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

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Retro-Modeling in American OO

A reader of American OO Today, Brian Olson, wrote in with a note that he had seen in a recent issue of Garden Railways a term used, “retro-modeling,” and that it fit in exactly with what we are doing in OO. Looking over in their website (you have to be logged into Trains.com to read it) I found an article on “Old model-railroad books” by Marc Horovitz from Garden Railways where he uses the term as follows in relation to one of the books in his list (a very interesting list I might add, I have a couple of these books and will keep my eyes peeled for more of them).
Davis, Barton K., How to Build Model Railroads and Equipment, Crown Publishers, 1956

This excellent book takes you through the construction of a variety of different projects. The techniques shown can be applied to any scale. This book’s a treasure trove for retro-modeler’s.
Digging around online I see the term used in relation to work on model cars and model airplanes. There it seems to relate mostly to using vintage items (old stock) and/or vintage techniques to build scale models in the style of the period the item might have been built.

That ends up sounding a lot like what I am doing in OO. There is a visual side to vintage models that it is hard to put a finger on exactly but it is part of the appeal of American OO. To be sure I throw in modern materials and techniques as needed, I want smooth operation, but I am not looking to upgrade things much beyond the level that a skilled individual could have nicely built up a model back in the day. It is certainly not fine-scale work; I am fairly content with a good representation of a model.

Complete vintage items that are in good shape I will only rarely touch but for minor restoration. However, rebuilding old kit built models so that they look sharp and new is as readers know by now very interesting to me and gets at the concept of retro-modeling. The photo above shows a few examples of Scale-Craft cars that I have brought through the shops from junker to sharp but with only minor updating to their vintage look. The reefer and hopper I rebuilt years ago and the stock car and box car more recently. All were stripped with new decals added as were modern brake details, but they are unmistakably vintage items, rebuilt to look clean and operate well.

For years I have known what I do but at the same time it always is hard to explain to others outside the OO community. It is a little bit like Hi-Rail but not really as there is no toy-train basis to what I do. I am sort of a collector but not a pure collector; I like exploring the history of OO a lot but I also very much like rebuilding old models (these days quite often junkers or old unfinished projects) to fit the theme of my layout, with the idea of running them realistically. My main goal is a functioning model railroad in 1/76, so while I do use vintage items such as these I also have models made with modern techniques and materials that I enjoy as well.

Another way to say it is I like Lionel OO but have no big collecting desire to own every variation of their production or the budget to achieve that goal. I am much more interested in the bigger picture of all the OO lines. Some items I have were purchased or have been kept purely from a collector standpoint but the ones that excite me the most fit into the theme of my operations.

Back last year I had a photo from a reader of a Scale-Craft Pullman Observation he had build up fresh from a kit. This also certainly gets at what retro-modeling is where he wrote,
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.
Expect to see the term retro-modeling crop up in this site more often. I used to think that people who came to Lionel OO from the collecting side were the future of American OO but now I am not so sure. I think the future of American OO may actually more along the lines of retro-modeling. In the big picture of things American OO is at present very affordable, there is always something on eBay, and what could be more retro than working in a model railroad scale that has more or less been out of production since the mid-1950s?

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