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Friday, February 13, 2009

Skyline HO-OO structure kits

While OO structures are still produced for the British HO/OO market, in the classic period of American OO production a number of firms produced OO and HO-OO structure kits. One of the more prominent of these firms was the Skyline Manufacturing Co.

First, spread out in this post are seven photos of Skyline HO-OO kits beautifully built up by Ed Havens. They are of the Betsy Ross House, freight station, and General Washington's Headquarters. Click on any of the photos for a larger view.

The first notice I see for Skyline is the July, 1940 issue of Model Railroader in their Trade Topics column. [But see UPDATE II at end]. Under the heading “News of the Trade” we read,
Skyline Manufacturing Co., 21st and Arch Sts., Philadelphia, Pa., has purchased the O and HO-OO building kits formerly made by Schoenhut Manufacturing Co. and will continue their manufacture and distribution. The line includes, at popular prices, such items as stations, factories, and houses.
Skyline advertised very little, which makes putting the history together a bit harder. One of the few advertisements I found is in the November, 1945 issue of Model Railroader. The text begins,

Model railroading is coming back—and Skyline Buildings and Scenic Backgrounds give you sensationally real scenery to set along your pike.
Run your line through complete and authentic scale-model villages—highball your trains past homes, stores, interlocking towers, and a wide variety of town and railroad buildings. Skyline kits—true to detail—are inexpensive, simply and quickly assembled.
One curiosity about the advertisement is it does not specify the scale of their die cut building kits. A number of mail-order suppliers listed Skyline products in their advertising and they list the smaller scale buildings as either HO or HO-OO. Also the Skyline ad does not list the full line of their products. I had put together from supplier advertisements a fairly complete listing but Ed came to the rescue as I prepared this post with these listings from the Skyline Train Accessories catalog, Skyline Manufacturing Co., 1413 Vine Street, Philadelphia 2, Pa., dated 1948. The following are the listings for HO or “all gauge” models (these appear to also be HO-OO), in the order they appear in the catalog:

No. 220 New and Improved All Gauge Main Street Village Set. One of Skyline’s most popular sets. Has been completely redesigned and now features FOLD-A-WAY Construction. It’s a beauty. Bright colors … authentic designs … exceptional value. Set contains Church, Town Hall, Two Story Building (has three store fronts), One Story Store Building, Two Story Department Store, Three Story Apartment with Drug Store on first floor, Four lovely Suburban Residences, Trees, Three Billboards, Three Automobiles. There are sidewalks and full color reproductions of merchandise displays to paste in the back of store windows. Price $2.00 each.

No. 661 All Gauge Set. The Buildings are scaled for HO gauge but are swell background structures for O and other gauges. Contains Barn and Silo, Farm House, Corn Crib, Wagon Shed, Poultry House. Each building Cellophane wrapped. Price $2.95 each.

No. 660 HO Gauge Set. Contains Passenger Station, Freight Station, Interlocking Tower and Tool Shed, Water Tower and Pump House, Steam Plant, Mixing Plant. Each building Cellophane wrapped. Price $3.50 each.

No 652 HO Gauge Passenger Station. Wealth of detail including roof bracing and decorative trim. Yellow German siding, brown roof. 6 3/8" x 10 3/4" x 4" high. Price $1.00 each.

No. 650 HO Gauge Interlocking Tower. Includes tool house. Note outside stairs and overhanging bay window. Realistic detail. 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" x 4 1/4" high. Price 75c each.

No. 653 HO Gauge Freight Station. Has realistic underpinning and steps to platform. Detailed trim. Yellow German siding, brown roof. 6 3/8" x 10 3/4" x 4" high. Price $1.00 each.

No. 657 All Gauge Inn. Miniature replica of Washington's Mt. Vernon home. White paneled walls, brown roof, collonnade porch. 13" x 7 1/2" x 7" high. Price $2.00 each.

No. 663 All Gauge Church. Scaled from plans of Old Swedes Church, Philadelphia. Red brick wall, brown roof. 11 1/8"x 8 3/4" x 9 1/8" high. Price $1.25 each.

No. 658. All Gauge City House. Copied from Betsy Ross House. Red English brick walls, brown roof. 2 3/8"x 7" x 4 3/4" high. Price 75c each.

No. 656. All Gauge Farm House. Exact model of Washington's Valley Forge Headquarters. Pinkish rubble stone walls, brown roof. 8 1/4" x 5" x 4 1/2" high. Price $1.00 each.

No. 655. All Gauge Town Hall. Splendid reproduction of Independence Hall. Red brick, brown roof, white tower. Translucent clock faces. 6 3/4" x 4 3/4" x 9" high. Price $1.00 each.

No. 651. HO Gauge Water Tower. Includes pump house, steam plant and mixing plant. Realistic underpinning. Plastic spout. 3 3/8" x 3 3/8" x 9 1/8" high. Price $1.00 each.

No. 654 HO Gauge Engine House. Designed from Pennsylvania Railroad plans. This typical branch line structure is a beauty. Room for two tracks. Floor die-cut for ash pits below locomotives. Will accommodate four small locomotives or two large ones. Walls yellow German siding, brown trim, red tin roof. 6 1/8" x 17 1/4" x 5 3/8". Price $1.50 ea.

So, are they HO or OO or both? Ed has also spent time looking into the products of Ideal, a contemporary maker of buildings. According to Ed, “Ideal Aeroplane & Supply Co. was a New York City-based firm whose history seems a bit elusive. There a few mentions of it on the Internet but it clearly flourished from the late 1930s to the early 1950s.” According to Ed their buildings are fractionally smaller than Skyline, so perhaps the Skyline buildings are closer to OO. The other very interesting thing to me is that Ed has spotted Skyline buildings on the great Norfolk and Ohio layout of Carl Appel, a layout I featured in a prior post, perhaps the greatest American OO layout ever built. They certainly were accepted as OO buildings by OO gaugers at that time.

Ed gives these further notes on the significance of Skyline and Ideal.


What made these product lines of historical interest was that they had some of the best representations of residential structures typical of the U.S. Northeast including Colonial era homes, farm houses and the like. Skyline, for example, had kits for the Betsy Ross house and General Washington's headquarters at Chadds Ford, Pa. It exists today as part of Brandywine Battlefield Park. The general used a farmhouse as his headquarters before and after the Battle of the Brandywine in September 1777. Correctly, it was the Benjamin Ring House. You'll recall Chadds Ford as the home of the contemporary American painter Andrew Wyeth who died recently. Chadds Ford also was the junction and crossing diamond of the Reading Co. (Wilmington & Northern) and Pennsylvania Railroad (Octoraro Branch). The interlocking tower that was located there was a close match for the Ideal interlocking tower. It was one of the few switch towers that also served as a passenger train stop. PRR built a brick one-story station at Chadds Ford on the east bank of Brandywine Creek. The interlocking was the on the west side of the creek so PRR's gas- or oil-electric "doodlebugs" made stops there to accommodate passengers.
As one other final note, I should mention that Skyline produced a similar line of O scale structure kits that were used on many hi-rail O gauge layouts back in the day as well. They were an important early maker of structure kits.

UPDATE: More photos and information on Skyline HO/OO structures may be found here and more on other brands of OO and HO/OO structures here.

UPDATE II: The first advertisement I have found is in the October, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader. See this article (at end) for more.

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