American OO Today

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

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Some Greenbrook Restorations

Up today are several interesting models built by David Sacks for his American OO scale Greenbrook layout (my main article on Sacks and the Greenbrook is here), but ones that had fallen on sad times.

The restorations were done by Jack Bartman. He found the colors easy to match as Sacks had used standard Testors paints. The most interesting models probably are this engine and caboose. Of the engines I received from the residual of his layout this one was the only one that ran (sort of), and it may be seen “before” in this article. It still does not run great – Sacks ran it really hard and it could use a new motor – but it still runs and is now a fairly sharp model. It is an example of the “large HO Diesel passing as smaller OO diesel” (it is Athearn) and is a bit underscale. But he must have had fun working over the lettering and running it. With it is a standard S-C caboose, also with freshened up paint and decals.

Next up are these two S-C passenger cars, a baggage and a coach. The coach he modified with wide windows which is a nice look. Besides freshening up the paint (especially the roofs) and decals, Bartman added seats and passengers which are a nice addition. Both of these cars “before” may be seen in this article. 

Finally, we have the rest of the head end cars of a heavyweight passenger train. The RPO is a somewhat rare Nason model, the baggage car on the left is J-C models and the one on the right is of unknown manufacture (probably kitbashed). Note the lettering variations: Greenbrook, Green Brook, and Green Brook Lines.

In total these cars make me want to restore a couple more similar cars a bit more fully. They make for quick and satisfying projects as you can save a bit of OO history in the process.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Two Athearn Tank Car Conversions

Among vintage American OO items the tank cars of Scale-Craft and Lionel are very common items. And both are very nicely made models for the time of 10,000 gallon single dome tank cars.

Then in a group of OO models I received there was an Athearn HO three dome tank car converted to American OO. I thought it looked really small and set it aside. Never operated it. And I had another Athearn HO conversion tank car that I used to run often but lately not so much.

But I do like tank cars, and I like articles on tank cars. So an article in the February, 2015 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist caught my attention, as it is on multiple dome tank cars and points actually to a really easy American OO conversion.

The author, Richard Hendrickson, explains there how a recently introduced HO model of a 6,000 gallon three dome tank car was criticized initially by some as it looked much too small to be realistic, as it was so much smaller than the familiar Athearn HO model. But actually in the article we learn that most prototype three dome cars produced were in the 6,000 gallon size range and also that smaller sizes of tank cars in general were more common than we might think. And then there is photo 9 in the article where we see an accurate HO model next to the “hugely oversize” Athearn model.

Where this leaves us though in American OO is that actually the Athearn three dome HO model is roughly an 8,000 gallon tank car in OO. It looks small at first, but that size range is completely prototypical for the model in question. Some details are probably a bit off but this is an extremely easy conversion and one to certainly try. My model is on Schorr trucks. Also the Deep Rock scheme is a plus, as that was a regional brand in the area my layout depicts.

I did one other multiple dome tank car conversion a few years ago, a two dome car, described here and seen in the photo as well. It never has really looked quite right to me and now I see why; from the article I learn that it really should be a car of 6,000 or 8,000 gallons. But the tank is as big as the 10,000 gallon tank of a Scale-Craft tank car. Probably a few two dome cars were that big, and it still makes a nice companion car as it is also lettered for Deep Rock, but it is not typical and I don’t plan to duplicate the conversion.

The other Athearn conversion seen in this second photo is one I did literally in high school. It is mentioned also in a brief post from early in the years of this website. I basically cut the dome and added a section to make it taller and extended/expanded the frame a bit. It again is roughly an 8,000 gallon car and these were not uncommon at all out there in the real world of tank cars well into the transition era. And I have enjoyed getting this old friend out to run on the layout again.

To close, now I have another model to keep my eyes peeled for at shows! I would like to pick up a couple more of the three dome cars.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

American OO Layouts in Prize Model Railroad Layouts

Among some papers that came my way were two layout story articles that had certainly run in MR but they were not the same layout or format. They looked to have been cut out of a book. It was a puzzle for a while, but then I stumbled upon the source, a Fawcett book titled Prize Model Railroad Layouts. 

Published in 1952, the book was edited by A. C. Kalmbach for Fawcett books. It contains layout stories from the pages of Model Railroader from 1946-52. I am not sure the “prize” mentioned in the title of the book (maybe the prize was to be included in the book?).

Among the featured layouts are the Jersey Coast & Western of Rowland E. King and the great Norfolk & Ohio of Carl Appel. The Jersey Coast & Western was featured in a 1949 MR article (more on that here) and the Norfolk & Ohio layout story was from 1948 (more here and also here). The majority of the other articles were on HO layouts, but also there are O and TT gauge layouts and outdoor systems as well.

In looking at the articles again I can see that one photo I had not reproduced yet is this one, which shows Carl Appel with his layout. As always, click on the photo for a better view. Spread over two pages, the control panel for the island yard is visible, as is a train with a bobber caboose across the river and a streamliner coming over the bridge. A layout such as this will never again be seen in American OO, but certainly both of these OO systems were worthy of being featured in this classic publication.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Fleischmann Baldwin Switcher, Modified for American OO

Back a couple years ago I posted an article on two different “HO” Baldwin Diesel switchers that were oversized for HO, one by Garco and one by Fleischmann. In that article (here) I noted that the Garco engine was probably around 1/80 scale and the Fleischmann was even bigger but a mixture of scales really.

In that article is seen one of the Fleishcmann models decorated in the “C&NW” scheme. Actually, these models as shipped have no lettering other than the number cast into the side of the cab, 1340. I have two of these, the other Fleischmann was somewhat modified and had the black version of the paint scheme. A prior owner had removed the silver stripe that would have originally been on the frame and had added basic ATSF decals (but no zebra stripes) and Kadee couplers.

Those modifications gave me an idea. Sitting it on the layout periodically, it did “work” as a 1/76 model, the length and width are pretty much on, the model is just short in height. In the fall I ordered the Microscale decals and over the holiday break I went forward and completed the conversion for operation in OO.

My first step was to disassemble the model and soak it in water until the decals a prior owner had added lifted off. Then I went to work on a drive. The drive uses the powered truck and motor from an Athearn geep, combined with the unpowered truck and truck sideframes off an AHM SW-1. This model is also over scale for HO (more here), and for this Baldwin provided nice switcher trucks that are the correct length for OO.

The drive took a lot of cutting and fitting but I got it all in and running; the only negative being that the wheel diameter is a bit under. So then I turned to applying the decals, which took quite a while. My goal was not to repaint the model at all but just use the decals -- and to use them to draw your eye away from the main visual problem of this model, which is that huge step in front of the cab. In the actual ATSF scheme sometimes there were zebra stripes on that box, but not always, and I left them off. I also purposefully left off the stripes above that box. The result is that under normal lighting, operating on the layout, the box nearly disappears from view! (As in the first photo).

It really is a fun model to run around, it pulls 5 free rolling cars around with ease, and I would note it has a headlight as well. Two minor negatives to note. First, the number 1340 is not correct for an ATSF Baldwin, and the font of the number is not correct either, but keeping the number seemed the best option. The other negative is it runs backwards, and there is no easy way to correct that so I will have to just live with it. This was is a function of using part of the original Athearn frame, which also left me with a fuel tank that is not the correct shape and off center. Which I can live with.

I have decals to do at least one more zebra stripe scheme too. I don’t plan to modify another of these, so next up will either be a Schorr RS-2 or a Kemtron GP-7. But not for a while, lots of projects underway and the coming months will be busy ones.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Rebuilding a S-C 4-6-0 by Mr. Pierre

I have a number of models by Pierre Bourassa, and this recent eBay purchase was certainly one of his engines that came south to the USA when he sold his layout.

The price I paid was a steal and it looked like a great model as it had a can motor—it looked like a model that had been run recently! So this Scale-Craft model gets here and there are some problems. Hooked up to a transformer it would turn over wheels but only barely due to a couple issues. One was one driver had separated from the axle which is no small problem, but also the drive he worked out was sort of a mess really. He connected a small can motor to a cut down S-C gearbox and even when I got things lined up perfectly and on a different frame it was clear the motor did not have enough “oomph” to even move the engine down the track! Which was especially sad as Pierre added lights and some nice details to the model. I don’t think he was pleased either with the drive.

I will spare all the ugly details, but where the engine is now is it runs fine! I converted it back to a vintage S-C motor connected to a rectifier, a vintage installation that came to me from yet another eBay purchase. (seen in updates III and IV to this article). It is also rolling now on Nason trucks, with the bronze sideframes, which are operationally an upgrade from S-C trucks -- important, as all power pick-up is from the tender trucks.

The process was instructive for me for sure. I ended up getting out and resorting all of my S-C 4-6-0 parts and motors and projects. I now have things set out again to build up two more models over time and also a 0-6-0 (which uses the same motor and tender setup).

One part of the process was trying to bench test the motors I have, which worked better connecting them to a rectifier mounted in a tender than the method in this article. One bottom line of that was that some S-C motors I have just don’t work, even if they look OK to me visually in every way. My theory is something not visible is messed up in the windings after all the years of storage and variable handling.

Anyway, the big vintage motor is very smooth and powerful, if somewhat noisy and the four big wires are not real pleasing visually either (and, in the last two photos, the drawbar is not hooked so the enlarged distance between the engine and tender is enhanced). Still, I have improved my skills with these models and will keep plugging away at rebuilding others over time. It is a pleasure to see a nice vintage model running again. I will plan to touch up the paint a bit (noting that he must have lightened his black paint to a gray), and one final tip: it is a good idea to change out the lead truck wheelsets, change them to HO 36” plastic. As now seen on this model. Eliminates problems.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Another S-C Gas Electric, Modernized

This model was an eBay purchase a few years ago. It was partially built but not complete, missing a drive truck and the roof. I was not really needing another S-C Gas-Electric (see here for my first one), but still the model spoke to me and I started in, working on it slowly for a couple years.

The two big challenges were the drive and the roof. The roof was more of a challenge than you would think as it turns out that this model uses a unique roof stock, different than on their other passenger equipment. I found, finally, a piece in my parts supply but it was not long enough. The solution I came up with was to mate it with a piece of Picard "Wagon top" roof stock, imitating the modified roofs seen on some Gas-Electrics late in their service life, after repowering. Parts cut from the shell of a Tyco GP-20 were augmented with parts box items for the roof details.

That solved, there still was the drive. I puzzled over this a very long time, I really wanted to use a pre-war S-C drive unit but finally figured out it would at best be not much more more than a shelf model with that drive. (More on that drive unit here). So I moved on and found I could use an Athearn drive truck without modifying the original truck mount! This was a great solution, and I could also with some cutting and a new sub-floor utilize an Athearn motor and flywheel.

For the rear truck I used a single, orphan truck I had that is of the rare, S-C plain bearing passenger truck. I have more here; the spin when introduced was it was for the Gas-Electric, and this one (“opened up” by a prior owner) looks nice in this application. I wired it for pick-up, so the model has 8 wheel power pick-up.

The model could have a few more details added (taking the photos I noted there is no front coupler) but I am liking this car. I like Gas-Electric cars for operation on my little layout as they fit on my staging track well and make a nice balance in operation, I can run a longer freight train into the passing siding and run the doodlebug. Still, I won’t be making any more for the Orient, my layout is not nearly big enough to need any more. A bigger layout would be nice…

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sides of Mystery, and Collecting Models with Printed Sides

One of my projects this fall was getting more organized in terms of the cars I have that have printed car sides. That area of “the collection” is a lot easier to access now and I would first note that collecting vintage OO gauge models with printed sides is a viable collecting option -- if somewhat obscure. But Lord knows Lionel collectors spend years collecting numerous obscure variations and models, and collecting American OO cars with printed sides is just as viable an activity. Also I rather doubt it would be possible at this point for any really motivated individual to actually own examples of every type of side ever produced, so it could become a lifetime project.

Part of the problem is that some makers did not last long at all -- while advertised, very few models made it out to the market. These two cars are great examples, as they have sides by an unknown manufacturer. I can say what they are not. They are not Champion, Eastern/Famoco, Hoffman's, or Nason/Page. Vanden Boom, another firm of mystery, did not list these models.

What I suspect is they may be cars built with Yardmaster sides, a firm I look at here. I have yet to see a boxed example of any kit by this firm, but as I have mentioned elsewhere in this site there were Yardmaster kits listed in lots sold at the Morlok auction and I strongly suspect there are a few of them out there. And they certainly listed car sides of the type seen on these cars in their advertising.

The Armour car is beautifully built up but I think fairly recently. The FGEX car is a bit rougher and was not completed by the original builder. It is on a Picard body with a Nason frame and trucks, and is a model I plan to (with time) bring more to completion.

The second photo shows the sides themselves. I have only these sides and cars, with one set of sides still in what I presume to be the original packaging, which is similar but somewhat different than that I have seen with Champion, Eastern, Famoco, or Nason.

Curiously and probably significantly there is a “W” code found on these sides. Others have speculated that when that this W is present the sides were actually made by Westbrook. The FGEX car is W-3 and the Armour car W-16. Westbrook definitely made OO parts for other companies (wood parts and sides), certainly for Eastern/Famoco and very likely also for Nason. These sides of mystery look generally similar to sides from those lines for sure but are not actually the sides they sold.

Perhaps somewhere in the bowels of your collection you have some Yardmaster kits and can solve this mystery. And, if nothing else, perhaps this post will inspire a few readers to sort out their vintage models with printed sides by brand of side as I have, it is an interesting project.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Cars with Scale-Craft Decals

One interesting category of vintage American OO gauge cars are models decorated with Scale-Craft decals, in particular the earlier pre-war decals, as later the decals were produced for them by Walther’s (and were really just repackaged HO decals). An overview of S-C decal production is here. The original decal line has a distinctive look, as seen in these four cars below.

One of my projects has been organizing cars in “the collection,” and in particular cars such as these do stand out. A gallery of drawings that were shipped out with these decals are presented in this prior article. 

To these specific cars, the boxcars are among the first American OO models I purchased years ago and are very cleanly built. The Wilson reefer is a very recent purchase and is also a very well built model, with the builder opting to use more prototypical hatches than those supplied with the kit. Finally, I have actually four of the reefers decorated exactly the same way (car number and all!) for the ATSF, this being the best of the group. All of them I have match the decal drawing right down to the car number.

Often, between probably a so-so original (brush) painting job and rough handling over the years the decals have gotten beat up a bit on some of the examples I have. Still, I plan to hold on to at least one model decorated with any given set of S-C decals for a while, I still like how the original decals look on these vintage cars.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Modern GE Diesel in American OO

One recent arrival was this model, a CSX GE Dash 8-40C, scratch built by Pierre Bourassa. For American OO this model is a real rarity as it is a model of a very modern engine!

The prototypes of this model were built 1987-92. Pierre was Canadian but I think got inspired to build this big, contemporary CSX model as he wintered in that time frame in Florida. The note on the bottom of the model dates completion of the model to April of 1991; he would have been 74 then.

The simple overview is he built it from sheet plastic, some metal shapes, and used Athearn HO drive components. He captured the look of the prototype pretty effectively and I would say the one element that these photos does not convey is the size of the model. It is full scale for American OO, it is not a big HO model "passing" for OO in any way.

When it came to me (via eBay) there were two pieces missing off the body (on the side visible in these photos), one of the doors and also the visor for the cab window. I replicated those and repainted them a closely matching color -- but glossy -- hoping that they pass for freshly repaired areas (which they are). Also the truck sideframes needed a bit of attention, being pieced together as they are from smaller HO sideframes. The bigger problems were under the hood.

In short I don't think it had ever run well. Pierre was thinking big on one element, as he used I think PA-1 trucks (with a longer wheelbase than their other 6 wheel Diesels) and certainly added larger wheelsets, which help the look of the model a lot. And it did run, but it seemed to be shorting intermittently-- it ran badly. I think Pierre or the subsequent owner had tried to trouble shoot this issue without luck, as there was electrical tape several places but places that would not help the situation.

It runs now! He had only set it up to pick up power from 6 wheels. I added the jumpers to bring that number up to 12 wheel pick up and also cleaned and checked the trucks and wiring. It is not quite 100%, something still causes an occasional hitch and it runs around my loop better in one direction. I will keep working on this element. I believe it is mechanical, related to my curve radius being right at the minimum this model will take; I am hoping with more breaking in this clears up.

The look under the hood in this final photo shows the overall setup. It has a can motor and flywheels. Pierre had added a lot of weight to the model and it was off center, the model was rear heavy. Plus the weights were cramping the wiring. I took out part of the weight, leaving more space and a more balanced model. It is still plenty heavy to pull anything I have put behind it.

A note on the paint scheme. It seems Pierre was trying to do a version of the original CSX "grey ghost" paint scheme, but changed things up a bit with the blue frame and the yellow stripe. I am not sure it is prototypical, but the engine still looks pretty effective and will always be a one-of foreign road engine when I run it.

The car seen with it in the photos is a Railbox car built by Bill Johann (more here). I am enjoying this modern engine pulling modern cars! I have two modern SD-something models underway, and seeing this engine run should propel me getting those finished in the coming months.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A 1934 Reefer by Temple Nieter

Last year I was given a number of RMC “Collector Consist” articles by Keith Wills related to American OO, highlighted in this article.

In particular I was taken by this photo of a 1934 model by OO pioneer H. Temple Nieter, who was the person most responsible for encouraging me as I started out in American OO. I have long wanted to own one of his models, and there must be a few floating around out there, but unless it was actually lettered for his Lake Lines I would have no way to know it was his. This nice 36’ reefer looked pretty sharp on those Lionel trucks and with his custom, handmade couplers visible. The photo shows that the brake wheel was pushed down out of place, though, and it probably needed a bit of TLC.

Fast forward to about a month ago, and this model showed up in a lot on eBay, which I was able to spot and win. Between the Keith Wills article and today the car has picked up a pair of non-rolling Scale-Craft trucks. Also one of the couplers has lost part of the mount, probably in transit at some point.

The notes on the car, visible in the final photo, document what it is. The typed note from Temple says it was built in 1934, and he subsequently gave it to Pierre Bourassa who added his note in October of 1985. From there it made its way to a collection in Pittsburgh and now to me.

As to the car itself, I don’t doubt that Nieter built it in 1934, but it was certainly rebuilt at some later time, most likely in the 1940s. The decals are nicely applied but are almost certainly Walthers products (HO) and the car number used is the same as in the drawings in the Walthers “PLD1” book (521 Prototype Lettering Diagrams, first published in 1942 and reprinted numerous times).

The hatches look like Nason hatches and there are nice door details on the car, but the most notable detail are the couplers. They are made from sheet brass and spring steel wire, and would have coupled automatically and uncoupled with a ramp system of some sort. They also have centering springs and are a very interesting piece of craftsmanship that will mate automatically with a Kadee coupler today.

I won’t be changing the couplers but this car will soon be on a set of trucks that roll! And I will adjust the brake wheel and fix the coupler mount. Very glad to have this car, an authenticated piece from one of the pioneers of model railroading in American OO.

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