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

Saturday, February 28, 2009

More classic structures for American OO

As a follow-up to the long post on Skyline, there were a number of other makers that made structures for use on American OO gauge layouts.

To kick things off, here is another beautiful structure kit built up by Ed Havens, an Ideal Wayside Diner. I will come back to Ideal at the end of this article.

A really intriguing first item I would like to mention is the Nason cast aluminum station and locomotive or car shed! These they list in advertisements in 1934. True OO structure kits, they must be very rare but also there must be a few around somewhere. Anyone have one? And they also briefly in 1947 marketed the Westchester line of OO kits (more below).

With that, quite a few makers besides Skyline and Nason and Ideal marketed OO or HO-OO structure kits. In alphabetical order others that I have found include:

Gerstner of New York City had out a water tower kit in "OO Gage" in 1938 (more information in this article).

Little Gem Models of Dayton, OH, in the pre-war period offered these HO/OO buildings: barber shop, coal yard, factory, filling station, greenhouse, ice cream parlor, power plant, three story bank, and a watch tower.

Maxwell Hobby Shops of Oakland, CA, from 1939-WW II offered these wood building kits in HO/OO: old grist mill and water wheel, switch tower and tool shed, express office, freight and passenger station, Q P bar, roundhouse (brick, 4 stall, with turntable), log cabin, old Dutch windmill, freight sheds (SP), rural station, Otis trading post, pioneer store, school house, gold nugget dance hall (2 story, brick), modern store, cottage, barn, church, mine. These were all offered in O gauge as well as what they called HO and OO. Also, this line of buildings was sold by Scale-Craft, illustrated and listed clearly in the Fall, 1939 (vol. 2, no. 2) of their Blow-Smoke newsletter. For more on that and a look at a Maxwell kit see this article.

A. Misenar of Brooklyn, ca. 1940-41, sold wood HO/OO structure kits that included a coaling station, ice house, and water tower.

Model Railroad Equipment Corp. of New York, NY, from 1942 into the post war era sold HO/OO building kits and scenery details (also marketed under Rail Chief name) including chick sale, a wood coaling station, a hot dog stand (finished), shoe shine stand (finished), and water tower.

Multi Way ca. 1940-41 marketed a station in HO/OO that included a glass top shed, administration bldg. and tower.

Scale Construction Co. of Rumford, RI, ca. 1938 offered a line of eight building kits.

Star-Line Models of Ft. Worth, TX, 1945-47 offered the following kits listed as HO, "suitable for OO"--cattle pen, concrete underpass, drilling rig, flowing well, and a timber trestle.

Westchester Model Co. of Mount Vernon, NY, in the post-war era offered these wood and card kits for what were described in their catalog as “Realistic ‘HO’ and ‘OO’ Buildings.” 1--freight station, 2—terminal, 3--roundhouse with boiler house, 5--diesel loco servicing station, 8--butterfly sheds (for terminal), 9--extra roundhouse stalls, 11--coaling station, 12--steam loco sand tower and sand house, 13--timber lined tunnel, 14--sand house, 15--steam loco sand tower, 16--diesel loco sanding installation, and 20--steam loco sand tower. In 1947 Nason marketed these kits; for more see this article.

Windsor Model Railways of Oradell, NJ, from 1946 offered this line of HO/OO kits: WB11 icing plant, yellow; WB12 icing plant, gray; WB13 icing plant, maroon.

Back to the diner at the beginning of this post, it is by Ideal, a company I mentioned briefly in the prior post on Skyline as well. The HOSeeker website has an undated two page flyer for Ideal posted. In the opening text they state,
These Railway accessories are acclaimed by builders everywhere as the most practical ever devised for “HO”. They go together in surprisingly little time. IDEAL kits come to you complete with strong die-cut boards, printed in realistic colors. Cellophane windows, chimney brick paper, full size plans and easy-to-follow instructions all combine to make their construction a real pleasure. No tools or painting are required.
The flyer lists 27 different HO items. It makes no indication that these were HO/OO but their advertisement in the March, 1942 issue of Model Railroader for example says these buildings are “for HO & OO.” While probably really for HO, Ideal also recognized the OO market to a point, and their products were undoubtedly used by OO gaugers as well.

Ed Havens has built a number of these buildings, which he notes he has “updated with contemporary plastic injection molded windows and doors with their cardstock or wood sides laminated to acyrlic sub-forms.” He has prepared an article that will be in an upcoming issue of The OO Road and additionally noted for me that Skyline buildings
were fractionally larger than Ideal buildings which were 1/8" scale. However, Ideal had the most extensive line. A 1952 hobby shop mail order catalog I mentioned in my article for "The OO Road" listed 40 residential, commercial or railroad structure kits. So it's likely that many OO or HO enthusiasts bought them because of quick construction and low prices. A typical Ideal building could be purchased for 50 cents or 85 cents. In the early 1950s, Model Hobbies of New Cumberland, Pa., also was producing kits in 3.5 mm scale but they were a move toward craftsman kits, still simple construction but using milled wood siding and some had crude window castings of die cast metal. A detail note common to Ideal and Skyline was use of cellophane windows with printed muntins to represent the window panes. They were good for the time but in unbuilt kits today the printed sheets -- to be cut out by modelers -- have crinkled from age. Model Hobbies also printed windows on clear plastic sheet but it was heavier material than the cellophane and such window material in unbuilt kits today is generally flat and ready to use.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Blow-Smoke, a newsletter by Scale-Craft, part 2

Following up on part 1 of this series, the second issue of the Blow-Smoke newsletter published by Scale-Craft is volume 1, number 2, dated June 1938, followed quickly by volume 1, number 3 dated July-August 1938.

The opening editorial in the June 1938 issue by Elliott Donnelley has to do with why kits are priced more inexpensively than the total of the parts in the kit if purchased individually. It seems rather basic that if everything is packed in a kit the handling charges and such are less, but this does not seem to have been obvious to all buyers at the time and may reflect at least in part the hard economic times and the novelty of kit building.

The news in OO was the new Southern Pacific P-13 4-6-2, as seen in these first photos. Click on them for a larger view. The parts views show in order section 1, section 2, and section 3. Note the early style DC motor in section 2 and the big bronze castings.
Because of increasing demands for a larger and more powerful locomotive than our standard ten-wheeler, we are now announcing our new 4-6-2 “OO” locomotive, copied from the famous P-13 Pacific type locomotive of the Southern Pacific road.

We have purposely modified its design to allow adaptation to other railroads. This new is powered by our standard seven-pole permanent magnet motor, and smoother operation is accomplished by driving through the second and third drivers. The superstructure is a one-piece bronze casting. An added feature is an operating headlight, lighting off a flashlight battery in the tender, and controlled by a switch. Collector shoes have been eliminated by use of new type insulated trucks, which allow the grounded side of locomotive to act as one contact, and the tender truck on the opposing side to act as the other.

This new locomotive, under ordinary tests, has hauled from 25 to 30 of our standard freight cars around a 26-inch radius curve. Two-rail insulation is standard.
This was originally produced by H. L. “Red” Adams in limited quantities, as detailed in this previous post. At Scale-Craft it was produced in two somewhat different versions, as also detailed in this earlier post. Check the second link for photos. It was sold as a complete kit priced at $36 or in three sections that totaled $40.50.

Scale-Craft was really rolling out the new OO locomotives, as in the July-August issue the big OO news was their new 4-4-2, as illustrated here. It sold either for $22.25 as a complete kit or for $23.75 total in two sections.
This new locomotive has been developed from the original die-cast ten wheeler. It makes an ideal locomotive for light passenger service on any railroad system. We are frankly very proud of it, and we are confident that our pride and enthusiasm is going to be shared by a great many builders during the next year. You will find this type of locomotive in us on practically every railroad in the United States and Canada. Added features which deserve special mention include piping, bronze drive wheels, bronze trailing truck, and the elimination of collectors. The two-rail insulation is standard.
Like the 4-6-2, the 4-4-2 was shipped originally with the 24 volt DC permag motor. Reading the description and looking at the model I have, seen in this photo, it would appear that there are at least two versions of the drive with different drivers and a different trailing truck (and a different motor). This example has the later universal motor and does not have the bronze drivers or trailing truck. UPDATE: See the rebuilt version of this model here.

In O gauge the most notable item introduced was an O gauge version of the Southern Pacific 4-6-2 which they called the “Black Beauty.” S-C must have really liked that 4-6-2 Red Adams developed in OO and scaled it up to O. It is beauty!

Over all it was an exciting summer at Scale-Craft. More about the fall of 1938 in our next installment. [Updated 2012].

Continue in Blow-Smoke series

Collecting old kits, to build or not to build

In American OO gauge virtually the only models that were sold ready-to-run were by Lionel, and even Lionel offered OO in kit form. Thus, anyone interested in American OO will very quickly run up against the topic of “to build or not to build” when it comes to old kits.

I recently was given a copy of the 1956 publication Collecting Model Trains by Louis Hertz. A real visionary among early train collectors, Hertz addresses a wide range of topics from the practical to the deep, including that of collecting old kits. Beginning on page 284 he wrote,

This brings up the question of whether it is desirable to assemble such kits and display the resulting models, or whether the kits, when found, should not be preserved in the form of which they were originally manufactured and sold. Collectors who seek certain discontinued kits so as to use the models on their layouts naturally assemble the kits, and, of course, the collector is far more likely to find models assembled from kits in the past than the kits themselves. A number of scale model collectors, and especially those interested primarily in the history of the scale model industry, feel that when old kits are located and obtained they should be preserved in their original form. They feel that such kits stand in the same relationship to the scale model industry as do all tinplate models to the tinplate train industry, and that therefore such models have a greater historical and intrinsic value when preserved in the exact form in which they were sold by such pioneer manufacturers of kits as Walthers, Lobaugh, Scale-Craft, the American Model Railroad Co., Conover, and Nason.

First, in this quote it is interesting that he is thinking about OO collecting in 1956 when he mentions Scale-Craft and especially Nason. In the following paragraph he speaks of the value of “individually made” (i.e., scratch built) models of this same time frame as having value (especially models featured in early issues of Model Craftsman or Model Railroader, such as for example the early Nieter MU car in this post) and he continues in the next paragraph on to the topic of kits that have already been built up.

It is also open to question whether collectors will take much interest in kit-built models of the 1930’s or 1940’s that have been badly botched in the assembling, although here there is, in the parts employed at least, a definite relationship to contemporary scale model railroad manufacturing. Certainly collectors of kit-built models will prefer models that have been neatly assembled and finished. Of course, there arises here the point of whether such models should be refinished, or rebuilt by the collector. And it is here that the custom in scale model collecting takes a definite and quite understandable departure from the accepted practice pertaining to tinplate. Inasmuch as the models were designed to be assembled by individuals, and have already been assembled once, thereby destroying whatever extra value there might be to some scale model collectors in the old kits themselves, it is considered quite proper and permissible to rebuild or refinish the kit-built model in question, and thereby make it into a better looking specimen of a model built from a particular kit.

It is an interesting topic to ponder. I enjoy rebuilding old “junker” models so what Hertz says in the second quotation fits well with that. In general an un-built kit is worth more than all but possibly the best built out version of the same kit. I would offer these basic guidelines for today.

Pre-war kits. Don’t build them. There is a rarity factor here as many kits of this era were built during the war. There are just not a lot of kits of that age around. Locomotive kits of this era are especially rare.

Post-war kits. Maybe build them, especially if is of a fairly common item such as late production Scale-Craft. But be aware that the un-built kit is probably worth more than the finished product no matter how nicely you build it.

Over the years I have built a few old kits, almost all fairly common freight and passenger cars, and I have painted Schorr brass imports that came to me unfinished. Undoubtedly they all lost some theoretical value in the building, but I did get a finished car out of the process that I can use on the layout. In the end it boils down to a balance between rarity and the needs of what I would like to have running.

Looking forward into the future for me personally, I don’t see much need to build out any more kits that I have. I do use them as information sources; they really help in figuring out how to rebuild items that have made it to me in fair to poor condition, and I have plenty of models on hand to rebuild. It is an interesting topic though as while on one hand I do collect OO, it took me a while to actually admit that to myself and I am still also building an operating model railroad. It is not a museum; the models that interest me the most actually do fit with the scheme of the layout.

So in the end to build or not build a kit is something we have to weigh out and get comfortable with on an individual basis. But if in doubt I would say don’t build the kit, there really are plenty of models out there that deserve a good rebuilding.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More on the Skyline farm house

Ed Havens has a bit more information for us on the Skyline Washington’s headquarters building. First, here again is the description in the 1948 Skyline catalog.

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.

One important point then is they marketed it as a farm house but also say it is an exact model of Washington’s Valley Forge headquarters building. Is it, or did they maybe fib a bit for purposes of marketing? I will turn the rest of this post over to Ed, thank you for your looking into this further.


After re-reading your American OO Today post on Skyline buildings, I decided to do some further Internet research about the prototype. I am led to conclude -- based on photos and painting of General Washington's various headquarters buildings in the Philadelphia era during the campaign against the British -- that Skyline took some artistic license and made a composite (or perhaps the Shoenhut firm did before Skyline bought out their product line).

What's interesting is that the stone on the Skyline Washington HQ is pinkish. In actuality, there was no such pink stone among any of the actual buildings used by the general.

Here is Chadds Ford:

And the back of the same building:

Here is Valley Forge:

And Whitemarsh:

Another Washington HQ was at Neshaminy:

I attached the set of four photos of the Skyline building for comparison. [two views are included with this post and two are in the longer Skyline post--bottom two photos--John].

The only differently colored stone in the Philadelphia area -- aside from the brown or gray appearance of most stone building materials -- was serpentine rock, which had a greenish to olive cast. [More information on this stone may be found here.]

One of my projects in a high school art class was to sketch a serpentine faced house in Media, Pa. The teacher took the class on a walking field trip near the school and everyone got to choose some subject to sketch.

The serpentine house was nicely done with gray Mansard roof, and green wooden trim. I have yet to find any pinkish stone that would replicate the Skyline model.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Star-Continental 4-4-2 motor and frame

An important pioneer maker of American OO locomotives was Star-Continental Models of Brooklyn, NY. Active 1937-39, their 4-4-2 with sand cast boiler, sheet brass tender, and sand and die cast details was later manufactured by Nason (and Guild). The model is not quite a PRR E-6--it is actually a freelance version of PRR K-4/K-5 Pacific, but built as an Atlantic. This ad is from the May 1937 issue of Model Railroader and it was reviewed in April as follows:

A new OO gauge locomotive kit is offered by Star-Continental Models, Box 20-R1, Ridgewood Sta., Brooklyn. It is a redesign of the Pennsylavania E-6 Atlantic, and the kit is a good honest value.

The boiler is cast; most small parts and fittings are die cast or stamped. It is not a super-detail job as it stands, but the parts are good, the chassis is mechanically sound, and there is no reason why the individual builder cannot add as much detail as he desires or is able. The die cast air compressor and power reverse gear are excellent. Front drivers are sprung; both pairs of drivers can be removed from the bottom of the frame.
I have a copy of the Star-Continental 1937 catalogue (their spelling). Their only product was this locomotive, which was priced from a high of $49.50 for the model built up down to $25.00 for the “workshop set” which required a lathe to complete. So far as I can tell from the catalog this model was sold only for three rail. Other than that as a factor, the thing I have always wondered is how to tell apart an original Star-Continental 4-4-2 from the later Nason version of the same model? The catalogs don’t give many clues. The answer may be the motor.

Dick Gresham provided these two photos. He also has a copy of the 1937 Star-Continental catalog and notes,
This motor matches the "motor assembly" sketch in their 1937 catalogue. There are three threaded mounting holes in the bottom of the motor that match three holes in the 4-4-2 frame. I'm fairly certain that this is an original motor. It looks like it was designed especially for the 4-4-2. I would think Nason used the same motor when they began selling the 4-4-2 after Star-Continental went out of business. Nason's Sixth Anniversary Catalog (1940) catalog lists a 3-pole motor complete with worm for the Atlantic 4-4-2.
Dick originally tested the motor after a bit of repair as follows:

I hooked up my American Flyer power supply that I used to run my Lionel OO train when I was a kid. It puts out 7 - 14 V. AC. I applied about 7V to the motor. It started, ran very fast and smoothly. I was thrilled. This motor is 65 to 70 years old. I tried running it several more times. It ran fast and smoothly each time. The motor looks crude compared to the 7-pole Scale-Craft AC-DC motor.
In a follow-up message he also noted,
I tried to run this motor again today. The Star-Continental catalog says that it runs on 8V DC or 10V AC. I got the motor to run on DC for several seconds numerous times before shorting out. It doesn't seem to run smoothly on DC. I haven't figured out why it shorts out. It runs fine on 8.5V AC. Sometimes I have to manually twist the armature to get it started. I think this is a characteristic of a 3-pole motor. A 7-pole motor will start with the armature in any position, which is probably why Scale-Craft sold 7-pole motors.

I (John) also have a Nason/Star 4-4-2 frame and this motor in this photo. I had taken it to be the correct motor for the frame. It does fit the two mounting holes that are present on the frame but with slots, not threaded holes. My thought is that this is the Nason motor that was supplied with this model after they ran out of original Star motors. I have several motors of this type, three and seven pole.

Someday I hope to get this frame running. I actually have a Star or Nason 4-4-2 that was converted to a 4-6-0 through the use of a Scale-Craft drive, seen in this previous post. Someday I may convert it back to a 4-4-2 but that is a project for a long time from now. That engine is not running presently due to a shot gearbox so in that sense it would be an improvement, but this frame has major issues to fix where the rear driver would fit. Dick also has parts for several more 4-4-2s and notes
Two of the three Star-Continentals that I have are 3-rail, and one is 2-rail. The 3-rail versions had pick up shoes for an outside third rail. I think I have enough parts to assemble a 2-rail version with the original motor and tender! I set it aside for a rainy-day project.
For more information see

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.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rotten die castings

One phenomena seen more often than I would like among old die castings is what I loosely call “rot.” The more formal term for this process is zinc pest, described in this Wikipedia article. For example see the castings below, which I came across again last week when I was working on wheelsets and trucks for several passenger cars.

These are all the sideframes from a pair of Famoco four wheel passenger car trucks. Two are exactly as Famoco intended and the other two presumably left the factory looking exactly the same but deteriorated into being totally unusable for anything at all. This is primarily a result of impurities in the alloy used for the die casting.

As to prevention, I figure that if it is going to happen to any old OO part it has happened already, although humidity is thought to contribute to zinc pest as well. If it looks good now, it probably is good for as long as we will be around to enjoy the parts.

These trucks came in a kit I was given when I was just starting out in OO, a Famoco combine kit, which I built up (one of the few that I built up from new—a topic for another day). As the two sideframes were bad, as an experiment I put the Famoco wheelsets in a pair of S-C trucks that were on hand. The result was a pair of trucks that roll great! It is not uncommon to see S-C trucks of all styles with the wheelsets switched out with solid axle wheelsets of different manufacture. The result is the Famoco wheelsets that were shipped with the sideframes in the photo are on one of five heavyweight passenger cars on the layout right now, rolling well and looking great behind the E-7A.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

How to bench test a Scale-Craft Universal motor

As noted in the post on Scale-Craft motors, I came to OO from HO, not from Lionel. All of my locomotives until roughly five years ago were permag, including my one Lionel 4-6-4 which a prior owner converted to a permag DC motor and my two S-C 4-6-0 drives.

When I finally purchased a locomotive with an S-C Universal motor on it I will admit it, I found those four wires out the back of the motor intimidating! I located the wiring diagrams (see the files area of the OO Yahoo group) [Update: also here] and while I think I might have actually got the motor that seemed to be in the best shape (this one in the photo) wired up correctly, I could not get it to do more than hum. It was a bit frustrating. I moved on to other projects.

But, I knew I had seen these models run with the original motors, and S-C shipped lots of these motors so it had to be me not the motor. Fortunately, Dick Gresham sensed from the other post the info I really needed and provided it--how to wire up a Universal motor to bench test it. I think others out there need this basic rundown as well:
Scale-Craft 12V AC-DC motor - I have a caution tag that I think came with this motor. It says "This universal motor operates on 12 volts A. C. or 9 volts D. C. Oil motor bearing holes with fine motor oil before using." I use the following procedure to bench test the motor. First I check that the coil wire is continuous by using an Ohm meter. You could also use a continuity tester or a test light, or just omit this step. Then I twist the end of one coil lead to the end of one brush lead. Next twist the end of the other coil lead to the other brush lead. Now you should have two wires to hook up to a DC or AC power supply. I apply only a few a few volts to the motor initially, and turn the armature manually if the motor doesn't start immediately. I've run several of these motors in this manner…. Some of the motors seem to be sluggish. I surmise that the grease in the transmission has dried up, and needs to be replaced.
So the key is that you need to wire one side of the coil to one brush and the other side of the coil to the other brush. THEN you have two wires to connect to your power pack. Hooking up the wires in this manner I applied power from the little HO train set transformer on my workbench and the motor would only hum. I took it over to the layout, and touched the leads to the track leads, and it would run! I don’t have a meter to see how many amps it is drawing, but it needed more for sure than the little transformer put out.

On DC the motor runs the same direction no matter what the polarity is. The way to reverse the motor is to reverse the coil wires, to hook them electrically to the opposite brush. Then the motor runs the opposite direction. Which now makes the manual reverser that S-C shipped with models make lots of sense, as to reverse the model you have to manually switch the relationship of the coil wires to the brush wires.

The other thing that now makes sense is that the model runs on AC exactly the same way as in DC, with the manual reverse. I hooked the motor up to the transformer I use with the very little O-27 I have (mostly Marx) and it ran like a devil! I am sure it is kicking out more amps than what I use for DC models, maybe too many really. But the bottom line is if you normally run Lionel OO on AC you can safely plop a Scale-Craft locomotive with the manual reverse and the Universal motor right down on the rails just like a two rail Lionel 4-6-4 and it should run fine. It will run on AC or DC.

But note: if the locomotive is set up so that the Universal motor is wired with a rectifier this model is only for operation on D.C. Again, as S-C noted in their 1941 catalog, “It must be remembered, however, that the bridge rectifier cannot be used with alternating current. It is made for direct current only, and will be burned out in a few moments if used with an alternating current.”

The whole AC/DC problem came up because while S-C introduced their line as DC in 1937, Lionel made their models in AC in 1938. The S-C DC motor cannot be operated on AC. Their solution was the Universal motor, which can operate equally well on AC or DC. [UPDATE: But, it should be noted, this was not a new solution, as I see in the 1936 Nason catalog their motor was also AC/DC and was set up to be used with a hand reverse as well--S-C was the one who tried to go against the grain with the DC motor].

Dick did also have some very interesting notes on the early Scale-Craft DC motor that I would like to share as well.
Scale-Craft 24V DC motor - I only have one extra 24V DC motor. Initially it would not run. There is a Bakelite brush holder attached to the motor with four brass screws. I removed the brush holder and discovered one brush spring was badly bent and useless. I think the spring came into contact with the commutator when the motor was running. There is a steel ball in the brush holder to reduce friction on the armature shaft. I wasn't expecting a steel ball. It fell out, and I had to retrieve it. I found a spring in my supply of extra springs that would fit in the brush hole in the brush holder. This spring was considerably different than the original spring. I reinstalled the brush holder with my replacement spring. The Bakelite is brittle. I overtightened one screw and broke the corner off. I glued the corner back on with super glue. The motor ran very smoothly. I was able to start the motor repeatedly on 1 or 2 V, DC. When I reversed the DC polarity, the motor ran smoothly in the opposite direction.
I will keep working on the two locomotives I have with the Universal motor. The motors are still are a bit sluggish on my 20VA DC packs so I may need to upgrade there, but they will operate on the layout with the original motor.

UPDATE: See this article for a few more notes on this topic. Short version: I purchased a new, larger DC power pack and while it works great, something about the output waveform won't allow the motor to run. Bench testing the Universal motor as described above is best done on AC.

UPDATE 2: And see this article for notes on running the Universal motor with a modern rectifier. For DC operation this is certainly the way to go, it is a smooth and powerful motor. It is for me anyway also the easiest to bench test motors when connected to a tender that has the correct rectifier setup.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Pair of Vintage OO Gauge Motors

Looking at the car bottom photos of the 1934 MU car by Temple Nieter featured in the previous post I thought I had a similar motor around.

I don’t know the maker of this motor. It looks somewhat less primitive than the Nieter motor, which if it is as described in his 1934 article should be a Mantua motor. It is very similar from the bottom but is probably larger. It is too large to be used in HO but would work in OO or larger models.

Looking at this photo from the side we have a much better idea what the Nieter motor must also look like. There is a rugged simplicity to this old motor that almost borders on some type of folk art. It is an interesting artifact at a minimum, and perhaps someday it will run again, who knows? One of the brushes is missing and the holder for it that is visible is tipped somewhat in the photo. Anyone have ideas as to the maker?

This other old motor I take to be Nason--at least it fits on a frame I have for a Nason or Star-Continental 4-4-2 perfectly. Overall it is smaller than the motor above and I believe somewhat newer. Like the motor above it is not per-mag and has wires that connect to the brushes and to the coil on top. Those are all presently connected (more or less) to a rectifier. The rectifier visually does not look exactly like the one in the Scale-Craft catalog described in this earlier post on Scale-Craft motors, but is similar, likely by another maker, used to set up the motor for DC operation.

Whatever model this was in originally the builder mounted the rectifier in the body of the locomotive judging from the length of the wires. A “project” motor for sure but it is all there and it should be possible to get this one running as well.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Oh! Oh! Here's OO, part 2

As noted in part one, February of 2009 marks the 75th anniversary of an important feature article on OO, “Oh! Oh! Here's OO,” published in the February, 1934 issue of Model Railroader. The article focused on OO scale MU cars then being constructed by Temple Nieter, who was active in OO into the early 1980s.

Four of these cars were made, and at least one survives today. Here it is! These photos were first posted in 2005 to the American OO Yahoo group, with the question what was it? It is very clear this is an original Nieter car, lettered for his road the Lake Line and matching the article perfectly. The photos speak to another fact as well, that if a model once existed there is always a chance that it still might exist and turn up. This is seen all the time in train collecting and it is exciting to see it happen in OO.

The car featured on the cover of the February, 1934 issue of MR was unpowered; this one is powered.

The photos again in many ways speak for themselves, posted here with the permission of the current owner of this model Mike Slater. Click on any of them for a larger view.

The motor is large and is clearly seen in these photos. According to the article it should be an early Mantua motor, and it does look a bit primitive.

Nieter had at the time very recently earned degrees in physics and engineering and had a rather grand scheme for a power system for his layout with working overhead wiring. I believe that it might have closely resembled modern command control systems if worked out fully. In the article he states,
The plan is for constant trolley voltage from a storage battery floated across a trickle charger. Reverser and speed controller are in the trailer car, actuated by alternating currents of medium audio frequency superimposed upon the trolley direct current. Suitable chokes and condensers separate the two currents. So many bugs have turned up in the mechanisms that progress has been halting.
Nieter certainly started out with three-rail and so far as I know stuck with it until the end of his OO operations in 1984, but I believe using more conventional voltages and power supplies. This model looks to be set up for outside third rail with third rail shoes on the trucks.

The car is not currently operable but the owner hopes to return it to operating condition. And Mike does run his OO; his 1938 Lionel set is the one featured running in the YouTube video in this post.

What an interesting find! It is hoped that the three mates for this car also still exist. If any reader has other Lake Line cars of any type I would be happy to feature them as well.

Temple Nieter was the person who encouraged me the most as a young OO gauger, and I certainly enjoyed very much seeing this car and preparing this article. Thank you again Mike S. for sharing these great photos.

UPDATE: See this article for more on the Mantua Midjet Motor.

And the story does not end! Nieter penned another article with a very similar article that was published in Model Railroader in 1984. Continue reading at the link below for yet more.

Continue reading "Oh, oh!" series

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Oh! Oh! Here's OO, part 1

February of 2009 marks the 75th anniversary of an important feature article on OO, “Oh! Oh! Here's OO,” published in the February, 1934 issue--volume 1 number 2!--of Model Railroader. The article is by H. T. Nieter and was the cover story for the issue.

The first page of the article is reproduced legibly in the January, 1954 issue of MR but the rest of it I had not read until a couple members of the American OO Yahoo group very recently shared copies of the full article (many thanks to you both).

In part one of my series on Oscar Andresen, a 1982 letter from H. Temple Nieter laid out a lot of his background, and this background makes elements of the article, the original Model Railroader article on OO, much clearer. Nieter was a 1931 Dartmouth graduate in physics, and he went on to the Harvard Engineering School for graduate work. By the date of the article he had graduated and moved on to Muskegon, Michigan.

This is the lead photo (this is a scan of a Xerox copy), showing just how small the tiny OO gauge cars are! At least in 1934 they probably looked pretty tiny—you could hold it in just one hand! The article began,

MODELMAKERS greeted OO gauge some years ago with such an expression as the title suggests. It looked small to the quarter-inch modeler, and absolutely tiny to those engaged in the larger scales. Still, there was that ever-present interest in the little things, and by virtue of newcomers beginning in OO, and old timers shifting, the scale has become of some importance now. The best proof of that is the availability of the OO gauge parts from quite a number of sources. However, it is not so much in general as in particular that I wish to speak, for I am one of the 4 mm. builders.
He continues that he had been planning this model for two years. He notes that “while in Boston for a vacation from college, I fell in with a member of the Boston Association of Model Engineers.” This would have been Oscar Andresen. Curiously, Andresen is never specifically mentioned in the article, Nieter just states that parts for the car were “made for me in the East” by a “photo-chemical process … upon supplying the drawings.” Again, his 1982 letter gave much more detail on this.

Another note from the article is that the trucks were built up from many parts as were the pantographs. This scan is the montage presented on page three of the issue, showing both in some detail. Looking at this photo a little closer, check out the track. It looks pretty temporary with not nearly enough ties.

The motor was described in the article as a Mantua motor with a 12 to 1 gear reduction to the drive. All axles were powered and the model could pull three trailers. He intended originally for the models to be semi-permanently coupled in pairs due to his control scheme--more on that in part 2.

Finally he wrote in the article about the prototype and his layout. The prototypes for this car were the new MU cars on the Lackawanna. His layout was the Lake Line, which he had running “in fancy” from Muskegon, MI, to Chicago. He notes “The unfortunate disposition of the basement does not allow much adherence to the map, but the layout is hoped to be extensive if not true geographically.”

Ultimately Nieter made a set of four of these cars, and at least one of them still exists today. More on that in part 2.

Continue to Part 2 of "Oh, oh!" series