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

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