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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

1939, the Peak Year: Part VII, People, Books, Etc.

Any thriving model railroad scale is made up of a community of people, those people especially being those who produce products for the hobby, those who write articles and books, and those who purchase and use those products. In part VI a person came up, Fred Chemidlin, a manufacturer. In this concluding article in the 1939 series we have a few more people to focus on.

The first to mention is Herbert L. “Red” Adams. Active in OO since 1934 and the original maker of the 4-6-2 model sold by Scale-Craft, his article “Adventures in Double-O” published in the May, 1939 issue of The Model Craftsman is a real treat to read, I love his vivid writing style. The subject of a prior article in this site, photos and quotations from that article may be found here. Adams wrote quite a number of articles in the following years. For another view of his layout in 1941 see this recently updated article; it is interesting to compare the two articles as he has worked more on scenery and such. This photo however is of Red himself, taken at a meeting of the Chicago Model Railroader’s Guild, published in the December, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader. He was at the time vice-president of the guild. Another photo apparently taken at the same meeting may be found in the Handbook for Model Railroaders by W. K. Walthers, on page 30, of Adams operating an O scale layout.

Another individual was Edmond Collins, Jr. He was mentioned for this prize winning model at the “Philadelphia edition of the National Model Show” in the June, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader. Also on display at the show were three different OO gauge layouts, one by Lionel, one by Scale-Craft, and “the show itself furnished another loop in that gauge.” Collins was making the rounds with this model as it and another of his models was described in The Model Builder in a June article on the Lehigh Model Railroad Show in Allentown as follows:
There was an "OO" gauge layout containing an old Mother Hubbard type engine hauling a local freight, and an old trolley. The trolley was operated by means of an over head wire and would climb unbelievably steep hills, much to the interest of those who crowded in front of the display. The display belonged to Edmund Collins, Jr.
Another individual I would mention briefly is E. H. Bessey, who would the next year become an OO manufacturer. In The Model Craftsman in July in a letter to the editor he notes that he had just
gone through every issue of the MODEL CRAFTSMAN. The reason for doing so was to list every article that could be used in the construction of a “OO” model railroad. The improvement over the first issue is large and certainly appreciated, at least by myself. Money cannot buy the complete set from me.
A look at 1939 would not be complete without mention of the New York Society of Model Engineers. In April of 1939 article on NYSME appeared in The Model Builder, a very natural topic for them as the Lionel publication could feature O and OO models. In a bonus article to this series I previously presented a look at some 1939 Lionel OO layouts in The Model Builder. The NYSME layout was not Lionel but it was OO and the NYSME had for years been very supportive of American OO. At the date of this article OO pioneer F. D. Grimke was treasurer of the Society. Grimke had also written the first series of articles on American OO that was published in The Modelmaker in 1931-32, and is considered to have been the father of American OO gauge. The NYSME had an OO layout in operation no later than early 1934 that would have been seen at their very popular annual show as well, showcasing the new scale.

As of 1939 they were building a new layout in a new location. This photo is of an OO trestle and The Model Builder relates these details on the new system:
Also contributing to the railroad as a spectacle is the manner in which the “OO” gauge line is planned. The “OO” gauge system will be a complete unit in itself which its own stations and controls. However, it is to be located at the furthest point in the general layout, at a very high level and will wind in and out among mountains in an ingenious manner to make it appear far in the distance. To the visitor, the “OO” equipment is intended to appear as just so much more of the railroad but so far off that it will look small….
The first half of the railroad now being built will also contain a great range of mountains, toward the back of which the “OO” gauge railroad will be located. There are 150 feet of track in the “OO” gauge line, each end of which contains some type of loop for return routing.
While we are in The Model Builder, a question also came in on the topic of 3 rail OO models and 2 rail track. Lionel knew there was a problem there. In short, cars and locomotives would need some modification. “There are certain hobby shops that will insulate a locomotive and tender for $12.00 and a car for approximately $1.50. The names and addresses of shops nearest you will be sent upon request.--Editor.”

Choice of scales was a big and potentially heated topic. Miniature Railroading has an article on the topic of HO or OO in their October 1939 issue, where this handy illustration may be found. They look at the history of the topic in some depth and note that
For a time, it looked as if HO gauge would sweep away OO gauge in this country, but then things began happening. New lines of OO gauge equipment appeared on the market, easy on the eye and on the pocketbook. Improved kits went on sale, and scale models, of American equipment, were produced along with tinplate ideas of mass production. OO showed a big jump along with HO, and soon both were helping to swell the rising tide of model railroading all over the land.
As they note in the article, the original question they began the article with was which was better. “To answer it we have to first brush aside the original notion that one of the two must in time supersede the other. They both have gone too far for that, and there is not the slightest reason to believe that either will outstrip its rival.” They work through a list of factors in the article (price, variety, etc.) but ultimately punt on the question of which is better. “It’s up to yourself to decide, and I’ve done my best by telling you all the things to consider.”

The Model Railroader has an item on the topic of choosing between the gauges in their November 1939 issue, which as a bit different angle on the topic. In the end they recommend that “before you cast the irrevocable vote, build a car or two from standard kits in each size that has any appeal to you.”

Books on model railroading are another new product of the time, and I have two from 1939, the Handbook for Model Railroaders by W. K. Walthers and Model Railroads in the Home by Earl Chapin May. I touched on the Walthers book early in this article; it does not feature much on OO. Turning to the May book, the “perennially persistent F. D. Grimke” is mentioned who “worked out and introduced the American OO guage.” Written in a very readable style, the book contains some nice coverage of the NYSME layout and among other photos includes this photo of the works of a Lionel Hudson.

Finally, I would mention one trend, the rise of mail order. There are advertisements in virtually every issue of every magazine that give insights as to what really was for sale and what were the leading products that were being pushed. To close I have this small ad from Gerstner in The Model Builder for December, 1939. While it was a Lionel publication that did not prevent advertising that pushed products by competitors such as this Scale-Craft 4-8-4. Also note that the same page of the magazine has scale rulers for Standard, O, and OO gauges. Again, HO was not something pushed in The Model Builder. OO was their small gauge of choice.

With that I close this look at 1939. I have some other writing projects under way so it may take a few months to ready, but as soon as I can work through my notes and work up drafts I will continue with a look at another great year for American OO, 1940.

Return to the beginning of the 1939 series

Continue to 1940 Series

Sunday, December 11, 2011

1939 Bonus: Lionel OO Layouts in The Model Builder

This past week a tip was posted on the OO Yahoo group that the full run of The Model Builder is posted in the TrainLife website. This led to a flurry of reading on my part, updates to several articles (especially parts II and III of the 1938 series), and the need develop at least one extra article related to the 1939 series (the final of which I may need to split in two to cover all the materials I am looking at).

The Model Builder was a magazine published by Lionel. Volume 1 Number 1 dates to January of 1937. Of course, Lionel introduced an OO line in 1938 and expanded it in 1939, so there are some very interesting nuggets of OO history embedded in the magazine in the timeframe of their OO production. 1939 is an especially good year for this and especially so the October issue, as the front and back covers feature photos taken of a Lionel OO display layout right when their two rail line was about to be launched, and there is yet more inside.

Looking at the big picture for a second, not surprisingly, in the run of this magazine at this time HO is rarely mentioned. The OO Hudson was regularly second prize in contests though and an OO Hudson may also be seen on the cover of the June, 1939 issue.

The present article though will focus on the October issue, where we find this first photo on the cover. I have zoomed in on it a bit here; the full image is here.

Take a look at the track. The 3-rail track is clearly Lionel but the outer loop, it does not look like Lionel 2-rail track, the base is the wrong color (very gray looking) and the base shape is suspect. I have noted in an earlier article as well the use of Scale-Craft freight cars in the 1938 catalog. Lionel did use other brand items as stand-ins for their own. In this case though, I am inclined to say it is not Scale-Craft track but rather hand laid. The look is similar to the S-C track, with the gray base, but the tie spacing looks a bit tighter. In the earlier article in American OO today there is a nice overhead view of the two types of track to compare to the second photo.

The second photo being from the rear cover advertisement. It is the same display layout but it looks a bit different as the image is reversed. Note the position of the animal pen next to the track and then the Lionel logo on the boxcar. The negative was flipped relative to the view on the front cover. Again, this image is just a portion of the page, for the full page see here.

There was also a display layout in the 1939 Lionel Catalog. It does not appear to be the same layout but looking at the photo closely (in this article) you can begin to wonder now, is the 2 rail track Lionel 2 rail track? The photo is small and a bit diffuse looking but the roadbed color does again look rather gray. I believe that it is not the standard, production 2-rail track; maybe S-C but probably hand-laid.

People were using the standard 3-rail Lionel OO track to build layouts right away. This October issue of The Model Builder also has these two photos of an “elaborate ‘OO’ gauge system” by A. L. Michaels, this image being clipped from this page of the magazine. It is easy to see the Lionel track on the long straight runs on the sides of the layout, and also a tight radius circle in the middle of the same track. How many pieces do you see? Think what that track would be worth today!

Also later in this same issue are found the results of an OO layout contest. The winning plan used, you guessed it, Lionel sectional OO track (3 rail). The plan, for a layout that looks even larger than the one in the photos above, according to the text was for Lionel OO gauge track and switches but “O-27 or regular O gauge track may be readily be substituted." The full article from which this comes may be found here. Those tight radius Lionel 3-rail curves would save a lot of space.

But again, to return to the big picture, Lionel was pushing the OO line hard in 1939, emphasizing in advertising the quality of the product, etc. And it is great also to be able to so easily be able to read these issues of The Model Builder today. Some model railroaders of 1939 clearly were taking up the scale, and when the 1939 series returns the focus will be the people that were working in the scale.

Continue to conclusion of 1939 series

Saturday, December 3, 2011

1939, the Peak Year: Part VI, Other OO Makers

Looking over magazine advertising of the year there were at least eight other firms actively serving the American OO market in 1939.

Alphabetically we start with Finco. One of the things you need to make a layout is track, and Finco of Philadelphia sold turnouts in HO and OO. The OO turnouts were in No. 6 and wye versions, “held in gauge by brass binders—easily removed.” The line advertised in The Model Railroader.

Next up is Hoffmans, who introduced their OO line in 1938. Their new items for 1939 included a PRR X29 boxcar and also an automobile box car, advertised in the April and May issues of The Model Railroader. The item to add though to my previous articles is that in a recent purchase I found one more orphan Hoffmans truck, seen in this photo. As noted in earlier articles, it was the first sprung truck offered commercially in OO. This particular example looks to be all original based on the patina and such. This particular truck does not track well at all, which may be part of why Hoffmans was soon out of the OO gauge market.

Couplers are also something you need, and an automatic coupler was something that would be especially desirable. Graceline, featured in the previous installment in this series, sold an automatic coupler in 1939 and another firm also introduced a coupler of the same general type, K&W of Cranston, RI. I have a photo of one of these on a car in this article and this advertisement is from the June, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader. The cars in the photo look to be HO models and it would seem the HO and OO couplers are identical. From what little experience I have with them they were likely a touchy design but they did get some use by OO gaugers back in that day. For a photo of one of these on a car see this article.

What layout would be complete without buildings? A steady advertiser in The Model Railroader, Little Gem Models of Dayton, OH had in their November, 1939 ad a line of “Quality buildings for fine layouts. 30 Stock Models from 15c up.” My inclination is from the ad that they must be HO-OO models (and they also sold models in O), but I welcome any further reader information on this line. I have a bit more here.

Mantua still had their line of OO track out, introduced in 1938. What was new was they added a turnout and also couplers to their OO line. These couplers were as they stated in their ad on the back cover of MR for November, 1939 “designed for the HO gauge, but will work as well on OO cars.” I have seen on a fair number of vintage OO models equipped with these hook and loop couplers and they were certainly a popular option in HO as well.

Speaking of track, next up alphabetically is a very important player in the OO track market, Midlin Models of Scotch Plains, NJ. They announced their line of “semi-assembled” OO track in the April, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader. There they note that
As with our popular HO track, this new OO gauge comes to you in three foot lengths with stained wooden ties assembled on one rail. We are using HO rail section as this is nearer scale size for OO gauge track….
Accuracy in construction is equaled by the accuracy in copying the detailed beauty of its prototype. Stained ties, oxidized rail, and real stone ballast lend much to the realism captured in this track. All how have seen our HO gauge have marveled at its true-to-life appearance.
These track kits have been featured previously in American OO Today and at least among post-war OO gaugers was widely considered to have been the best track ever produced in American OO. It is very easy to spot as it has a very distinctive rail with a fin on the bottom that fits into a groove in the ties. One thing I note in this first advertisement is that it was offered initially in 2-rail and 3-rail kits. The ad does not make it clear if it is center or outside third rail but 2-rail version quickly became the standard one.

In June they introduced OO switches and in November featured their new crossing with this nice advertisement. I have never seen these crossings either but they are on a plastic base.

In 1940 Railroad Magazine ran a short article on Midlin track with two good photos of the manufacturing process (including a photo of owner Fred Chemidlin) and text about the firm. I have featured this in a prior article but this quote is most relevant to our article today:
Fred J. Chemidlin of Scotch Plains, N.J., Grew Tired of Forcing Home Midget Track Spikes With Long-Nosed Pliers. So He Designed a New Type of Spikeless Track Assembly. Two Parallel Groves Are Cut to Gage Width in a Cross Grained Strip of Wood, and These Grooves Then Receive the Base Web of Specially Designed Rails.
To see examples of Classic OO layouts built with Midlin track see also this article on the OO Norfolk and Ohio of Carl Appel or this more recent layout by Bill Johann, one of my favorite articles in this site.

Another company with track on their mind was Pratts of Richmond Hill, NY. I believe the track gauge in this article is an example of their solid bronze track gauge advertised in The Model Craftsman in February of 1939. Primarily an O gauge maker, they called this a "2 in 1 type for lining up both running rails and third rail." It was available in HO, OO, and O gauges.

Finally we come to another big line, Skyline of Philadelphia. The first advertisement I have spotted for this Classic line of buildings is in the October, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader. They were “Made of fibre-like Tensilite” and available in two sizes, O and “HO & OO” gauges. This portion of their advertisement shows the HO/OO line as of that time. For a longer overview of this line of structures and photos and links to more see this article. UPDATE: This ad may also be seen in the October, 1939 issue of The Model Builder, which is online; the page with the complete ad is here.

UPDATE: Also I should mention the line of structure kits manufactured by Maxwell Hobby Shops of Oakland, CA. The copy of their catalog that I have is dated 1939, and the line was acquired by Scale-Craft in that year. For more see this article, with a photo of a kit and more found here.

One more installment is planned in this series on 1939, check back for that soon.

Continue in 1939 Series

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Avon Lionel OO Hudson

Back in the article on the Hallmark Lionel OO F-3 there was a comment made by a reader noting that there was also a collectible version of the OO Hudson out there. With my eyes peeled for one for a couple years, last week I came across one of these at a show.

This model is not part of the Hallmark series but instead is an Avon collectible. But it is made along the same visual lines, with a nice base. The model itself would appear to have been cast from a resin material of some sort, and except for the added metal details of the handrails and whistle it was cast in one piece. From the plaque on the base you can tell that it is actually a replica of the 1937 O scale 700E Hudson, not the 1938 OO Hudson. But due to the scale size chosen by Avon it is actually very close to the size of the OO Hudson.

The second photo gives that comparison pretty clearly. The Avon model is just a bit bigger than the OO Hudson, but really not by very much at all. The biggest difference being that raised area just ahead of the cab.

This model is in short very close to American OO. As such, this falls in the category of being a great display item for the OO collector. It is not so far as I can tell a particularly valuable collectible, but is nice looking display item and one that should live in my office for some years.

UPDATE: See comments, there is also a Hallmark collectible version as well. It has a tender, working wheels, etc.

UPDATE II: This was part of a series of Avon models, check eBay to see them. I recently purchased the F-3 as well. It is an attractive model but larger than OO, closer to S for sure -- I believe to a point they sized the models to the base they sold with them.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Another Truck of Mystery

From time to time I post articles on items that I can’t identify. Some I have later identified, but others have remained a mystery. Those interest me particularly as for sure someone did know what they were at some point in the past, but that knowledge is lost or hidden at least now.

While the nice arch bar trucks featured recently are still not identified, they contrast a lot with this truck, of which I only have one example. It was with some Nason trucks in a lot but these are certainly not Nason. The basic casting itself is rough and heavy to such an extent that it could be somebody’s shop project. But then again it certainly looks like it could easily date to the earliest days of American OO and be a commercial product.

The second view reveals the very heavy cross section of the truck and also the odd bolster. Note the upward extensions.

The wheelsets with it may or may not be original but I suspect are not. Putting the truck down on the track it is pretty quickly evident that this truck is at present not very usable. The wheelsets are terrible and the axle holes are not all in the same location.

The overall effect though, holding his in my hand, is in terms of OO it looks almost prehistoric, from a time before Nason. I think that comes across in the photos as well. Anyone have more of these relics?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Graceline OO Scale B&O Wagon Top Boxcar

Last weekend in part V of the 1939 series one model featured was the new Graceline B&O wagon top boxcar. As noted there in the original advertisement, it was available with hand painted sides and was reviewed briefly in the May, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader, as follows:
This B&O OO gauge freight car uses pressed metal sides and ends. From a distance the built up car looks good; closer inspection shows the pressed details rather lacking in character. The truck parts and underframe are cast of a lead base alloy in a permanent mold. Rivet detail heavy in spots and light in others.
This past week that article has received by far more hits in one week than anything I have ever posted related to American OO. Traffic source number 1 seems to have been a Yahoo Baltimore & Ohio group, followed also by a Yahoo vintage HO group. So to the readers of both, welcome to American OO and thank you for the links! And now for more information on the boxcar that seemed to have generated some interest out there.

This model is an eBay purchase and was lettered with decals. Compared to the new ExactRail HO model of this same car sure, the details are rather heavy. The sides (roof) and ends of the Graceline model are brass stock that has been pressed in a die. In the case of this model I can only say that the body is soldered together and is hollow, with pins connecting the sides to a wooden floor. The result is that the roof has caved in a bit as have the sides from the pressures of handling and storage over a period of some 70 years.

The builder left the frame off the car and instead used a flat piece of metal for weight. The car also picked up three significant Scale-Craft items. The ladders are the typical stamped S-C ladder stock first shipped out with their reefer kits, we have S-C couplers, and the trucks are also modified S-C trucks. I have worked at this point with a lot of S-C trucks and actually the wheelsets in this pair are Graceline wheelsets from a good batch, recognizable as the flange is heavier than S-C and also the tube on the split axle is larger. Also the bolster was modified with a larger screw hole and the builder added oil holes at the bottom of the sideframes, a nice touch I have seen before but not often.

(I also recently intentionally used some early Graceline wheelsets on S-C trucks as well, for the reasons they were on hand and also they have a slightly shorter axle than S-C, which helps with setting up some sets of sideframes/bolsters. And I think a lot of OO gaugers had these on hand back in the day because Graceline trucks were not so great in operation due to inconsistent quality of wheels and castings.)

So, yes, it is not super detail but contrary to the review this model has tons of character and is a great vintage item. Going back up to the top photo (click on it for a better view), the doors are actually just stamped into the brass stock! Everything you see on the sides except for the ladders is stamped into the sides and half roof. Great vintage character.

As to this car I think I will leave it as it is for now. Sometimes the cure is worse than the problem, and while it could be rebuilt totally and become a very striking model, it would be a very major project, not to be undertaken lightly as it would involve unsoldering the body among other things. Certainly a unique model to keep your eyes peeled for.

UPDATE: I now have another example, this one with the factory hand painted lettering. More here. (link fixed)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

1939, the Peak Year: Part V, Famoco, Graceline, and J-C

In the category of smaller makers who produced a good quantity of models in American OO, Famoco, Graceline, and J-C Models stand out. These lines were all either introduced or began to hit the market in 1939.

Going alphabetically, as reported earlier in this series Famoco was on the market by late 1938. In March of 1939 in the “Good News” column in The Model Craftsman they highlight the “Smooth Parts” of their new 0-4-0t locomotive as follows:
A built-up construction new to the model railroad field is employed on switching locomotive kits by the Famous Model Company. Instead of being castings, boiler, domes, and other parts are turned from solid brass, being accurately machined for easy assembly. The smooth finish of the brass eliminates the need for filing the surfaces, eliminating one of the usual operations in assembly. The locomotive is driven by a permanent magnet [DC] motor permitting remote control of reversing, and all parts are drilled, tapped, and otherwise finished for quick assembly.
There is a photo of the model with the review that is the same as the one published in 1938 (see here) and also the above photo on the cover of the March 1939 issue would appear to be of the same Famoco model. Note the outside third rail setup and the reefer cars. Then back later in the same issue is this ad which should have made people back then look and say wow! The roundhouse goat is mentioned but note the big photo of their OO GG-1, in the original version with the sand cast body. What a beautiful model! They also produced lines of freight and passenger cars, with their 1939 catalog listing every model they are known to have produced in OO gauge; for more on this line see Famoco 101.

New to OO in 1939 was Graceline. The first notice I see in print is in the March, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader, where in "Trade Topics" under the heading “Hand Painted OO Reefer Kits” we see this nice write up:
Graceline Model Railroads …, Minneapolis, Minn.: Metal underframe, complete hardware, detailed trucks and hand lettered sides. Two- or three-rail optional. A buy at the price. Send stamp for list.
These cars have been featured in American OO Today previously, see for example this article where you can see both sides of examples of their hand lettered sides and in this article a nice example of their Baby Ruth reefer. I have a number of these cars; I love the vintage look. Graceline was rolling out a full line of cars, and the next one they featured was their B&O wagon top boxcar, seen in this advertisement from the May, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader. It was also briefly reviewed, in "Trade Topics" in the same issue, as follows:
This B&O OO gauge freight car uses pressed metal sides and ends. From a distance the built up car looks good; closer inspection shows the pressed details rather lacking in character. The truck parts and underframe are cast of a lead base alloy in a permanent mold. Rivet detail heavy in spots and light in others.
Not the best of reviews to be sure. I have one of these cars, lettered with decals (it was also available unpainted), which I hope to rebuild at some point, and would tend to say the review was a bit harsh, it was really not a bad car. (UPDATE: For more on this model see this article).

Continuing through the year for Graceline in The Model Railroader, in June their new hand lettered depressed center flat was featured in their ad, in July they got a bad review of their new tie strip (ties “spaced wider than average and considerably more than scale”), in November they had the great ad below featuring their new caboose, and in December they featured their new automatic OO coupler. As always, click on any photo for a closer view.

Going back to the caboose, note that the ad for this “cleverest caboose kit ever offered in OO” highlights that the car literally "falls together" and is available “painted and lettered for your own road." I have two of these cabooses; seen in this prior article, with the factory, hand lettered sides. The hand lettered sides are a distinct feature of this line which also included a line of heavyweight passenger cars. Their 1939 ["our first"] catalog was reproduced in full in the January, 1988 issue of The OO Road and lists nearly their complete line so far is as known to have been produced; for more information on the full line see my Graceline 101 article.

Our other new and widely distributed line for American OO was J-C Models, first seen advertised in the March, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader and quickly followed by ads in Miniature Railroading and The Model Craftsman in their April issues. This first ad from The Model Railroader shows their new coach, and by mid-year advertising made it clear that their initial line included also a baggage car and a Pullman, all available in O and OO. Their OO line was later expanded to include a combine; more on J-C may be found in yet another 101 article.

At least nine [update, ten!] other firms were active and serving in the OO field in 1939, more from them when we return to the 1939 series.

Continue to Part VI of 1939 Series

Monday, November 14, 2011

Retro Modeling: Two Great Boxcars from One

The relatively late (post-war) Scale-Craft OO 50 foot single door boxcar was produced in enough quantity that a good number seem to be around today in kit form. Seen in the photos below is an example of one of these kits I built up from an incomplete kit (it lacked some wood part that I worked up from scratch) and two great boxcars built using some of the parts of this kit by Bill Gilbert.

First, take a look at the stock S-C car. It has two really big visual problems. First, we have those doors. S-C always used that door on every boxcar type they produced and it really is not very prototypical [UPDATE: or at least not very common for the era when first introduced, see the first two comments below]. It sort of passes but is too wide, especially so on the earlier style boxcar. Then look at the roof. Ugh! It is pretty terrible; pitch too high, strange stamped ribs, and also those tiny end walks.

What Bill Gilbert did was use the original S-C sides and frame to make one of the best OO double door boxcars I have ever seen. The roof he made up using Famoco/Eastern ribs. The ends are Selley parts and the doors Famoco/Eastern. This close up is of the ends and roof. His modifications helped this car a lot. With Schorr trucks and a good paint job this car really stands out. As always, click on any photo for a better view.

The other car is even more epic in relation to what he did. This is literally one of the best boxcars I own, and was also made by Bill Gilbert. It has the ends that were from a S-C stamped boxcar (perhaps the same car as the first car) but modified so that the pitch of the roof is correct. Those ends were mated with scratchbuilt Milwaukee Road horizontal rib sides, Famoco/Eastern roof ribs and doors, a frame in the same style as the S-C frame, and Schorr trucks.

This is a close up of the ends. That change of roof pitch makes a huge difference. I have got to think that buyers who saw the S-C 50 foot cars when they came out could not have liked that element either.

Finally, the last photo compares his built up frame to the frame of my stock S-C 50’ car. On it I aimed to modify it little from the original kit but I, as he, added some basic HO brake details. The stock detail shipped out with the car, a spun brass part similar to a K type brake cylinder, is far from accurate for any prototype.

They are not super-detail jobs in the style of models you see featured in the magazines but they are great retro models based on rearranged vintage parts combined with scratchbuilding. This does give me some ideas as to how to better use those late S-C car sides and ends. What he did, in terms of my layout anyway, is take a car that I am unlikely to run as it is so ugly (the S-C 50 foot boxcar) and turn parts into cars that I would love to run often.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

1939, the Peak Year: Part IV, Lionel

When you look at the 1938 Lionel catalog, in relation to OO you get the sense that they were scrambling a bit to get the line out. They used modified Scale-Craft cars in the photos instead of their own, and basically all of the 1938 offerings were different than what they offered in 1939.

1939 was the year that defined the Lionel OO line. Backing up a step, I always find it fascinating to look at their 1939 catalog. What is so striking to me is you have O-27 and Standard gauge trains that really look like toys and then you have the OO models which are real scale model trains in 1/76 scale. This photo in particular illustrates this well.

What was new?

The headline of the first page on Lionel OO gauge in the catalog pretty clearly spells out what was new: “Midget models that operate on 2-rail or 3-rail track.” The 1938 models were all three rail with a center third rail, which was out of step with the offerings of any other maker of the time. A center three rail model could be of course modified for outside third rail, but if you were operating in two rail you were out of luck. So the essential innovation for 1939 was offering the same models as before but decorated somewhat differently and in versions that were either “super-detailed” or “modified” (with some details left off) sold set up for two or for three rail.

This required modifications of the locomotive and a new line of two rail track. When I was working on my Hudson recently one tricky thing was setting up the power contacts to the trucks and also the truck mounting, both of which are a bit different than what I expected. When they designed this model it clearly was not with two rail operation in mind, but they worked out a way to make it work.

The track was a separate story, and has been covered in depth in an earlier article in American OO Today. But I would offer this photo from the 1939 catalog, which has this text: “This display is used by stores to exhibit Lionel ‘OO’ gauge trains. Track area is 50 by 86 inches. Outside oval is 2 rail track. Inside loop is 3-rail, extended with straight sections.”

Another item highlighted in the catalog, although not new, are the “Knee-action” trucks. These are of course a distinct feature seen on both Lionel and Scale-Craft trucks. This illustration is from the March, 1939 issue of The Model Craftsman, the same ad running also on the back cover of April issue of The Model Builder.

So what about the train sets?

These have also been covered previously in American OO Today. To quote from my earlier article,
Lionel expanded the line with two rail and super-detailed and modified cars and locomotives in 1939. There were eight different sets offered.

The most expensive of the new sets was the 0090W at a price of $42.25, the super-detailed two-rail outfit. For your money you got the 003 locomotive with 003W tender, 0044 box car, 0045 oil car, 0046 coal car, and 0047 caboose, eleven pieces of 0031 curved track and one piece of 0034 connection track (no straight track), and a whistling controller. The same outfit without the whistling tender sold for $37.50.

The original 0080 set was still available for $35 but the components changed. This was now listed as super-detailed and included cars that were “similar to” those in the 0090W set (car numbers not specified), eleven pieces of 0051 curved track, four 0052 straight track, and one 0054 connection track. The 0080W set was still $39.75, with the whistle in the tender. One major note, not mentioned in the catalog, is that the connector between the 001 locomotive and tender was modified compared to 1938 production and the cars are decorated differently.

The other four sets for 1939 included versions of the modified engine and only three cars. The cars listed with the 0092W set were the 0074 box car, 0075 oil tank car, and the 0077 caboose. The differences are pretty minor between the modified and scale versions, lacking only a few small details (no brake cylinder, modified valve gear, etc). The 0092W outfit included the 004 locomotive and 004W tender, the three cars, and track as in the 0090 set; the 0092 set was the same but lacked the whistling tender and controller. The 0082W set included the 002 locomotive and 002W tender, three “similar” cars, and track as in the 0080 set; the 0082 set was the same but lacked the whistling tender and controller. It was the cheapest version, selling for $27.50.
I would only add that the catalog notes that “Any Trainmaster Transformer can be used to operate ‘OO’ gauge trains. Type B will operate one train and an number of accessories. Type V will operate two trains simultaneously and numerous accessories.” This use of toy train transformers is another unique feature of the line and part of what contributes to their honorary toy train status today (along with the three-rail track and the Lionel brand).

Car kits??

Another new item were the car kits. Looking at it now, the price break between a kit and an assembled model intrigues me a great deal. Car kits for the box car, oil tank car, hopper car, and caboose listed for $2.75 while an assembled model listed at $3.00. It is only a 25 cent difference but also note: the comparable Scale-Craft kits listed at either $2.85 or $3.25 so either way they were priced to make OO gaugers of the time notice.

The kits themselves were pretty deluxe for the day and included paint and a paint brush in a neat display box. I don’t own an example of one of these kits and they are valuable collectables today to be sure. I can't imagine anyone building one of these up today either, they are too valuable and also make a great display item just as they are for the Lionel collector.

Magazine coverage

To close, Lionel did advertise the OO line some but it was spotty. The fist ad of the year related to the OO line in The Model Craftsman was in the March issue and is chock full of the breathless advertising copy of that day, highlighting the scale detail, draw-bar pull, and the Bettendorf trucks on the freight cars. [UPDATE: see this article for an example of their 1939 advertising.] The April issue of MC had this nice photo of testing OO models at the factory, and in July Louis Hertz reported on the new two-rail OO line. There were other mentions through the year in Model Craftsman, and in the December issue of The Model Railroader may be found another nice advertisement.

How sales went for the new line initially I don’t know, but certainly buyers who had started out with Scale-Craft two-rail models (introduced in 1937) were pleased to see the Lionel two-rail models out and on the market.

When we return there were a lot of other smaller companies entering the market, and these we will have to work through in this look at 1939.

UPDATE: See this bonus article for additional coverage of Lionel OO layouts in The Model Builder in 1939.

Continue to Part V of 1939 Series

Sunday, October 30, 2011

1939, the Peak Year: Part III, Scale-Craft

1939 was such a big year for the OO line of Scale-Models, Inc. of Chicago (marketed as Scale-Craft) that it is almost hard to know where to start. But as with previous article in this series, on Nason, their catalog is a good place to begin.

This catalog is the one I would call their 1939 catalog as, inside the cover, it states that it is copyright 1939. That said, based on other advertisements I am thinking this catalog came out at roughly mid-year and certainly later than the Nason catalog. And it is much more substantial, 75 pages in a magazine format covering their O and OO gauge products.

On page one the catalog opens with an editorial on “The Fascinating New Hobby.” 1939 was a time frame where our hobby was truly new. The editorial is unsigned but would seem to be by owner Elliott Donnelley, who wrote that
…over fifty thousand men have learned the secret of enjoying their spare time and adding to the pleasure of living. They have accomplished this through the medium of America’s fastest growing hobby – Model Railroading. They can now lay aside the cares and worries at the end of the day and enter another life in a world of their own making.
Right up at the front of the catalog it has a long section devoted to the hobby of model railroading and the choice between O and OO gauges. These two photos show the comparative sizes of the two scales and over a number of pages you can glean various notes on topics including--
  • Cost: “An average ‘OO’ gauge layout is about one-half the cost of an ‘O’ gauge.”
  • Tools: “…the ‘OO’ Scale-Craft locomotives and cars, for the most part, have been constructed in such a way that there is practically no drilling or soldering to do, and it really is a matter of assembly work and painting, which the exception of the refrigerator and stock cars, and one or two of the locomotives.”
  • Why OO: “Two years ago we selected the ‘OO’ gauge as our standard small gauge…. This selection was the result of intense study and experiment with trial systems built in the ‘HO’ and ‘OO’ gauges. We found that … the slight increase in size afforded by the ‘OO’ scale allowed us to use 7-pole armature motors three times more efficient than the best ‘HO’ motor….”
  • Who OO is for: “The ‘OO’ gauge equipment is ideal for the man with limited space and time.”
  • How long to assemble: “Our ‘OO’ gauge locomotives require from 15 to 20 hours for assembly…. [Car] kits require from 3 to 6 hours to assemble.”
  • Power pickup: “The 2-rail system has been perfected for the ‘OO’ gauge … all our kits and parts in this size are made for 2-rail operation.”
  • Minimum radius: 26”
The full OO line as of the date of the catalog included (in order featured in catalog)
The links above take you to more information on those models, most of which have been featured multiple times in American OO Today. Scale-Craft also had a newsletter, Blow-Smoke. It had two issues in 1939; this link will take you to notes on the first one and read on to the next issue from there. The fall issue has news on their new line of structure kits, which would tend to date the catalog as being in print prior to that date.

Finally, we turn to magazine coverage of Scale-Craft. Their advertising was inconsistent and may reflect on uncertainties of marketing and sales overall. My favorite ad from the year is this full page ad from the October, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader, and it brings up a few final items to note on the year for S-C.

The first thing is the 4-8-4, new for 1939, clearly out does anything that any other maker had out. It was a big, impressive model and as they note, at that time it was “…truly, the finest engine model ever built.” After describing the model pretty fully they note that the “New 12-volt AC motor is standard equipment along with two-rail insulation.” But when they note the price of $39.50 they also note that the kit is “complete for three or two-rail operation.” So they recognized the three rail market and also that their original 24 volt DC motor was a bit out of step with that market. But you could still get the DC motor in any model according to the catalog, for $2 extra.

In short though Scale-Craft was going strong and putting a lot of product out on the market including in particular five different locomotive models. When we return to this series on 1939 the topic will be the other big OO manufacturer, Lionel.

Continue to Part IV of the 1939 Series

Friday, October 28, 2011

Three Winther Heavyweights

As a model built by Howard Winther was featured in the previous article, and also I have been very much enjoying running heavyweight passenger cars lately, it seems a good time to feature two more models built by this OO pioneer.

First up we have this RPO. Not very many RPO models were commercially produced in OO gauge, and this does not appear to be one of them. When I first looked at this photo my guess was that Winther took what would have originally been OO scale baggage car sides (likely J-C or Graceline) and skillfully reworked them as RPO sides. On second look it is even more impressive work; the car is based on a Scale-Craft die cast baggage car! The trucks look like they are Graceline trucks, seen also in this article. No RPO baggage car of this type was ever commercially marketed in OO, and seeing it only makes me wish S-C had produced this model themselves. This is a great model that took much skill to pull off on the part of Winther.

This second car has a similar history I believe. It is a very nicely made coach (note the full interior). As on the RPO, the end closest to the camera looks to have been shortened. This time, based on the photo, I believe the car is based on J-C or perhaps the identical Famoco sides. The trucks are I believe Nason.

In both cases we have an oddity, such nicely built cars, nearly done, but never lettered for any road. Why? Were they late projects that were not quite completed? The RPO does not have couplers visible and may have never have seen layout service.

Our final car is this similar model, a shortened Pullman, with no trucks at all, seemingly part of the same passenger car project. I would again guess it to be based on J-C or Famoco sides and other parts. As always, click on any photo for a better view.

It would have been a handsome train but seems to have not been completed. OO has many little mysteries such as this. It keeps it interesting for sure for the few people active in the scale, and I always hope that some more readers out there will get the bug and get interested in working more with these great vintage models.

Monday, October 24, 2011

1939, the Peak Year: Part II, Nason

Continuing with 1939, while Nason was pretty invisible in The Model Railroader, showing up only in the advertisements of dealers, they were regular advertisers in The Model Craftsman and Miniature Railroading. Starting with Miniature Railroading, their advertisement in the January, 1939 issue trumpeted their new, 5th anniversary catalog. The text there modesty notes that they have the “Largest OO line available.” So to start we should take a brief look at that catalog.

The format of the catalog is 5.5 by 8.5 inches and the text opens as follows.
In compiling this Fifth Anniversary Edition Catalogue we take rightful pride in the rapid strides made in Model Railroading since our advent, as well as our own improvement. Interest, new confidence, and your continued patronage will forge the permanence of 00 gauge in its proper position in the Hobby of all Hobbies. Its position of “correctness in size, economy in cost, and the excellence in detail which 00 is capable of having” keep us forever alert to furnish a Quality job, for the average man’s pocketbook with the average space available for his system’s construction. Be sure to ask for our product by Name, and you will not be disappointed.
The line as 1939 began included (in the order listed in the catalog):
Most of these models have been featured at some point in American OO Today; check the links above for more information on these models.

Their advertising though the year in The Model Craftsman highlighted a number of new items in their line, often with full page advertisements.

For example in March they highlighted the new 00 easybilt (this was spelled a number of ways, depending on the year) track and switches. This was actually featured in the 1939 catalog as well. These were precision cut from “Nasonboard” with built-up switches available. The tie strip includes every 8th tie lengthened for an outside third rail. In April the news is they have lowered the prices of their freight car body kits to 75 cents and also that they had added the former Star-Continental 4-4-2 model to their line. In May the featured item is their Gas-Electric. By August the caboose kit is out as it is featured in the advertisement, and in November we get to another very new model, this “diesel electric locomotive,” seen in this first photo as presented in the advertisement.

For comparison, I have been waiting to post this photo of a very handsome Nason box cab diesel electric, this model having been built by the OO pioneer Howard Winther. It is interesting to compare it to the one featured in the full page ad in November (seen, again, in the first photo) as it is the "custom built" version of this model, “Completely painted and ready to place on your model rails for full time service. No construction is necessary.” As I noted in a longer article on this model, it is sort of an odd model in a way as while always marketed as a diesel, actually it is a model of a New Haven electric locomotive but built up without pantographs. Note in particular the slightly different roof details. The body of the model itself is “of the finest government bronze” and oh, the built up version was offered for only $48.00. “We pay postage.”

Nason was very New York in outlook and focused their line on that market. The line was to be on display at the National Model Show in New York and as also noted in that November ad they were proud to be “The oldest and most complete line of OO equipment in the country.” But they had some stiff competition. When this series returns the focus will be on Scale-Craft in 1939.

Continue to Part III of 1939 Series

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Two Modified Scale-Craft Passenger Cars for the Orient

Today we have two recently completed projects, this shorty Scale-Craft OO scale diner and a RPO-Baggage. Both were created by prior owners by modifying stock S-C equipment, and both needed at a minimum stripping and new paint/decals to be layout ready.

First, the diner; it is a fairly straightforward modification of their stock diner, with one end essentially just cut off. I reworked it a bit further but with the main goal being just a nice clean car to run on the layout.

The RPO-baggage is a bit more heavily modified. The basic model was originally a Gas Electric RPO-baggage. What the prior owner (in this case Pierre Bourassa) did essentially was use most of the existing sides but assemble the rest of the car from parts. The ends are for example Nason and I suspect the floor and roof to be J-C models parts. The main baggage doors are salvaged out of J-C sides.

Both caught my eye in the collection though to rebuild as the RPO-baggage would make the perfect trailer for either of my Gas-Electric cars and the shorty diner will operate well in passenger trains on my tight curves. As such, both cars will see good service on the layout in the coming years, and I have been enjoying running a long heavyweight passenger train this past week.

Friday, October 14, 2011

1939, the Peak Year: Part I, Statistics and a Movie

To open, we have a few cold, hard statistics. The below are actually copied from a post I found at trains.com, which summarize the relative popularity of HO and OO gauges in the surveys done by Model Railroader magazine. 1939 was the peak year in terms of their statistics, and was a great year in terms of OO gauge products as well.

1936 HO - 36%, OO - 2.1%
1937 HO - 33.9%, OO - 10.3%
1938 HO - 36.5, OO - 10.6%
1939 HO - 39.3%, OO - 16.9%
1940 HO - 46.3%, OO - 13.6%
1941 HO - 45.6%, OO - 14.8%
1942 HO - 53.5%, OO - 13.6%
1943 HO - 48.9%, OO - 12%
1944 - no poll
1945 - no poll
1946 - no poll
1947 HO - 54.9%, OO - 8.5%
1948 HO - 62%, OO - 6.5%
1949 HO - 69.3%, OO - 2.1%

OO was basically always a minority scale, but 1939 was a big year and they were almost 17% of the market, nothing to sneeze at. As I started with the survey in Model Railroader, the complete results for 1939 were published in their June issue. There are a variety of stats to mull over, but I would highlight these two:

  • 2 rail OO was more common than 3 rail. This would indicate that the new S-C line was really impacting the market as they were the firm that pushed the 2 rail market into the forefront.
  • The New York Central, Pennsylvania, and Southern Pacific were the three most popular prototype lines. Which was clearly reflected in the products of the day.

They also published quotes from the replies that they received. I would highlight this one, which was a common complaint of the day “Wish OO manufacturers would standardize on couplers and motors.”

As it was highlighted in the January issue of Model Railroader I would also like to highlight in this first part of the 1939 series a four reel movie. To quote MR,
The delights of model railroading as a hobby are well displayed in a four-reel 16 mm. motion picture, which has been completed by Lloyd Combs, an Oakland, Calif., professional motion picture photographer. The film is well arranged and cleverly photographed.

Object of the film is to sell the hobby to the uninitiated.
The reel that would be most fascinating to see would be reel one, which “is devoted to HO and OO gauges.” In the article however nine stills from the movie are included, which are spread out over this article. The caption for the stills reads:
The portion of reel one showing the construction of a complete OO gauge railroad from Scale-Craft kits was filmed over a period of several months. However, the various takes have been so cleverly spliced together and edited that the entire railroad project, from purchase of original kit to test runs before admiring family, seems to take but 15 minutes.
Note that the first photo shows a boxed Scale-Craft train set kit—perhaps the Holy Grail of all OO collecting—and the blueprint version of the instructions. I have never seen these printed as blueprints, but if you have them in this form they must be very early production. It must have been quite the family project!

As always, click on any photo for a better view. When I return to this series it will proceed initially from manufacturer to manufacturer, starting in with Nason. There is a lot of ground to cover, so this will take a while. The peak year!

Continue to Part II of 1939 Series