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

Sunday, September 25, 2011

OO in 1938, more than Lionel: Part V, A Story Involving Lawyers and Other Problems in American OO

I wrote with Ed Morlok a pair of articles on the history of American OO that were published in the October, 1986 and April, 1987 issues of the Train Collector’s Quarterly. In writing the series I had a lot of the same sources as Ed, but he had more. In particular there is a point where our article and others like it talk about the launch of the Lionel OO line and Scale-Craft. The underlying source that is cited is volume 3 of Lionel: A Collector’s Guide and History by McComas and Tuohy; Ed had a copy of this book and I finally broke down and purchased one of my own after writing part III of this present series.

This particular volume is on standard gauge but with sections on OO and HO that are well worth reading. McComas and Tuohy were not OO gaugers and the OO chapter frankly opens roughly, placing Nason in Philadelphia (it was in the New York City area), misspelling Famoco as “Famco,” and listing two lines that were not OO manufacturers at all (Star Lines and Amity). But after that we come to some great information, as obviously McComas and Tuohy had contacted Scale-Craft founder Elliott Donnelley directly and he had responded with some great, first hand information on the launch of his OO line and the Lionel OO line.

Donnelley states that he went into OO instead of HO because he found “a good motor on the market that fit nicely into my OO models” and he could not find a good motor that was small enough to use in HO. As to Lionel OO and a story that involves lawyers, McComas and Tuohy report it as follows.
…Donnelley always maintained that Lionel’s first cars were, as they say in the design business, “knock-offs.” Donnelley said Lionel merely assembled some of Scalecraft’s models, put Lionel decals on them, and offered them as samples to stores while they were having dies made of Scalecraft parts.

“Lionel’s freight cars were the same as mine,” Donnelley said a short time before his death in 1976. “As a matter of fact, the first samples they sent out were actually my cars.

“I happened to be walking down Fifth Avenue in New York and I looked into F.A.O. Schwartz’s window and they had a big display of Lionel OO gauge. I went in to see the buyer whom I had been trying to sell for a long time and he started to tell me what a wonderful line Lionel had.

“I said, ‘That’s fine, but those are all my cars in the window.’

“He said, ‘What do you mean your cars? Those are Lionel’s.’

“I said, ‘Come on with me.’

“So he came down with me to the window and I took the cars out and every car said ‘Scale-craft’ on the bottom. Lionel couldn’t get their line out for Christmas, so they used mine as samples to sell from and then made their cars almost exactly like mine.

“I had the patent on the miniature truck suspensions that I was using on my OO freight cars. Lionel not only copied the suspension but copied the cars. And they did it without my permission, so my lawyers contacted Lionel and told them about the infringement.

“From that time on Lionel paid me a royalty.”
Wow! What a scene. So, the “1938” Lionel models were not out on the market until early 1939 and his point about Lionel using Scale-Craft cars in their display is only confirmed by what I reported in part III -- that the OO freight cars illustrated in the Lionel 1938 catalog are in fact all Scale-Craft models decorated as Lionel Lines. In this article I have included views of the catalog photo of the box car, the Scale-Craft version here (early, with the trucks further in from the ends) and finally the Lionel version. It is pretty easy to see that the Scale-Craft car matches the one in the catalog photo; compare the rivet patterns, number of side panels, the ends, truck shape, etc. I believe the car in the Lionel catalog was shortened slightly, the bottom of the side casting being removed. The side ladder is a replacement and the roof walk was modified as well, but the end ladder visible in the catalog was not modified and matches the S-C car.

Also I would note that the track in the Lionel catalog is certainly not the production version of their track. In my photos here the S-C car is on S-C track and the Lionel car on Lionel track for comparison.

Other problems in OO are more mundane with no lawyers involved but as significant. I have already quoted Louis Hertz in his column in Model Craftsman for October, 1938 as stating that “HO is many times more popular than OO.” Besides popularity itself, one issue all makers had to sort out was that of track standards. MC for April of 1938 has notes on a meeting where S-C and Nason were present and wheel standards were set. Lionel went their own way with what we would think of as toy train flange and track standards, while modern NMRA standards are fairly close to what Scale-Craft was using back then. I hardly have any Lionel track--no curves or turnouts--but I have always wondered how well Scale-Craft models actually track on Lionel track, especially their turnouts. Thoughts from readers? I would suspect from my experiences as an operator using modern standards that Nason would be very touchy on Lionel track as Nason is touchy on my track. And of course the NMRA set a standard of 3’ for radius for OO but S-C and Lionel broke that right away.

A letter to the editor from a dentist in Cleveland, published in The Model Craftsman in August of 1938, presents an overview of the problem pretty clearly for the OO gauger of the time. (And it is a bit of a fun quiz of American OO knowledge to follow which lines are being referred to).
This is no complaint of your magazine, but it is a complaint to manufacturers. After assembling various kits in O gauge and discovering that I have no space large enough to make a real track layout, I switched to OO gauge. I had completed an engine and some cars from a Mt. Vernon, N. Y., manufacturer, then I saw cars made in Chicago that looked good. When these arrived, the couplers were all wrong as to size and height above the rail. Then an engine from Brooklyn, N. Y. was ordered, and the couplers here were different from the other two.

Now I notice that the Chicago concern is making locomotives, but these have a D. C. motor using 24 volts and two rails. My engines operate either on A. C. or D. C. but with a maximum of 12 volts. It would be impossible for me to use such an engine and how do I know another motor will fit in?

Today I see from MODEL CRAFTSMAN that a tinplate manufacturer has a new OO-gauge engine and I’ll bet his standards for couplers, motors, and voltages are different from the rest.

What good is the Association of Model Railroad Manufacturers if they agree on the height, width and spacing of rail only? Why cannot the makers of OO gauge get together on the couplers and operating voltages? It would be for their own good, for as it is now, a purchaser can use the equipment of only one concern unless he redesigns all the parts himself.
Indeed. There is another letter in the November, 1938 issue of MC that complains about the lack of passenger cars in OO. That problem would be addressed soon enough, but clearly HO already had the edge for variety and price and there were some things to sort out in the OO market.

1939 is next; be watching for a new series on American OO gauge in 1939 to start in a month or so.

Return to beginning of 1938 series.
Continue to the 1939 series.

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