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

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The best American OO wheel sets ever, and the indispensable tool

Mentioned in several posts now are the OO gauge wheel sets produced by Ultimate Screw Machine Products Co.

This company placed one advertisement in Railroad Model Craftsman, on page 5 of the June, 1968 issue. So far as I can tell this was the last advertisement placed in the model railroad press by an American OO gauge manufacturer. The street address shows up as that of a small factory building; it must be the same building today as back then. The ad points out these products are not imports, "American Made by American Craftsmen," and also that "Diesel and steam locos available soon." The most common items actually produced were a new run of Schorr F-3 bodies (clearly marked as Ultimate) and these wheelsets seen below. They were available until the early 1980s, as I purchased some directly at the time from the owner of Ultimate Screw Machine, Alfred “Bud” Spice, Jr.

These are great wheel sets! They are RP-25 contour of nickel-sliver and plastic and were available to fit S-C and Lionel side frames. The difference being that the Lionel ones had a slightly smaller axle, but in reality the S-C ones will work in Lionel trucks as well.  In the photo the pair on the left are tender wheel sets and the pair on the right are for freight cars. Passenger car wheelsets were also produced of the same design.

Besides the wheel sets, the most notable item produced was his already noted version of the Schorr F-3A and B (this model is fairly commonly seen today). He is also thought to have produced limited runs of castings for the Nason P-5A and BB electric, and of the Davis E-7A and B in either sand cast bronze or aluminum. I have not however seen these marked as Ultimate.

I should also note with this post that Bud Spice obtained the residue of several OO manufacturers including especially M.P. Davis and Guild of the Iron Horse, and dealt in used OO and un-built kits. I purchased my Schorr F-3s and a hybrid S-C/Nason 4-6-0 from him back in the late 1970s, along with some S-C kits.

Returning to wheel sets, working on many projects the past few weeks I have also made a lot of use of this handy tool, the NMRA OO/On3 standards gauge, which was introduced in 1981. [Update: It seems to be off the market now, but is totally worth tracking down if you are working to run American OO models.]

There is just no way to get your layout running well without this gauge. While the Ultimate wheel sets were great, they can go out of gauge as the rim can get out of place on the plastic center. And just in general many OO wheel sets are not well in gauge and it will pay off to check them. In the photo I have included an example, a Nason tender truck. This particular one was very free rolling until I tried to correct the too narrow gauge of the wheel sets. When I had them out to gauge the truck would not roll! The solution involves adding a washer between the bolster mounting and a side frame. Problems of this type are common on classic OO models.

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