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

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lionel OO Gauge: A Cover Story in Classic Toy Trains

I recently noted that there had been a forum discussion wondering what year American OO was featured in Classic Toy Trains. Lionel OO gauge was the cover story of their September, 1993 issue, seen here.

It is a great introductory article with great photos in particular of most everything Lionel made. To cut right to the chase, if you are interested in Lionel OO you need this article and back issues of CTT are not particularly hard to purchase. There are probably little things that could be revised, but on the whole again the text is pretty solid (author John A. Grams makes reference to the two part TCA Quarterly series which I wrote with the late Ed Morlok that was published in their October, 1986 and April, 1987 issues, so he did his homework) and it put out the topic of American OO to a broader audience. And did I mention the great photos? It is a must have article for photos of great examples of Lionel OO. For more information on the Lionel OO line see also this article.

It would be wonderful to see American OO featured as a cover story again. The other recent cover story on OO (recent being a relative term) was “The OO Scale Saint Anne” which was featured in the May, 1979 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, a cover story that I wrote about in this article. For me personally this was a very influential article, saying to me that I could make a go at model railroading in this scale. And here I am today.

As to this specific article, regular readers of American OO Today might note one flaw, the idea that it was "too little, too early." Nason had American OO in production by 1934 and Scale Craft was offering American OO gauge train sets in 1937, so in respects Lionel was not too early, they were playing catch up. They clearly wanted in on the scale  model market and thought OO the better bet than HO.

Not so many people are getting into OO these days and a part of it for sure is limited contact with the scale. At the most recent TCA meet that I could get to, the biggest annual one in Arizona, I only saw one American OO item, a lone, orphan Lionel tender. Only a well-read collector would even know what it was if they happened to notice it on the table priced at $65. I love though this short video on YouTube from the Milwaukee Trainfest in 2008 of a 1938 Lionel set in action, it gets the word out in a very real way. I have had ideas toward book drafts and have also several possible CTT or TCA type articles in mind, and I would encourage readers out there to think big too, like in the Milwaukee video. Of course I am biased; I got bit by the OO bug years ago and think it is great stuff, but it is up to all of us to keep spreading the word.

Friday, November 26, 2010

American OO in 1935 I: A Battle of Gauges, a Club Layout, and More Products on the Market

A first headline for 1935 is interest is rising in small scale model trains. I don’t quite have a complete view of the year in publications (I have only half of the issues of The Model Railroader) but I do have enough to paint the general picture of things pretty clearly.

The January issue of The Model Railroader is one that really helps set the context of the time. The opening editorial is on the topic of "Smaller Gauges Gaining in Popularity." There we read,
The smaller gauges, OO and HO, are rapidly growing in popularity, and nearly half the letters we receive concern them. Material on construction for these gauges has been sadly lacking, and we are trying to fill this lack, while at the same time not neglecting the more established gauges.
The possibility which OO and HO offer of realistic railroading in one-fourth the space it would require to do the same thing in O gauge is the chief advantage. But most model railroaders are discouraged before they start by what would seem to be difficulties of building to such small scales....
Difficulty is encountered, if we are to judge by the questions asked us, in choosing between HO and OO....
The difference between the two gauges and scales in this country seems, so far, to be not only in size but in methods. We can't see any reason why the same methods should not be applicable to both. The HO gaugers use largely those easily workable materials, cardboard and balsa wood, and build up their stock. O gauge methods have been transplanted to OO with nearly the same variety of parts and kits available.
For OO the standard series wound motors of the Mantua Co., Woodbury Heights, N. J., are the favorite. They can be used on A.C. or D.C., 6 volt, and control is left nearly the same as the standard O gauge practice. Most HO gaugers are using English drive units, which have permanent magnet fields and run only on D.C.
The editorial continues with names of manufacturers and such but the the central text on the topic starts a few pages later in the article "OO or HO Gauge -- Which?" The case for OO is made by a name familiar to American OO enthusiasts today, H. T. Nieter, which he summarized at the conclusion of his section as follows:
In recapitulation, then, OO is presented as superior to HO in convenience of dimensioning, in accuracy of scaling, and for ready availability of parts and materials. Notwithstanding the excellent results individuals have attained, on the whole HO has not the characteristics of convenience which are basic with OO. These considerations were influential in my own choice when both gauges were up for inspection some years ago; OO won, and I present the case for it just as it was built up then.
The response on the side of HO was by James F. Dechert. From his response I would draw these bullets:
  • OO requires 1/7 more space
  • HO is very popular in England and has many more suppliers
  • HO is much less expensive, OO manufacturers "continue to insist on building in metal and the HO world uses lighter materials"
  • DC operation
Overall price was for sure part of what made HO hit a wider market in those lean years. Later in this issue I note two references to the NYSME having an OO gauge layout, and the issue also has a small ad for Nason Railways.The February issue of The Model Railroader featured an article on track by Eric LaNal showing how HO track could be laid more inexpensively than OO track.

Turning to The Model Craftsman, their February issue has a feature article plugging the upcoming Seventh Annual Show of the New York Society of Model Engineers. The second paragraph reads,
Starting with the smallest track, the center table in the main room will have a complete 00-gauge system and this rolling stock will be in continuous operation during the Show. This almost microscopic scale has made great strides in the last few years. Both the locomotives and cars are now fully equal in performance to those in the larger scales.
This illustration is given of the room and paints the clear picture that if you go to their popular annual show you will see OO gauge on display. Click on it for a better view.

Moving on to the March and April issues of The Model Craftsman, in March we find a small Nason ad focusing on rail. April has a classified advertisement from the OO Gauge Model Co. and also advertisements are to be found from Nason for their (sand cast) passenger car kits—Pullman, Coach, Coach Baggage, and Diner—priced between $5 and $6.50 and Fixen for their line of 16 figures for “H0 and 00.”

The April 1935 issue of The Model Railroader has more for us. On page 104 we see a slightly larger ad from Nason on their “New … Built up Type Passenger car Kits” and also an ad from another individual I had never heard of before looking at this issue, Melvin Fenberg. My guess is he was a custom builder but note the location of Los Angeles and also what is offered (freight cars—box, reefer, caboose, and hopper) and the prices (high--$7.50-$8.75).

A few pages later we also see this advertisement by Raymond Willey of Chicago, which was in the February issue. I profiled him briefly in a prior article; he worked closely with H. L. “Red” Adams and also obviously had some plans for OO production at that time. The bigger picture being that OO activity was spreading across the country, it was not as centered on a few individuals in the New York City area.

Inside the back cover of this issue finally we get this photo which is a gem, of as it says there “A passenger train pulled by a OO gauge Atlantic” by Howard Winther. Looks like a sharp model (a side view may be seen in this article) and you can also get a sense of his layout as well; it looks like there is an upper level with a reefer on the tracks above the baggage car. Click on the photo for a larger image view.

When this series returns the topic will be the start of a series of articles by one of the most central figures to the development of American OO, Hugh Nason.

[Updated 2011]

Continue to Part II

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Scale-Craft Pullman Observation

I love this newly built Scale-Craft Pullman Observation car. I will let the builder describe it.
I have been building a collection of old, wood kits to be put away for the grand kids to be opened in the future--with the idea of them seeing what went into building these things in "the old days." Most of the equipment is HO scale, but I've done a couple of OO scale for the fun of it. This kit came with trucks but no decals. It's been a real challenge, and I cannot believe the Scale Craft people actually thought their kits would be successfully built by anyone who didn't have a shop of some kind back in 1940 and after the war in 1946. But then the general philosophy with most kit manufacturers seemed to be to give the buyer an ideal picture of the finished product along with a similar written description and then see what the poor souls could do with the stuff they put into the box! Fortunately I was able to deal with most of the curves they threw at me with this one.
Beautiful work. Back in those days it was not easy to be a model railroader, something I have been appreciating more as I have been working through the current project to document OO through the years; the series starts here. Thank you to Art W. for sharing the photo and allowing me to share his note on American OO Today.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Nason Hudson Kit

I was able to recently obtain most of a set of castings for a Nason Hudson. For a long while I only had a few parts of this classic OO model, introduced in 1936 (two years before the Lionel Hudson) and produced until WWII.

It has been very interesting to hold this vintage set of sand-cast bronze castings in my hands. On one hand, they really are art! But on the other hand you would have to be a serious home machinist to build this model then or now from these castings.

What I appear to have is, to use the terminology of the 1939 catalog, is casting kit “A” for the locomotive and also section 6 of the full “eazy-to-build” version which is the tender. Starting with the locomotive,
This kit contains all castings (58) as listed for building the Hudson locomotive. No machine work has been done. A lathe is required to machine the drive and trailing wheels. Detailed drawings and construction notes are included…. $18.00
I have 30 of the 58 parts mentioned above but the only significant parts missing are the drivers and the pilot. Many of the parts are marked with 200 series numbers (I have parts with 300 series numbers in my collection as well; these are for the 2-8-0). Under the heading “Specifications” we learn among other things that the locomotive weighs approximately 2 ½ pounds and other highlights including:
BOILER – One-piece cast bronze with all details including running boards, stack, steam and sand domes, feedwater heater, air tanks and turret. The bronze casting facilitates soldering.
CAB – Bronze, cast in five pieces in order to get maximum detail.
MAIN ENGINE FRAME – Two-piece bronze casting. This type of casting together with the 3/16” steel axles insure excellent bearings.
Check out this close up of the trailing truck wheelsets. There is no way I am ever going to try to make those into working wheelsets! At least not before I own a serious lathe and have lots of time on my hands to learn how to use it well.

The tender is a nearly complete set of parts for
SECTION 6 – This section completes the locomotive. All the material to build the tender. Tank and frame as fine castings as you ever have seen. Tender steps, ladders, water scoop, air-brake cylinder, and material for coal. Parts to assemble fully equalized, six wheel tender trucks (no dummies) and paint for the entire locomotive…. $7.00
Elsewhere we read of these parts,
TENDER TANK – Cast bronze in one-piece with exception of front deck which is a separate casting.
TENDER FRAME – Cast bronze with excellent detail.
As I noted in the earlier post on this model,
Hugh Nason and his partners must have been very unhappy when Lionel copied them with their die cast Hudson in 1938. It was introduced as three-rail but was produced in two-rail as well. Pricing depended on when and how you purchased the kit. In the final Nason catalog (1940) a kit that contained only the 58 rough castings of the locomotive would set you back $18, while a complete, machined kit for the locomotive ran $34 for three rail and $38 for two rail. It was also available in sections, with the tender being section 6 that sold for $7. In short a complete kit for the locomotive in a form I would feel comfortable trying to assemble ran something over $40. And the most deluxe OO gauge outfit Lionel sold with a 4-6-4, four cars, and track listed for $42.25 in 1940. The math was not good for Nason.
For sure I think this is a model that the serious Lionel OO collector should own, along with the Nason sand cast boxcar and the Scale-Craft cars that are of the same type but predate the Lionel OO versions (tank/hopper/caboose). It really puts a face on the models Lionel must have looked at in putting together their die cast OO outfit in 1938.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

1934 Series Bonus: Scratchbuilt OO Gauge Trucks

Before moving on to 1935 in the series on OO history, I was very recently able to purchase five more issues of The Model Craftsman from 1934, which shed a bit more light on the situation for the OO gaugers of that day.

The earliest of the issues just obtained is the April issue and it in we find an extended report on the 1934 New York Society of Model Engineers show, complete with many photos of manufacturer displays. For example, "The Mantua Toy & Novelty Company had a display of their 00-gauge and 0-gauge motors, specially designed for this work." Also Fixen had a display (which is seen in a photo as well) of "Standard and 0-gauge materials that showed switches and track for replacing the regular tin variety. They also had motors and car bodies for multiple unit trains." And also in this issue Nieter was advertising his OO gauge MU cars and parts.

In the May/June issue (there were only ten issues published that year, July/August were also combined) Fixen had an ad that notes "00 wheels on axle 60c 4 pair. Soon in production." These wheels would have been very handy to build the trucks featured in the November 1934 issue and illustrated below.

The article was by William O. Hillary and is part two of his article "Construction of a 00-Gauge Refrigerator Car" that was featured in this previous post. He begins,
The trucks for the 00-Gauge freight car are quite simple to construct, but it is advisable to purchase the finished wheels, which come complete on the axle.
The side frames are made out of sheet metal 1/16" thick. The design should be drawn out and then marked on the surface of the metal with a fine centre punch. Then drill and file out the open holes. Use a fine rat-tail file to finish the interior corners. 
The axle boxes should then be made out of 1/8" square brass and sweat soldered onto the side frames. Then drill the holes for the axles on the inside of the frames, being sure that those holes are not drilled through the axleboxes. Use a drill that is slightly larger than the axle ends. These should run freely.... 
The cross piece, which connects the two frames together, is made out of 1/8" square brass, and is fastened to the side frames with shouldered bolts. ... The frames should be loose on the crosspiece in order that the wheels can take up the inequalities in the track. The holes in the side frames should be made to fit snugly over the shoulder of the bolts.
His article concludes by explaining how to drill the center hole in the crosspiece to attach the trucks to the car and also has notes on painting the trucks. To see some very similar trucks on a car, look at the trucks in this article by Howard Winther, especially the caboose. They should be made by a similar method, with the bolt heads exposed on the outside, and look different than the trucks he described in his 1933 article on the topic of trucks.

In spite of Hillary saying that these were "quite simple to construct," making a pair of trucks from scratch from two types of brass stock (1/16" sheet and 1/8" square) could not have been easy. If you have a car riding on trucks of this general type you can be pretty sure that they are very early trucks.

Also, looking at the big picture of this, trucks were a big concern of early OO gaugers. Of all the early articles on American OO this is perhaps the only topic to have two articles published. The availability of commercial trucks for OO gauge use would get better in 1935, more on that soon.

Return to the beginning of the 1934 series.

Continue to 1935 series.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Strombecker OO Railroad Models

Back in the article on American OO Train Sets that has been posted for some time (one of the most popular in the site) I noted that one company and actually the first company to offer OO scale train sets (of a sort) was the Strombek-Becker Mfg. Co. (Strombecker) of Moline, IL.

The instructions for the 2-8-2 are dated 1936, which should be the date of the introduction of these prewar products. In the prior article I note that,
These prewar sets were un-powered wood and paper kits--static models--for a freight train, but the cars could be converted for model railroad use. They were built to 5/32"=1' scale but were marketed as OO. Versions were offered that included either a 2-8-2, tender, gondola, boxcar, and caboose or a 2-8-2, tender, NYC MDT reefer, and caboose.
One final note: Actually, the Lionel 1940 and 41 catalogs also say that their models are built to the scale of 5/32”=1’, the scale of the Strombecker models. Technically OO is 4mm to one foot, but the difference is small, and in those pre-war days it probably was better marketing to use the English measurement rather than metric.
Strombecker itself dated back to 1911, and they made quite a variety of models over many years. This article gives good coverage of their overall line of wood models which included airplanes and military models in addition to trains, and this article covers their later slot car production.

The photos in this article were taken some years back of models in the collection of William Chapin. The line of Strombecker railroad models included the two trains already noted (One version of the freight train included the 2-8-2, tender, gondola, boxcar, caboose and another was the 1922L Freight train which included the 2-8-2, tender, NYC MDT reefer, caboose) and also these locomotives:
  • 1875C 2-4-0, "J. W. Bowker"
  • 1922H 2-8-2, D.L.&W.
  • 1929 2-8-8-2, GN, with 12 wheel Vanderbilt tender
  • 1861C 4-4-0, "Wm. Crooks," GN
  • 1869C 4-6-0, "Ross Winan's" camelback, B&O
  • 1937A 4-8-4, SP Daylight
The freight cars, to describe them more fully, included:
  • 1922T Modern freight cars--gondola, boxcar, caboose
  • Boxcar (also listed in literature as an automobile car)
  • Gondola, PRR 290148
  • Reefer, wood, MDT 5555
  • Caboose, PRR 477618
An article on the railroad models produced by Strombecker was published in the April, 1983 issue of The Train Collectors Quarterly. In the article it is noted of the prewar models that
The majority of these were issued in “O” scale (1/4”) or “OO” scale (5/32”). The two definite exceptions were the 3/16” Hudson, and the 1/8” (slightly smaller than “HO”) rocket.
Reflecting on these in light of the series of articles produced recently on the early history of American OO the choice of 5/32” scale is interesting over modern HO or 1/8” scale (1/96). First, OO was seen by Strombecker at that time as the small scale of choice. Also, while normally we think of OO being 4 mm scale, Lionel literature would later also say that their models were 5/32” scale. This is in reality very close to 1/76, being only fractionally smaller. The tolerances are loose enough on these wood models that I am sure the difference would not at all be notable.

I have never seen one of the freight cars converted to scale use but I have been told the conversion has been done. They were a part of the landscape for OO gaugers of the time, perhaps were a part of why Scale-Craft took the plunge into OO, and certainly served to promote OO as a size for railroad models in general.

UPDATE: From the 1940 series I would add this image, a portion of a great advertisement on the back cover of the February issue of The Model Builder. This is the bottom portion of the ad (full image here), which features three of their OO scale items. The text is a bit hard to read (click on the photo for a better view) but clearly all these models were sold as OO scale models.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

OO in The Modelmaker, 1925-30. Part IV: 1930 and the First American OO Gauge 4 mm Scale Product

1930 is the year one would have to point to as the first year of American OO existing as a scale and gauge clearly separate from any other.

In the January, 1930 issue of The Modelmaker we find a report on the second annual exhibition of the New York Society of Model Engineers, which had been held in December of 1929. In it the name of F. D. Grimke comes up several times as he was an officer but in particular we have this note.
Mr. F. D. Grimke, made quite a display with an old model hull of three masted sailing ship; Ship weathervane; Reading ¾” scale Atlantic type Locomotive; “OO” gauge Locomotive and passenger car; Gondola; and 39” model steam power boat.
What the OO models were we can only speculate, but in continued coverage of the exhibition in the following issue it is noted that a Mr. M. Brownstein displayed “’OO’ Gauge Railroad Equipment and Rolling Stock.”

The March issue contains a significant development in the form of the first advertisement for the Mantua “Midjet Motor.” This I reported on in this article and I would repeat again that this motor can’t be underestimated as having a strong role in development of 4 mm American OO, as this motor would fit in a 4 mm scale locomotive but not in a 3.5 mm scale locomotive.

Grimke advertised his services as a modelmaker in the June issue and offered for sale assembly drawings for a locomotive (the “Hudson-Lafayette Locomotive”) but the scale is not specified. He had a similar ad in the July issue (later ads specify that this model is 2 1/2” gauge) but on the same page is a much more exciting ad for our purposes, as it is the first advertisement for a 4 mm scale OO product. The ad by H. Thuilliez, reproduced here, is for a blueprint of the PRR type D78B Dining Car. Also of big interest is he states that “Construction set with die cast trucks will be ready shortly.” The advertisement actually does not say that this is a 4 mm scale product but later advertising confirms this is American OO gauge 4 mm scale.

This new advertiser seems to have prompted a full editorial on OO in the foreword to this issue. It opens noting that
Small railways systems like “OO” gauge have been much in favor in many countries, but up to the present have been almost unknown in the United States, owing to the difficulty of obtaining the necessary materials to build the locomotives and rolling stock, and for the construction of the track, signals and depots.
The editorial continues by explaining the size advantage for those living in apartments, etc. The end of the editorial gets down to some of the latest developments.
The writer was recently shown a finished Pullman car built to “OO” Gauge. It was certainly a very excellent piece of work. The builder is preparing to put on the market this Fall complete sets of materials and supplies necessary for the equipment of a complete “OO” System. We feel sure the many of our readers will be interested in his products, which will be first class in every particular.
One notable thing absent from this editorial is defining exactly what OO is. However, in September foreword/editorial we learn
The four most popular scales used in the U. S. (we are considering the question from the scale model standpoint) are “OO” – 4 mm; “O” or ¼” scale, 1 ¼” gauge; ½” scale, 2 ½” gauge; ¾” scale, 3 ½” gauge.

If you are strong in finances and have ample ground to lay out a garden railway system, we would suggest ½” scale 2 ½” gauge, or better still ¾” scale with 3 ½” gauge.

If you wish to have an in door railway and have a large attic, or a spacious cellar we would suggest ¼” scale, 1 ¼” gauge. If, however, you only have a small room “OO” would be ideal for the purpose.
The editorial still left the gauge of OO hanging, as they only defined the scale. Thuilliez and Grimke probably also noticed this omission and made the answer to this question very clear in the first advertisement for their new venture, Thuillgrim Models. This final image is of this first advertisement, found in the October, 1930 issue. Nothing new is listed compared to the products listed in their individual ads mentioned already, but in the ad it is crystal clear that they saw OO as 4 mm scale running on ¾” gauge track which finally defined the scale and gauge as different than 3.5 mm scale or 1/8” scale running on 5/8" gauge track.

As they say the rest is history! American OO was off and running. To keep following the story of the early years continue into this series on 1931.

Return to the beginning of the 1925-30 series