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

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

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