond that found online.

Sometimes I unexpectedly found I had examples of a product that I was not even aware of it being a commercially produced item. Specifically, I recently sold some track, but saved some interesting pieces of track that were really well made by what I assumed to be some very fastidious modeler. I also had used a little of it when we lived in an apartment, and I thought maybe someday I or someone else might use it again as the basis for a simple shelf layout. I have eleven pieces, all completely unmarked as to the maker.

What I learned is that this track must be prewar Vanden Boom track. It matches their catalog illustrations perfectly. What they produced was in effect a line of sectional track laid on plywood, including double track curved and straight sections as seen in the photo. It has traditional OO rail in steel, and the wood ties are ballasted. It has also held up well with the long storage, probably because the plywood was given a good coat of shellac. And hopefully will see some future use still. Probably some reader also has some Vanden Boom track? Worth taking a look. 

I’ve still yet to locate an example of a Vanden Boom freight car, built or as a kit. More on those here, some were produced, and if you have anything I’d love a photo.
 
Updating on this website, I know from my office it appears broken, which was a huge shock a few weeks ago, but from home it works fine. I hope no fans of the site are having issues, it seems to be something with an upgraded firewall at my office that is blocking about half (!) of the photos in the site. This front page of the site has no photos at all when I look at it from my office! Which has also been a motivation to work to push the book over the finish line. Websites are nice, but eventually they break and go away, especially if hosted for free as is this one. Emphasized recently by the folks at Blogger, who changed the interface on my end very significantly.

As to the book, I’m trying to finish a draft of the complete text so that it can go to an editor, and hope to be done with that in the next two weeks! Although it will probably take a month. I’m really quite a ways along, over 200 pages in and another 100 to go, much of which has some rough text already in place. I have worked out a way to write this and avoid potential copyright issues, something that had the project stuck for a long while. A lot of the photos are ready for the book too, but I will need more. With luck though the book could be out by the end of this year, self-published but on Amazon (with my other music publications). I’m enjoying finding even after all these years more things I did not know, and I hope also that it is ultimately a good read. Be watching for more information on the book in the coming months. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

A quick look at the Nason PRR postal

I recently realized this model has never been featured in the site.

The Nason PRR postal was part of the line of “eazy-bilt” passenger cars introduced in 1936 with stamped brass sides. The design is somewhat uncommon, but this is a nice model to be on the lookout for, it is one of the few RPOs produced for the American OO market.

This example I rebuilt a few years ago from an eBay purchase. It is on Nason trucks and operates well.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

A closer look at the Nason 2-8-0 and 4-4-2

Two models that have been mentioned a number of times in this site are the Nason 2-8-0 and the Nason/Star-Continental 4-4-2, and both deserve another look.

Following the introduction of their PRR P5-A (1934) and 4-6-4 (1936) models, the next locomotive in their line was another classic, the Reading 2-8-0. The parts are very similar to the Hudson parts in manufacture, and often feature 300 series numbers cast in. The back cover of the November, 1937 issue of Model Craftsman is a full page ad featuring this new model which rather pins it down that it was introduced in 1937. This was a model Nason had hopes on for good sales!

What was great about this Reading prototype for the purposes of Nason and sand casting was the big firebox which allowed for room for a good sized motor. Plus also it was a freight engine, and this was the first steam road freight engine on the market in American OO. The model was supplied with the “Nason Super” motor, which operated on AC or DC, the latter requiring the use of a rectifier. The photos below show most of the parts for this important model.

This photo shows the Nason logo that is cast in and also an example of the parts numbers. Photos of another model in parts may be seen here.

The Nason 4-4-2 was originally produced in 1937 by Star-Continental Models of Brooklyn. It is a curious model, in that it is a freelance version of the PRR K-4 and K-5 Pacific, but built as an Atlantic. Star was active 1937-39, their 4-4-2 with sand cast boiler, sheet brass tender, and sand and die cast details being later manufactured by Nason Railways. The new product was reviewed in the the April, 1937 issue of Model Railroader.

According to the Star-Continental 1937 catalogue (their spelling) their only product was this locomotive, which was priced from a high of $49.50 for the model built up down to $25.00 for the “workshop set” which required a lathe to complete. So far as I can tell from the catalog their version of the model was sold only for three rail, although perhaps they added that as an option by 1939.

Other than that as a possible factor, the thing I have always wondered is how to tell apart an original Star-Continental 4-4-2 from the later Nason version (1939 and forward) of the same model? The catalogs don’t give many clues, and Nason used the same instructions (dated 1/16/37), just dropping in the name Nason. The answer may be the motor, which visually has a shorter steel frame visible than the Nason motor. For a look at that, see this post. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A closer look at Westbrook, the Nason PRR X-31 boxcar, and the Nason B&O flat

I am this summer working again on a draft of a book on American OO gauge. When you get going on a project like this, topics come up, and one had to do with The Westbrook Company of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., and the Nason freight cars (and also Eastern and Famoco, although I’m not that far into the draft).

Following shortly on the release of their sand-cast boxcar, the Nason "Eazy-Bilt" (easy-built in early advertising) kits with printed card sides/ends and sand and die cast details became available in late 1935. They are first mentioned in the Nason advertisement in the October, 1935 issue of Model Craftsman and were absolutely a game changer and a first in the American OO market. Featured in the photo below is the PRR X-31 automobile car kit. At one point I thought it was a later addition to the line, but clearly it was introduced as part of this same line of cars in late 1935. (A completed car may be seen in this article).

During much or most of the production run, these boxcar and reefer kits were sold as kits in two small green boxes, which were sold separately. The car body construction kit for $1 contained printed sides and ends, the wood body, a wood frame, a brass brake cylinder, and couplers. The Hardware kit for $2 (later reduced to $1.90) contained assembled trucks, cast doors or ice hatches, a sand cast frame, stamped ladders ("where used on the prototype"), cast end sill, brake wheel, grab irons and steps, etc. It was a great system for the time that allowed for purchase of a relatively simple model at a more reasonable cost than the sand-cast model, or you could purchase it in sections if that suited your budget better. Both sections were available purchased together as a complete kit, and were eventually packaged as complete kits in one box. Plus some details seem to have changed slightly over the years, and you could always build your car from the body kit and non-Nason hardware, which all adds up to you can see a lot of variety in these models as actually constructed.

As I was writing into this section of the book draft there was a lingering question that I had. I had seen it mentioned numerous times about sides being made for OO manufacturers by Westbrook. With a bit of comparison to models and info found online, and also a portion of the Westbrook 1938 catalog (thank you out there!), clearly Westbrook produced all the freight cars for Nason other than the sand-cast boxcar. For one, their 1938 catalog actually states that they manufacture OO gauge freight cars for Nason, but also there is a “tell” present on many of the printed sides, the “W” code.

The first Westbrook advertising I have located so far is in the February, 1935 issue of Model Craftsman. Subsequent advertising shows they sold the same boxcar and reefer kits with the same printed sides in O gauge, with the body kit also priced at $1, which was a great deal for those days.

Going ahead a few months, I spotted a Westbrook ad in the January, 1937 issue of Model Craftsman featuring their new O gauge C&NW flat car. What do you know, it has the same car numbers and looks identical to the OO gauge Nason C&NW flat car! I have yet to see a full Westbrook catalog, but I suspect strongly they also offered in O gauge a B&O flat car, as Nason also offered that. It was offered as a complete kit in one box only starting in, you guessed it, 1937. (A completed car may be seen in this article).

This is a close up of the sides, showing the “W” code (in this case W.F.-4) and also note the wording, these were made for Nason Railways, not by Nason. You will also find these W codes on the sides of the Nason gondola, some of the Nason reefer sides, and also the freight car sides of models sold by Famoco and Eastern. Westbrook had quite a large impact on the OO market through their collaborations with these firms, a most interesting footnote on the history of manufacturing in American OO.

[Several elements UPDATED]

Sunday, June 7, 2020

A Graceline/Transportation Models gondola, and a friend

Both of these gondolas are recent completions/restorations, eBay purchases, and both are riding on Graceline trucks.

Updating this post slightly, as originally posted I stated the car in the front is a Graceline car, but actually it is Transportation Models, the successor firm. They are essentially identical models, but apparently Graceline when they left the market sold the dies for making their castings to Selley, and sold the residual wood and cardstock parts to Transportation models. The Transportation models version has a wood frame, and different metal parts.

In either case these are not common and I am pretty pleased how it came out in terms of look and with the NYC decals. I used Eastern ladders on it and tweaked a few missing details. Graceline sprung trucks are a bear to fix, but I have a group of them set up to use on appropriate cars, and this was one. The only big issues remaining are it needs a load (what you see inside the car is the top of the wood block body that the pressed card sides/ends are glued on to) and as originally built up the car tips to one side. The original builder did not put the truck screw holes in square. Noting however that the car also needed a huge stack of washers to be at the correct height, I glued on wood extensions to the bolster and redrilled the holes. It is rolling properly down the line now. The load eventually will probably just be a sandpaper insert, I'm still exploring options.

While the Graceline car came to me unpainted, this second car came to me painted and essentially finished – but with no lettering. I did tweak a few things and put on a fresh coat of gloss black. I think the builder may have struggled to find decals that would work, otherwise they could have finished the car. I struggled too but finally spotted these decals, both cars being lettered from the same set of Microscale decals actually intended for USRA hoppers. But with searching for gondola photos online I think I arrived at two pretty accurate schemes.

This car itself is scratchbuilt. The frame is a mystery. I can tell you what it is not: it is not Selley, Nason, or Hoffman's. It is a little large to be a HO cast frame and it seems to be of a harder material than soft metal so it is a mystery, as is the brake cylinder casting. The ribs are very clunky looking, but also reflect some nice craftsmanship being built up from wood and cardstock with pressed rivet details. In any case, the black paint scheme helps the look of the car (hiding the somewhat clunky details) as do the nice sharp decals. The early 20th century vintage of the assumed prototype car seemed suited to my eye to the oversized Graceline Andrews trucks, and this car is a good operator for when I run vintage style cars.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

A NW-2 from the WCS, part 2: Trucks and a frame insert

As mentioned in part one, this engine came to me with no drive, just sideframes. It was as if someone before me was trying to put in a new drive or repair on old one and got stuck.

I was able to find two wheelsets for the non-drive truck and work out a mounting for it. With that set, my idea was to take an Athearn drive truck and work over a portion of a frame to work.

The 4 wheel road Diesel trucks are the correct wheelbase for any OO switch engine. I had a few larger NWSL wheelsets around, and those were used to match the non-drive truck with correct size wheels.

The frame portion is from a GP unit of some sort, cut down to fit. I need to get it to nestle in just a bit further, but the height is really close to correct. Once I am satisfied there I’ll work on mounting a motor and connecting it to the drive truck. I can use the original screw holes (from the original drive) to attach the frame insert, a nice bonus. Won’t be long until WCS 2417 is rolling again!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

GE 80 ton models by Bill Johann

I was sent three photos by Bill Johann some years ago of his scratchbuilt GE 80 ton switchers. More on the prototype here.

He built three of these models. The construction photos are dated in April of 1993, and the in service photo, which I’m presenting first, is from December of 1997. Check out also all those hoses and such, and the Midlin track, it was the best looking of all the OO track lines.

So far as I can tell he only mentioned these models briefly and in passing on the on the first page of the May 1994 issue of The OO Road. There we read that the “80 Ton triplets, [were] built last year for road switching….” The focus of the short article is on how he had more recently taken two of the HO Davenport models (by Mantua – with the side rods) and combined the bodies with an Athearn switcher chassis to make yet another smaller Diesel of similar design.

The 80 ton models were scratchbuilt from styrene. The first construction photo shows a model with incomplete handrails, so we can also see his process a bit further there. Painting before installing handrails was a smart move.

My guess was that he used something like an Athearn GP7 (blue box) frame and drive, and chose the model as it suited the length of the stock frame and 8 wheel drive. Perhaps adjusted the prototype design a bit to fit. The body details are simple, but effective.

Fortunately, two of these engines are now in a collection in the east, and I’m told by owner Drew M. that they run great!

This photo from Drew confirms the construction date and also the drive setup, which is a stock Athearn frame and drive modified for 19mm gauge.

This final side view is of one of the engines today. The truck sideframes have been modified to resemble EMD Flexicoil trucks rather than the correct GE design, but suit the model all the same.

I know I really like the way Athearn blue-box era drives work on 19mm OO gauge locomotives, I’ve got at this point more than a dozen models running with those drives, and more under construction. I describe the basics of the conversion here.


Friday, May 15, 2020

2 wood freight cars that came out nicely

Some models I obtain mainly thinking it is cheap, I’ll do a quick rebuild and try to sell it. Then the project takes a good turn and comes out better than expected. That is the case with this gondola and boxcar.

To the gondola first, it is pre-war Hawk sulfur gondola (an overview of Hawk OO may be found here). It is not an old time car, it is contemporary to the pre-war era -- the wood construction of the prototype cars was due to the load type, and Hawk likely picked the design as it suited wood kit construction. I knew already that the AT&SF had examples of these, but looking around online I found similar cars for the T&NO, and I had decals that would suit the model. I actually did three of these cars as T&NO, the two others of this will likely make it to eBay before this one. It’s on Eastern/Famoco trucks which seemed to suit this particular model as built by the original builder. Each of the 3 of these just rebuilt required a different truck setup, the original Hawk frame being really too thick at the bolsters.

The boxcar has a scribed Picard body (an overview of Picard may be found here). I bought this one as it had an interesting cast frame, trucks, and also SC stamped brass boxcar doors, which I used on a different model – but also the 7’ steel door did not look right at all on this model, it really cried for a 6’ wood door. So I peeled off the remnant decals, made a door, did a quick touch up repaint (in real light it does not look as blotchy as it does with the flash). Again what really makes the car are the decals. This one is riding on trucks rebuilt from Sn3 parts, which visually suited the model I think – but also was a practical solution, as I needed trucks with very low bolsters to get the model to a correct height. Also I had to use the underset shank Kadees, so that the car was not too high. As originally built I don't think this car ever looked this good or operated as well as it does now.

I’m getting to the point I wish I had a bigger layout! But I do rotate my era and theme every month or so, it keeps things interesting.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Pondering Hoffman’s reefer kits and parts

One of the more obscure pre-war makers of American OO kits was Hoffman’s of Philadelphia. I have an overview of three of their kits in my collection here. 

I hardly build vintage kits anymore. I used sometimes, but so many things come to me in parts or in need of rebuilding that has become my focus. In the case of Hoffman’s, I’ve hoped to have one of their cars for years, but have never seen one for sale and honestly, I doubt many have held up at all as there are no wooden sides to support the printed card sides. And it would not surprise me if the overall actual run of these was just a few hundred kits, I was very lucky to find the ones I have.

There are some unique parts that would set them apart from other models if you have one of these. This first photo is a closer look at some of the small parts. The brake cylinder is very similar to a Nason one in size and shape, but a casting rather than a turning. I suspect the ice hatches supplied with the kits might actually be HO parts, but is a nice sharp casting. Finally, the coupler and end sill is a very unique set up, with the spring loaded coupler set up this way from the factory. How it worked in actual layout use I’m not sure, I would worry that the coupler might get droopy.

Besides parts found in kits I have, I have also spotted just a few loose in some various purchases. This second photo gives an overview of my two nearly complete reefer kits and what parts I had hoped someday to build up into a complete car. I have a roof, floor, ends, and frame (a very distinctive design) from a car that was built up (apparently rebuilt as a boxcar!), and also 5 usable trucks. (It is a unique design, see it closer here).

At least I thought I had an extra Hoffman’s roof and floor, but when I was getting ready to glue them together very recently I realized the body is certainly too long for the frame if you use the original ends. Comparing it with the kits, clearly this floor and roof are not Hoffman’s. Then I see a quirk of my kits: they both have two floor stock pieces and no roof! The instructions are a little vague but apparently the actual roof is two pieces of wood, one for each side. Oh, and the used ends I have must be from a different car, the gluing points don’t match the roof and floor piece at all, but are certainly original Hoffmann’s parts.

For the moment I think I’ll dig around and look for more original Hoffman’s parts or at least very close matches. If I go forward with this project I would cut down the floor and roof to match the virgin kit parts. As I have no spare Hoffman’s sides for this rebuilt model, my plan was to use the very similar Champion MDT reefer sides instead. But discovering that the floor and roof are not Hoffmann’s has put a bit of a damper on things, I might instead just strip the frame I had found and put it in the kit that lacks a frame and be done with it. Or maybe I should break down and build one of the kits, neither is absolutely complete, that might be the best project. Will see how I feel as the summer goes forward.