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

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Post-War Kit

A post from almost two years ago over at the Old Model Kits Blog from January 2008 on The HO Scale Model Railroading Revolution of the 1940s gets at another part of what led to the demise of American OO. Besides Lionel not returning to the OO market, much of what else was available were basically pre-war style kits. Outside of a few new locomotive kits (Super Scale, Kemtron) just about the only really new kit item in OO were the Zuhr streamliners.

To open, they note on model railroading in general that
By the mid 1930s, the ingredients were in place to move this hobby to the foreground. Model railroading did not need injection molding; it just needed inexpensive mass production techniques for stamping, casting and printing as well as an advertising and distribution network….

Around 1935, some pioneers started making and marketing railroad kits. Since the real trains were made from metal and wood, the kits were also. Injection molding, the basis of the modeling hobby today, simply was not required. Small details were cast metal or punched from sheet steel. At first, they duplicated the tin plate scales as this was the closest thing to a ‘standard’. These kits could build into impressive and realistic scale models, but the initial market reception was cool. No serious scratch builder would want to buy a kit! The fact that it would not run on his layout was yet another issue. But people without the time or talent for scratch building saw the kits and began to build them. A slow but steady growth curve was established for kit sales and the manufactures noticed.

After World War II, factories turn their output back to the expected demand in consumer goods. Kit production, which occurred during wartime with non-strategic resources (wood, cardboard, etc) resumed but with better materials. Manufactures attempted to standardize scales with O, OO, TT, HO, and S being the most visible. The post-war kits had several improvements over the ones from the 1930s. Borrowing from the tin plate manufactures, they lithographed the metal sides with correct colors and decoration. This almost eliminated painting, and a similar process was used for wooden sides. The wooden sides were pre-grooved, windows were cut, celestory roofs pre-carved, and numerous detail parts were added such as window frames, brake and vents. Some details appeared in low-cost but attractive plastic. The American middle class, long tired of war, returned to normal jobs and their lives. Model railroading was now available to anyone and the hobby grew dramatically. During many years it was impossible to fill demand for the most popular kits.
I suspect there never was such a demand for any post-war OO model that the demand could not be filled. HO had won the battle of the gauges; many modelers moved on, with most of the people who stuck it out in OO being “OOldtimers” who got into the gauge before WWII.

One of the models featured in their post are the HO scale J-C models silversides kits; I have linked the big photo from their site. These were never produced in OO. Pre-War J-C kits still build up into fine models but it is interesting to ponder the “what if” of what an upgraded, post-war version of their OO line would have looked like.

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