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Friday, January 23, 2009

The Story Behind Picard Bodies

The January, 2009 issue of The Train Collectors Quarterly includes part 106 of the great series of articles, “Who Done It?” by John S. Newbraugh. One topic addressed in this issue is the Picard Novelty Company. The models that were brought to his attention were HO, and more information was sought.

For us who have been in OO a while Picard seems to be everywhere. It was produced from 1940-ca. 1948 and there is a lot of it around today I think. Seeing this as a topic in the series surprised me a bit until I did a quick Google search; I found that really just about the only information on Picard online is to be found in this website!

My first post on the Picard Novelty Co. covers most of the basics for OO production but this company shipped out a lot of product and made exactly the same line in HO, OO, and O gauges. This image is of a postwar price list from ca. 1947; click on it for a larger view. It lists quite clearly the entire HO, OO, and O gauge lines of wooden bodies for box cars, reefers, express reefers, hoppers, gondolas. Prices ranged from a low of 30 cents for the HO 36 to 42’ plain boxcar/reefer bodies to a max of $1.50 for the more deluxe O gauge cement hopper. The most expensive OO item was the cement hopper for $1.25.

As to what the models are like, Picard also produced a flyer (of which I have a copy) they called “The Story Behind Picard Bodies” that I believe to also be post-war. In the flyer, after noting the research that went into these products so that they would be accurate to scale, they note,
Taking into consideration the fact that every Hobbyist is not a carpenter, our aim was to produce something that even a child could assemble without the least possible chance of an error, in a very few minutes, at the same time bearing in mind that it must be accurate and solidly built. This we have done to a degree of perfection.

No instructions are needed to construct our bodies, for each part interlocks in such a manner that you cannot assemble one of our cars out of true…..

We use nothing but the finest grade of basswood, of a thickness that will not warp, and which gives the necessary weight to keep your cars on the rails.
That last paragraph is very accurate: I have dozens of Picard bodies and I don’t believe any show signs of warping! They also gave a guarantee in the flyer:
We guarantee every one of our Bodies to be a perfect fit, and the workmanship of the finest, but as we are not infallible, we stand willing, at all times, to replace any and all parts not as above, or damaged in transit.

As all of our parts are interchangeable, kindly return the damaged part only (not the entire Body) and replacement will be mailed you promptly.

Be sure the name Picard Novelty Co. is stamped on your Body to assure you of quality.
As to the models, their description of the open hoppers is rather interesting. “We have Penn. 41 footers with the 8 hoppers and Southern 33 footers with the 4 hoppers, in O Gauge, these have both inside and outside detail.” This ties in with earlier text in the flyer that refers to “obtaining blueprints and photographs from the various railroads of their cars.”

Besides the hoppers, in my opinion the most desirable models are the scribed side bodies for boxcars or reefers. These kits cost only 50 cents and included the parts in the photo at left--two sides, two ends, a roof, a floor, and an underframe. A car built up from the same parts may be seen in this post (along with a great covered hopper) and a reefer in this post. Also check out this quad hopper; the hopper cars build up into surprisingly nice cars.

The plain side boxcars and reefers were to be built using printed car sides purchased from manufacturers including Champion, Scale-Rail, and others. I also found of interest this quote in the flyer:
We manufacture a great many Bodies for others, of their own design, and would be glad to figure on anything you have in mind, in the line of wood.

Send us your samples for estimates.
I have always wondered if other companies used Picard parts, and it is something that I will keep my eyes peeled for. UPDATE: I believe they made the body parts for Champion OO kits at the least. Probably others.

Finally, as I noted in an earlier post, one thing that set the line apart besides quality was that it was available without interruption during WWII as no critical war materials were used in their production. Sales must have been pretty good during the war, but must have dried up with the return to normal production of better detailed models. A classic line in HO, OO, and O gauges.

UPDATE: Picard had the right product at the right time in WWII. This article gives more details on the history of Picard and includes a great photo of the owner, Theodore Picard.

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