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

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

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