American OO Today

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Two great pre-war Graceline boxcars

Up today are a couple eBay purchases from last year, vintage Graceline boxcars with the factory lettering.

First up is a wonderful example of the Graceline B&O wagon top boxcar. This model was introduced in 1939 – see this article to see the original advertising. I had previously purchased an example that was built up and lettered with decals (see here), but this new example not only has the original hand lettering but is in beautiful condition.

Stepping back a second, Graceline sold a line of OO cars with hand lettered sides. This was no small effort on their end and to my mind at least these are highly desirable items. I have a bit more on the hand lettered cars here.

Back to this example, it came to me with loop couplers and only one Graceline truck. I found a good pair of Graceline trucks that matched the original truck that was there and installed Kadee couplers to set it up for operation. I am liking their whisker couplers a lot for OO applications, as in this case I just cut down the box and screwed them on, plus they are compatible with S-C and Lionel couplers (manually). This model will be operated when the mood strikes me to run vintage cars. The only downside being that Graceline trucks of this period have rather heavy flanges that bump on my turnouts (but operate fine, otherwise).

The other boxcar is a Graceline wood boxcar, also hand lettered (the C&NW logo is paper, glued on) and also in wonderful condition. This one is on S-C trucks (with the not-often-seen "thin bolster") and needed no additional attention from me other than adjusting the gauge of a couple wheelsets using my NMRA gauge. Most notable perhaps on this one are the unusual couplers. These I have never seen before and would operate automatically pretty well I would think with other couplers of the same design. Notable for us today, these will mate with Kadee couplers well enough to run the car in a train, so I will leave them be.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A simple HO crane conversion

This model is one that I bought on eBay mostly because it was on S-C passenger trucks. Some prior owner had done a really simple conversion (with Kadee couplers and then gluing the tucks on it turns out!), which I have improved upon.

The model itself is illustrated here in the TYCO Brown Box Era website. What I did was carve off the original bolsters and make a new bolster to support a nice pair of heavy duty Andrews trucks. The side frames are brass and I suspect are overscale HO parts.

Back to the crane itself, the frame is wide enough to be OO, all that visual “weight” at the bottom of the model makes it fairly credible as an OO scale model of a fairly modern, Diesel powered crane, although certainly quite freelanced. Probably the Andrews trucks I used are anachronistic, but still to my eye fit a crane of this size.

The original model has a “boom tender” which TYCO created using a flat car with a caboose body on it. I my case at this point I only have that flat car as my “tender,” also TYCO and decorated for the Santa Fe as well. I describe that conversion here; width is the same as the crane, it works well in American OO.

It is an easy conversion. I don’t plan to run it much but it can be run and is a nice addition to the roster.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Two TYCO conversion reefers

As the weather turns to summer I seem every year to turn to some of the more modern cars in my operating collection.

From that roster are seen here a Popsicle car and a Campbell’s soup car. These were converted to OO operation by Bill Johann. He dated the cars as to his work; the Campbell’s car was converted in 1989 and the Popsicle car in 1986 with tweaks in ‘87 and ‘91. They are based on a TYCO HO model introduced in 1973-74, their 62' double-plug door Express Reefer. This was available decorated for a variety of models (more here). Most if not all were not prototypical schemes, but still they are attractive if fanciful cars.

What Johann did was cut the sides off the bodies and build from styrene a new roof and ends, using a widened version of the original frame as well. On the Popsicle car he matched the side color really closely and on the Campbell’s car it is a contrasting color. He also added some lettering to both cars, on the doors and ends. The Campbell’s car is lettered for the Union Valley and the Popsicle car lettered for the Pacific Inland Route, with new reporting marks and car numbers.

The car is a little short visually (in height) but scales out at about 54 feet long in OO and it has plenty of “heft” to pass as OO scale.

The trucks are worth a special mention, they are his custom roller bearing trucks, described further in this article. One of the cars had what I take to be an early version of this conversion which did not track well; those were replaced with a later version salvaged from a broken tank car conversion.

I won’t be converting more of these but I do want to do some conversions of the very similar TYCO 62’ hi-cube cars (more here), of which I have three examples ready to go! Maybe this summer I will add them to the operating fleet as well, rebuilding them in the same general manner as these vintage Johann conversions. They are a bit taller and have prototypical schemes -- plus the sides in OO are very similar to the size of the sides of a typical 53' double plug door boxcar -- they will be cars that are run.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

An Exacta #201 Pullman in OO scale

A maker with big plans for HO, OO, S, and O Scale models right after WWII was Exacta Scale Models, Inc. of Portland, Oregon. In my main article on Exacta (here) we see that their line was at least supposed to be pretty extensive in OO but all I knew for sure had been produced was their streamline cars (which are also seen fairly commonly in HO – for more on Exacta HO see info linked from this page in the HOSeeker site). As to the other OO items listed in their 1946 catalog, I really had no idea if they were produced or not.

And then these car sides came up on eBay a few weeks ago. Clearly they are what they are marked as being: their #201 Pullman car. Exacta listed an extensive line of “moulded copper” car sides in OO, including eight different heavyweight passenger cars with two different Pullmans. As listed on eBay these sides and ends had with them a streamlined roof of uncertain origin and a floor and frame from a Scale-Craft kit, but as shipped out Exacta sold these as only sides and ends, you were to supply the other parts (perhaps using a J-C kit as a base for the new, upgrade sides). The detail is really nice I must say; especially the rivet details. As always click on the photo for a bigger view.

The packaging has the handwritten notes “Room car” and “Night Flyer,” as visible in the photo. I am not versed enough in Pullman floor plans to give any particulars of this design, but clearly there must have been some difference between this car and their #200 Pullman model. Anyone else have one to use for a comparison?

The back of the sides/ends is interesting to see firsthand. I really don’t know the process used to make these parts but clearly the copper is clad onto a zinc base that is very visible and rough. As they are now the sides are a little bit bent out of shape too (due to the passage of years and storage) but could be easily worked back to being very nearly flat.

Finally here are the ends and their original packaging. They are flat and would require some bending to bring them into the correct shape. A wooden J-C end would be very useful to guide the bends, bring them to final shape, and perhaps also to support the finished parts.

This is the sort of item I am unlikely to build up. Call me in this case an “extreme vintage scale railroad model collector,” but clearly these are rare items that were only manufactured briefly and an interesting item. If I do build them up it will be to make the nicest Pullman I can, these are great sides to be on the lookout for.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

An easy, modern OO scale caboose conversion

This is an interesting model that I stumbled across recently. An eBay seller had listed examples of this model a couple times in the OO listings, which is where it caught my eye.

A product of the 1970s, it is a Tyco “brown box era” model and was available in a variety of schemes -- the ATSF scheme seems most common along with The Chattanooga Choo-Choo train set version. More info on the model and paint schemes may be found in the Tyco Brown Box Era HO-Scale Trains Resource.

In these photos the Tyco model is seen with a vintage AHM HO caboose body, and the comparison is interesting. The cupola of the Tyco model is certainly OO scale and the body is longer and taller than an HO model should be as well. The windows are nice and large and seem to be appropriate for OO scale. From the top the body should probably be wider in OO scale (prototypes undoubtedly varied a little), but it is nevertheless also wider than the HO model and is overscale for HO in basically every dimension.

I think the roots of what happened is the folks at Tyco wanted to use the same frame they used on 40’ boxcars and reefers for a 40’ caboose. It would simplify inventory and anyway it was a train set model, freelancing in this manner was not a problem from their perspective. To make it look more realistic/plausible they had to scale up the caboose a bit, so it ended up being more or less 1/76 scale.

This example is my first simple conversion of this model, and it is riding on the original trucks but modified with the “Morlok method” (described in this article) and HO 36” wheelsets.

I have several more of these bodies that I will be using as the basis of additional models. In particular I am interested to make a more convincing ATSF version, blanking out some windows and using decals to letter it in a correct paint scheme and use better trucks (mounted a bit further in from the ends, too). This type of project is a great break from the more involved vintage projects underway and certainly this model can be used as the basis for a variety of modern caboose conversions.

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.

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