American OO Today

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

Sunday, January 10, 2016

News! Now available, 3D printed American OO 1:76 models at Shapeways

The topic of 3D printing is one that has generated a lot of buzz. For anyone active in American OO it is huge news actually, as conceivably any model railroad related item found on Shapeways can be produced in 1:76. If a Shapeways designer is willing to do it, all they have to do is change the scale of an existing product and list it for you and others to enjoy.

These are the two models I have obtained so far, a SW7 in the Strong & Flexible material and a SD45 cab in the FUD material. Of the two the cab is the better part, but due mostly to material choice on my end.

OO enthusiast Jack Bartman got things rolling with Shapeways, working with a designer who had previously worked up a SW7 and a SD9 in N scale. He produced for Jack OO versions of both, and I purchased one of the SW7 models. The listing may be found here.

This one I purchased is in what they describe as the “White Strong & Flexible White nylon plastic with a matte finish and slight grainy feel.” I would say that wording, now that I have the model, is marketing at its best and worst. The material has more the feel of a dense Styrofoam than plastic, and it is actually porous! It a type of Nylon, it is flexible but holds the shape well, and has a very grainy, powdery feel -- especially when it first arrived, and I had not blown the excess powder off. The price was right, it is cheaper for a big model such as this, but I will never get this material again, the FUD material is the one to use for model railroad applications.

The SW7 model itself is somewhat low detail, but it is scaled up from an N scale design. Size wise, wow! Wow! I had never seen a full size 1:76 EMD SW model in OO on my layout and it is clearly larger than the AHM SW1 models I have used as stand-ins in OO for years. The AHM SW1 is oversized for HO (more here) but really only about 1/80 scale, and the difference shows. The AHM S-2 works a bit better as an OO model, as does the Fleischmann Baldwin, but the new SW7 model has left me rethinking my switcher fleet to be sure. Probably some more extensive kit bashes are in my future….

I did work up a quick drive for this model from AHM SW-1 parts, as seen in this photo (the fuel tank being made from two fuel tanks). The trucks on this model are the correct wheelbase for OO (the side frames being correct) and lucky for us the (extended) original frame, stripped of railings and trimmed on the ends, will nest right inside the Shapeways body. The weights are off in the photo for clarity, but I am reusing the AHM weights and adding more bulk to them.

I am also planning at this point to paint this model black and be very minimal on the decals. It is a trick we can use to our advantage, the model has low detail and the details are a little rough due to the material choice, black will help hide this fact. Also, with this material you pretty much have to use acrylic paint and I will likely brush paint it, something I have not done on a model of this size in years. Shapeways has a guide to painting this material on their website.

Then we have the sharp SD45 cab. This is from a model that had been originally designed for TT scale use, and the cab appealed to me a lot as I have two SD-something model conversions underway – stalled, really, as I was dreading building the cabs up from scratch. And it is such a key detail, my experience says this is the one detail that will make these models work visually, with the rest of the model is converted from large and mostly over scale HO parts. The cab listing is here.

This one I purchased is in what they describe as the “Frosted Ultra Detail Matte translucent plastic that showcases fine and intricate details.” While my heart sank a little when I saw the SW7 material, this FUD material really excited me. It has the feel in your hands of being a resin casting, a solid feeling (it is actually an acrylic polymer material), and certainly will build up into an outstanding model. Whew!

For a visual comparison, Pierre Bourassa built up this big GE engine from scratch. The Shapeways cab is to scale, matches the size of the GE cab, and really will make the models I have underway look sharp.

Painting the FUD material also has some special challenges. There are a quite a few discussions of this topic online. The central problem is there is a waxy film on the FUD material that has to be removed, and even then you are still looking at using Acrylic paints (because apparently enamel paints won’t dry properly on this material). A solvent marketed as Bestine (use in a well ventilated area!) seems to be commonly recommended to clean FUD parts, and I gather that a 5-10 minute soaking will remove the wax residue and leave the part with a white, opaque finish ready for painting. If you have the equipment an ultrasonic cleaner does a great job too.

For those curious, I am told that a Shapeways designer only makes $3-4 per sale on a part the size of that cab. They are basically individuals designing models to fit their hobby interests and clearly are not getting rich on this, so if contacted they may not be very willing to do a complicated design specifically for you. But again, if it is an existing model that is already listed, they may be willing to help as they can probably bang out the OO version in literally a matter of minutes.

A final note is that end Shapeways price relates to the material you choose for the model and the size of the model. Large models will be quite expensive in the FUD material, but parts such as a cab more reasonable. For more Shapeways OO models search 1:76 or OO in their website, with 1:76 providing more relevant results.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A closer look at Famoco 6-wheel passenger trucks

Back in 2008 a brief article was posted, briefly showing the four types of 6 wheel passenger trucks marketed commercially in American OO scale. Worthy of a closer look are the Famoco trucks.

I recently set up three pair of these for operation, and operationally they are free rolling and look nice too.

As noted in the earlier article, these trucks have a very specific and unique feature in that the bolster is in effect integral to the truck. But that only tells part of the story. So the trucks themselves have a pin that comes up out of the truck bolster. This fits into a hole on the car side of the bolster that has a recess for a round metal key. The screws that would be used to hold the truck to the body are to be used in the holes provided on this car bolster. It is a very different setup than any other truck offered in American OO. Also worth noting, the actual truck bolster is “riveted” to the side frames, making them difficult/impossible to dissemble.

Besides that there are two major negatives on these trucks. About 1/4 of the wheelsets I examined are problematic, the tread width is too narrow. The bigger negative though is that a percentage of the parts have absolutely disintegrated. I describe this “rot” (more formally known as zinc pest) a bit more in this article, but this hits Famoco and Graceline parts the hardest and ultimately relates to the quality of the metal used for the die casting, with high humidity thought to contribute as well.

In any case, this J-C Model ATSF baggage car is running on a good pair of these trucks now. When originally rebuilt I put it on S-C trucks, but those were needed for another car and this one reverted to 4 wheel trucks – which never really looked right on the car. I converted it to Famoco trucks and upgraded a few other small details, including adding a bit of weight, this car is a head end car and it was rather light.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Touching up a Rutland boxcar

This model was rebuilt originally by the late Bill Johann, came to me second or third hand after his ownership. It is an Eastern car that was nicely built up, I believe likely lettered with decals over painted over printed sides, then painted over yet again and lettered for the Rutland.

A very nice article on building models of this car in HO is online, and opens by noting that

Pullman Standard's PS-1 box Car is THE iconic piece of rolling stock that defined the vision Rutland Railway president Gardiner Caverly laid out for the railroad in the early 1950's, that of a modern, streamlined, service-oriented gateway that would rapidly move shippers products to market.

Bill Johann was an American OO operator and over the years updated his layout to the modern era; I own a number of these models today. Based on the markings I believe he probably converted this car to Rutland in 1971 and then modified it to a more modern appearance in 1994; when it came to me it was on roller bearing trucks and had no roof walk and an ACI label.

The Rutland shut down in 1963 and the use of ACI labels began in 1968, so this was problematic to my eye. But such a nice car, I did want to run it. What I did was paint over the ACI labels, add a roof walk, and put it on Schorr trucks. The roof walk should be painted the color of the roof but I opted for black (to match the ends) and made it from two HO roof walks spliced together.

It is not quite a PS-1 boxcar but it is a very good stand in for this iconic car, I am enjoying running it on the layout.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Lionel OO Freight Cars. Part IV: Cabooses

And what train is complete without a caboose? Lionel chose to make theirs to the same design as the 1937 Scale-Craft caboose, but with tweaked details and it is clearly marked as Lionel.

The original 1938 model was the 0017 caboose decorated for the Pennsylvania. I don’t have one of those (it was 1938 only) but I do have the 0027 NYC caboose, which is the successor model (1939-42), a semi-detailed model and also three-rail. The semi-detailed models lack the turned piece that is attached next to the box on the underframe and the smokestack seen on the detailed version.

Next up is an example of the 0047 caboose, which is the detailed caboose on two rail trucks. Note the smoke stack and the underframe detail. Worth noting as well, all of these cars have only one brake wheel.

The final model for this series is this example of the 0077 caboose, which is two-rail but semi-detailed. This model was produced from 1939-42. For even more on Lionel OO cabooses see this article in the Train99 website.

Value on all of the models seen in this series is a good question. I purchased the 0027 model above on eBay a few years ago at a fairly low cost. It still had on it a tag, the seller had been trying to sell it at shows, and had listed $100 on the tag! Which would be at least double what I would think would be book value in a price guide. Even that though would depend on exactly how you interpret the condition, and one of the trucks it turned out was clearly a reproduction truck so really it was not a highly desirable example. It is harder to evaluate condition from photos. I have a trained eye by now, but I don’t think any buyer could have seen the reproduction truck based on the photos in the listing. And in fairness, who knows, the seller may not have noticed or have known either.

In any case, these classic OO gauge models in good condition will hold some value as long as people are collecting Lionel trains! To my mind the iconic model of this line is the 1938 yellow (cream) colored boxcar. The bidding can really get going on these, as it also can on the separate sale versions of the 0044/5/6/7 versions of these cars (or the kit versions of the same) in their original display boxes. For example, as I write this just yesterday a set of all four of the separate sale versions of the built up cars sold on eBay, low of $292 for the hopper and high of $515.50 for the caboose.

For even more on the Lionel OO line in general see this article. And if you are new to American OO gauge, poke around this site and learn even more about these collectible vintage models.

Return to beginning of Lionel Freight Car series. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lionel OO Freight Cars. Part III: Hopper Cars

Moving ahead numerically, the next model in this survey of the line of Lionel OO gauge freight cars is the hopper. It is of an offset side design very similar to what Scale-Craft had introduced a year earlier but different in many details and the Lionel model is clearly marked as a Lionel product.

The original 1938 0016 cars were lettered in this somewhat fanciful SP paint scheme or in a variation where the decals are applied one panel out closer to each end. This example is not in the best shape and is missing a hopper door, but is otherwise complete. As with the yellow (or cream) box cars, the general thinking is that the gray scheme was a reflection of the goal of producing eye catching models that would sell in train sets. It is has three rail trucks.

This model was followed in the catalog by the 0016 cars produced from 1939-42. Note it is now in a more realistic SP scheme and the car is black! It is still three rail and this is the detailed model. Actually, all the hopper cars they made are the detailed version, there was no semi-detailed version of the hopper produced.

The final example I have for this brief survey is the 0046 hopper. This model is identical to the 0016 car above except for the two-rail trucks. This particular example someone added a load to, which has certainly reduced the collector value today. These were, rather than being gifts to kids, models used on model railroads and who would not want a loaded hopper over an empty?

For even more on Lionel OO hoppers see this article in the Train99 website. This series will conclude with the final model in the line, the caboose.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Lionel OO Freight Cars. Part II: Tank Cars

Next we turn to tank cars and the first version made is this bright silver 0015 Sunoco car.

This is the 1938 version of this model, riding on three rail trucks. The 0015 model is detailed, but the only difference visible between the detailed models and the semi-detailed models below is the detailed models have the brake cylinder casting.

Next up is the 0025 Shell tank car, which is also three rail but semi-detailed and sold from 1939-42. While the Sunoco car had a car number that matched the model number in the catalog, this model is more realistically decaled as SEPX 8126. How you know it is the 0025 car (or another variation) is 0025 is rubber stamped on the frame itself.

Our final example in this brief overview is the 0075 tank car. This model is identical to the 0025 car (and was also produced 1939-42) except for it has two rail trucks and is stamped 0075. Again, it is semi-detailed. The final photo shows the stamping on both of these cars.

Worth noting as well, these cars are very similar to Scale-Craft tank cars (introduced in 1937) but various details are obviously different when you get looking and of course the Lionel cars say “built by Lionel” on the ends. For even more on Lionel OO tank cars see this article in the Train99 website. Next up in this brief series are their hoppers.

Continue reading Lionel OO Freight Cars series

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lionel OO Freight Cars. Part I: Box Cars

A topic long overdue for this website is that of Lionel OO gauge freight cars and the many variations. I don’t own all of them, of course, but have access to enough to give an overview.

The original Lionel box cars were the yellow 0014 Lionel Lines cars. Manufactured in 1938 only, these cars were certainly eye catching! But not very realistic. I don’t own an example but I have had for a number of years this curiosity, a 0044 Pennsylvania car which clearly was made by painting over one of the left over yellow 1938 bodies.

As seen in this highlight, yellow is very visible where the paint has chipped. Clearly, model railroaders did not want fanciful yellow boxcars! As always, click on any of the photos for a better view.

Lionel freight cars were sold as being either detailed or semi-detailed. Both of these 0044 cars are detailed and are two-rail models produced from 1939-42. The one above I take to be an early example and has black ladders, and this second car does not. Otherwise, they are identical.

This final example is a 0074 model, which is the two-rail semi-detailed model sold from 1939-42. The only difference is 0074 model has no brake cylinder. The semi-detailed cars were sold with semi-detailed ("modified") sets. I don’t know the actual price break between the models (these sets also lacked a hopper car, further lowering the cost), but whatever bit of difference lack of a brake cylinder made must have been worth it to Lionel in marketing train sets in those depression years.


The final photo shows the difference between the two versions. It is also worth noting that these models are very similar in overall appearance to the early sand-cast Nason OO boxcars, which could have been an inspiration to Lionel. For even more on Lionel OO boxcars see this article in the Train99 website. Next in this brief series will be the tank cars.

Continue reading Lionel OO Freight Cars series

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Amazing detail from Oscar Andresen, part 3

As noted earlier in this series (back in 2009! Starts here), Oscar Andresen was a Boston engraver and pioneer in American OO. His work was featured on the cover of the second issue of Model Railroader magazine in 1934 (more here) and he offered his early models commercially under the name Rockhaven Models, which was a name associated with his personal layout.

Recently I was able in a trade obtain three Andresen models – two nearly complete and one in parts – which has allowed an even closer look at his craftsmanship. My three are all etched zinc, two passenger cars and a stock car.

We will begin with the big Rock-Haven coach. Which brings up a first question. If you bought these sides from him, what was he thinking, how was the purchaser to letter them for a different road? Or letter them at all? This quote from the May, 1935 issue of Model Railroader gives about all the clues we have for why he did this (for more from this article, including photos, see here).

What do you say if we board a special train on the Mohawk Valley for a tour of inspection? We are sure to forget the passage of time, and so we will naturally stop at the car shops to watch the construction of many types of cars. The strangest site of all is to see the riveters at work, “Wonder of wonders.” They make no noise. The process used not only permits rivets without noise but at the same time raises all lettering above the car surface. All around the shops and other factories at Mohawk Valley there is no sign of a depression, with work going forward at full blast.

And there we are. My guess is the raised lettering gave you a guide to hand letter over them for whatever the underlying lettering was. Still though, the question would be: is this actually a car intended for his own layout? Did he originally design them for his layout but later decide to sell them to others? It is an interesting question.

This car has been partially assembled, the zinc sides have been soldered to brass strips and integrated with wood parts. Building the car to this point took someone some effort. The zinc parts have crisp details to be sure and are just thick enough to not have the feeling of being fragile to the touch. The ends are separate parts and the doors are separate but soldered to the sides.

This is seen more clearly in the set of loose sides for the Pullman. These have been soldered on the back to square brass rods, and one of the doors has come off (as has one of the rods). Again, fine detail and the lettering is raised from the surface. They came to me with a group of Nason parts and it seems a prior owner was looking to build this car up as well. The only notable, non-Nason or S-C part with the sides was a big piece of zinc to apparently use as floor stock.

The last car is a great item too, a stock car that matches the stock car seen in a 1934 article (see here), it just lacks doors.

Looking at it closer there are a number of interesting things to note. One is the entire car is zinc and brass. The roof is actually hollow, with the visible top area showing etched rivet details. The sides have square brass members applied to them, and they are of a thick zinc with again rivet details etched in. The ends as well are etched with brass members applied. The floor is solid zinc.

There are no doors and the underside is totally lacking in detail. I am somewhat on the fence about working on this car further, it is such an amazing rare/early item. It will be difficult to clean the ends for painting for example. If I go forward with it I have a pair of bent/warped S-C stock car sides and those can donate doors to this model.

Continuing that thought, how do the cars compare? The Andresen car is slightly shorter (40’ instead of 42’) and as seen in the final photo the design is different in several ways.

The other missing parts are not too hard to find/fabricate, but it is notable that the model was set up to have trucks sitting on or attached to pins protruding from the floor. I can work something out I am sure.

Also the couplers on the model are a real curiosity, as they appear to be sort of a link and pin coupler, not a commercial design. Looking at the available Andresen photos, the front coupler of the steeple cab loco seen in this article seems to be the same design! So maybe this car is actually from his layout? That would make the car even more notable.

What to letter it for is also a good question. I will go slow on this but would love to see it reach a more complete state such as Andresen would have hoped for when he produced the parts so long ago.

As to the passenger cars, I am considering assembling the Rock-Haven car a little further (but not paint it) and to use the six wheel trucks I have from Howard Winther on the model (seen in this article, at the end). Of all the cars I have this one seems the only one worthy of riding on that set of early, handmade trucks, becoming a very unique model with parts on it by two different pioneers of American OO.

Return to beginning of Amazing Detail series

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Howard Winther OO models on display at TCA museum

Regular readers of American OO Today know there are a number of articles here relating to the early (and award winning) American OO models by Howard Winther. A pioneer in the scale, his first article on his early OO gauge modelwork is found in the February, 1933 issue of The Modelmaker, back in the days before there was a dedicated model railroad magazine!

Winther really had some skills, and in particular won several awards with his OO models at the early NYSME shows, which led to them being featured a number of times in the hobby press.

It turned out that his beautiful models had been carefully packed and stored over all the years. With the generous help of both of his TCA member sons (who stumbled onto my OO history series when it was being written) I was able to produce an article for the TCA Quarterly (April, 2014), which is described here.  These models were and are a window into some of the best model railroading had to offer from the early days of the hobby; it was great to feature them and their story, focusing on photos of them in the hobby press of the 1930s and photos of the models today.

But the story has not ended there! These photos are of the models now on display at the National Toy Train Museum in Strasburg, PA. They have their own special display case!

This second photo is of the display itself and do click on it for a better view. You can see the article displayed prominently, along with one of his awards, several structures, and of course the trains that will be familiar from the articles here. For a view of many of them, pre-TCA, follow this link (the "label" Winther in this site) and scroll down past the most recent articles.

Our final photo (all photos by Anker Winther) is of the inscription with the display itself. Of course I am biased, I think these are really significant early models, but may they long be featured by the TCA! It really is a happy ending for me, and knowing that I helped get the ball rolling for this end result is a treat as well. Hopefully I will be able to visit the display at some point, and for sure any readers in driving distance I hope you have the opportunity to see them in person.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Schorr PRR A3

Very likely the rarest of the Schorr brass imports in American OO scale is their PRR A3 0-4-0 model.

The model is mentioned in this article, with a quote from Ed Schorr, son of importer Fred Schorr. Ed recalled that

He would have also imported a B&O dock side switcher and the Ma and Pa 10-wheeler but could not get enough guys interested. He did however have a handful, maybe 5, PRR A-3 class 0-4-0s made.

Reader Jeff Barker found this one recently at train show in Cincinnati and provided these photos. What a sharp model, nicely painted. The trucks are clearly the familiar Schorr arch bar trucks. As I noted in the earlier article, it must be one of the rarest of items ever commercially produced in American OO.

To the other models mentioned by Ed Schorr, those would have been just as nice but were not to be. This little 0-4-0 however, for sure one to keep your eyes peeled for, hopefully the rest of the handful that was produced is still out there somewhere.

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John Ericson has been active in American OO for over 30 years, is a university music professor by profession, and firmly believes everyone needs a hobby.