American OO Today

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

Saturday, November 10, 2018

A closer look at a 1934 PRR model by Howard Winther

Regular readers will know there is a series of articles in this website on early models by OO pioneer Howard Winther. A group of these models are now in the collection at the TCA museum, more here. I also wrote an article on these early models that was published in the TCA Quarterly, more here.

Recently I spotted on eBay, hidden in a lot containing OO freight cars of no great value, this model. Howard Winther made three of these Pennsylvania R50-b express refrigerator cars in 1934, and I wrote about two of them that the sons of Howard Winther had sent me photos of here. To review, the November, 1934 issue of The Model Railroader in their regular column “Along the Division” reports that “The Hasbrouck shops of the OO gauge Penn-Erie System have recently completed three all-metal Pennsylvania R50-b express refrigerator cars. All work, excepting the wheels, was done in the company shops.”

In the prior article I had photos of cars number 2731 and 2732, which so far as I know are presently in the TCA museum collection. The car I purchased and is seen here is car number 2730. How this car came to be sold by a dealer on eBay I don’t know. It is possible it was separated years ago from the other Winther models.

An article from 1934 reports other of his freight cars were built up from tinplate with brass strips, and this model is all metal for sure. How he achieved the shape required for the roof of the car is a good question. It was not easy, I think, I would guess he at least made a wood form to use to help shape the curve. The doors are made from small bits of brass, the body is all soldered together.

The trucks are a wonder to look at closely. The side frames are die cast. The time required just to make the trucks boggles my mind, as he would have created the dies to cast the sideframes, I’m thinking cut from metal. They are cast in something similar to linotype, and use a brass bolster and clip to hold them together. The wheels were commercial and are insulated for two rail operation. The flanges are similar to current NMRA standards. But the gauge is somewhat under. Even with that, the wheel treads are wider than standards and the car operates fine on my layout.

The underside is plain and roof are plain, and there is no brake detail. The bottom of the car is not painted, the silver you see is the tinplate material the car is built from. The couplers are his personal style, which in spite of the age will couple automatically with Kadee couplers. That was not his goal, of course, back in 1934, but it is a testament to his craftsmanship and his design. When it got to me both couplers were bent; one I simply bent to get back into shape matching the photos I had, and the other required more extensive rebuilding including soldering the knuckle back together.

To close the lettering also deserves mention. It is all done by hand and very neatly. Decals? Not an option for him in 1934.

I don’t run PRR models normally, but I do recognize the value of this model, documented to be by a leading early advocate of American OO. I’m glad I spotted it, and I’m happy to own it for now.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A scratch built modern OO tank car

I finally got to my final tank car project from the summer, fixing a few issues with this modern tank car built mostly from brass by Bill Johann.

From the side you can tell it is not a HO conversion, this is a large model of a prototype nearly 60’ long. Where it was worse for the wear over the years was the railing around the dome. I got it nearly back to the original configuration; when it came to me it was pretty much flattened out.

The other thing I did was very lightly fill in just a few chips. I was going to try to do this on the Trout built tank cars in the recent post, but I think the cure will look worse than the problem so I will leave those alone. In this case though, eliminating a few splotches of raw brass was the right call.

From the bottom you can see Johann worked over this model several times. I think one of the most interesting details are the trucks. He modified Lionel trucks to be roller bearing trucks with rotating axle ends. Half of the caps are missing at this point. The wheels are I believe Athearn Diesel wheels set up like S-C wheels. Oh, and he also built up a new, insulated bolster from plastic and metal. It was no small task to accomplish, and the resulting trucks roll quite well for his effort.

With that I’m done with tank cars for a while except for having some lined up to decal. Good projects for the fall.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Five more freight cars by James Trout

There are some interesting things to note with these stock cars, tank cars, and the flat car by artist James Trout. (More on his background here).

First up are these two stock cars. I take the one in the front to be one of his earliest attempts at scratchbuilding in OO, and the one in the rear a relatively late project. WCS 26003 is built up from wood and completely hand lettered, and note that the really small lettering is representational only, merely small marks. WCS 26907 on the other hand is basically a nicely built Scale-Craft kit but with upgraded ladders, a modern roof walk, and it is nicely weathered as well. But note the lettering is all done with decals.

The bottom view reveals the truck and brake details. The early model has Nason trucks with a Nason brake cylinder – but noting also the trucks have modified Lionel wheelsets with the flanges turned down. The S-C model has some upgrades, but is by no means super detailed. On all of these photos click for a closer look.

Next up we have these tank cars. The car in the front is built from a Scale-Craft kit and the UP car in the rear is Lionel. Both have interesting modifications that are not all visible in the photos. One of the most interesting is he used brass strips on the S-C car and brass wire on the Lionel car to duplicate the tie-downs that would be on the prototype holding the tank to the frame. Both cars are lettered with decals, but his hand lettering makes an appearance, fixing a decal issue on the SDRX car and painting the hazard sign on the UP car.

The bottom view also reveals the added brake details. This is a great addition to these cars as they are so visible. The Kadee couplers being added much more recently to these models likely built in the 1940s or 50s. Another thing to note, these cars are not black. Being an artist, he knew that a very deep gray looks more realistic. The cars are each slightly different in color. Finally, there is more of the small "marks" lettering on the frame of the S-C car, representing very small lettering.

Finally, we have this flat car, WCS 27425. It is longer than the comparable S-C model at 52', and is a light model, wood with added details. The lettering is a mix of decals and hand lettering, the large lettering being done by his steady hand. The only commercial parts are the Schorr trucks, couplers, and brake wheel.

Based on how the trucks are applied I’m thinking it was built originally with a different brand of truck, maybe Nason. There are no brake details but I love the look of the frame and floor from below.

All I have done to this point on these cars is gentle cleaning with Q-tips and water. I’m going to work on matching the tank car colors, and if I can come up with near perfect matches I hope to fill in the chips on those cars as well, those are nice cars that deserve to see service on the layout.

UPDATE: But it is not easy to match the color and sheen. Who knows what type of paint was used and it was likely custom mixed. So for now the cars are just cleaned up and stored safely.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A scratchbuilt gondola

With the end of summer I’ve needed some simpler projects, and went back to the collection of cars built by James Trout to do some gentle cleaning.

One of the first that caught my eye was this gondola. It is lettered for his West Coast Lines (West Coast Southern) and on a brief glance you would think it is a Schorr gondola. It is of a similar or the same prototype, but is actually scratchbuilt in brass with a wood floor. In the photos the car is with a Schorr gondola for comparison.

The Trout car is completely hand lettered with his steady artist hand. The new/built date is 10/38 and may or may not reflect when the model was built.

It is hard to be sure but I believe that his prototype is the car in the upper portion of page 120 of the Model Railroader Cyclopedia (I’m looking at the 1944 edition). The car depicted is a 45’ long Erie 70 ton all-steel gondola. The end details match the drawings well on the Trout car and also the side panels are the same spacing and size. The rivets were all impressed by hand into the brass sides, with the vertical pieces between the panels neatly formed and soldered into place.

In comparison, the Schorr car is 42’ long with the same types of details pressed into the ends and sides. It may just be of a different prototype, the end panels are different, but it is interesting how they are largely the same but the Schorr car is smaller in every dimension -- as if it is slightly underscale relative to the full scale size of the Trout model. The top view shows this pretty clearly. Seeing them together really makes me wonder it the Japanese makers of the Schorr car built it slightly too small.

The only commercial parts on the Trout model are visible in the bottom view, Schorr trucks (which may not be original to the car, judging on the new and too long screws) and a Nason brake cylinder. And also the plastic, Kadee style couplers of which one is broken. Subsequent to the building of the car those were added. I will be replacing those with a fresh pair of Kadee couplers to return the car to operable condition.

My cleaning was very gentle with only a Q-tip and water. I really don’t want to lose any lettering! I’m not sure what happened to the basic paint, if it is an issue with the original application, some effect from storage, or if he meant it to look weathered. In any case, now the car has a weathered look and it is an extremely interesting car to see in comparison to the Schorr import.

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.