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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Another Truck of Mystery

From time to time I post articles on items that I can’t identify. Some I have later identified, but others have remained a mystery. Those interest me particularly as for sure someone did know what they were at some point in the past, but that knowledge is lost or hidden at least now.

While the nice arch bar trucks featured recently are still not identified, they contrast a lot with this truck, of which I only have one example. It was with some Nason trucks in a lot but these are certainly not Nason. The basic casting itself is rough and heavy to such an extent that it could be somebody’s shop project. But then again it certainly looks like it could easily date to the earliest days of American OO and be a commercial product.

The second view reveals the very heavy cross section of the truck and also the odd bolster. Note the upward extensions.

The wheelsets with it may or may not be original but I suspect are not. Putting the truck down on the track it is pretty quickly evident that this truck is at present not very usable. The wheelsets are terrible and the axle holes are not all in the same location.

The overall effect though, holding his in my hand, is in terms of OO it looks almost prehistoric, from a time before Nason. I think that comes across in the photos as well. Anyone have more of these relics?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Graceline OO Scale B&O Wagon Top Boxcar

Last weekend in part V of the 1939 series one model featured was the new Graceline B&O wagon top boxcar. As noted there in the original advertisement, it was available with hand painted sides and was reviewed briefly in the May, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader, 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.
This past week that article has received by far more hits in one week than anything I have ever posted related to American OO. Traffic source number 1 seems to have been a Yahoo Baltimore & Ohio group, followed also by a Yahoo vintage HO group. So to the readers of both, welcome to American OO and thank you for the links! And now for more information on the boxcar that seemed to have generated some interest out there.

This model is an eBay purchase and was lettered with decals. Compared to the new ExactRail HO model of this same car sure, the details are rather heavy. The sides (roof) and ends of the Graceline model are brass stock that has been pressed in a die. In the case of this model I can only say that the body is soldered together and is hollow, with pins connecting the sides to a wooden floor. The result is that the roof has caved in a bit as have the sides from the pressures of handling and storage over a period of some 70 years.

The builder left the frame off the car and instead used a flat piece of metal for weight. The car also picked up three significant Scale-Craft items. The ladders are the typical stamped S-C ladder stock first shipped out with their reefer kits, we have S-C couplers, and the trucks are also modified S-C trucks. I have worked at this point with a lot of S-C trucks and actually the wheelsets in this pair are Graceline wheelsets from a good batch, recognizable as the flange is heavier than S-C and also the tube on the split axle is larger. Also the bolster was modified with a larger screw hole and the builder added oil holes at the bottom of the sideframes, a nice touch I have seen before but not often.

(I also recently intentionally used some early Graceline wheelsets on S-C trucks as well, for the reasons they were on hand and also they have a slightly shorter axle than S-C, which helps with setting up some sets of sideframes/bolsters. And I think a lot of OO gaugers had these on hand back in the day because Graceline trucks were not so great in operation due to inconsistent quality of wheels and castings.)

So, yes, it is not super detail but contrary to the review this model has tons of character and is a great vintage item. Going back up to the top photo (click on it for a better view), the doors are actually just stamped into the brass stock! Everything you see on the sides except for the ladders is stamped into the sides and half roof. Great vintage character.

As to this car I think I will leave it as it is for now. Sometimes the cure is worse than the problem, and while it could be rebuilt totally and become a very striking model, it would be a very major project, not to be undertaken lightly as it would involve unsoldering the body among other things. Certainly a unique model to keep your eyes peeled for.

UPDATE: I now have another example, this one with the factory hand painted lettering. More here. (link fixed)

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

Retro Modeling: Two Great Boxcars from One

The relatively late (post-war) Scale-Craft OO 50 foot single door boxcar was produced in enough quantity that a good number seem to be around today in kit form. Seen in the photos below is an example of one of these kits I built up from an incomplete kit (it lacked some wood part that I worked up from scratch) and two great boxcars built using some of the parts of this kit by Bill Gilbert.

First, take a look at the stock S-C car. It has two really big visual problems. First, we have those doors. S-C always used that door on every boxcar type they produced and it really is not very prototypical [UPDATE: or at least not very common for the era when first introduced, see the first two comments below]. It sort of passes but is too wide, especially so on the earlier style boxcar. Then look at the roof. Ugh! It is pretty terrible; pitch too high, strange stamped ribs, and also those tiny end walks.

What Bill Gilbert did was use the original S-C sides and frame to make one of the best OO double door boxcars I have ever seen. The roof he made up using Famoco/Eastern ribs. The ends are Selley parts and the doors Famoco/Eastern. This close up is of the ends and roof. His modifications helped this car a lot. With Schorr trucks and a good paint job this car really stands out. As always, click on any photo for a better view.

The other car is even more epic in relation to what he did. This is literally one of the best boxcars I own, and was also made by Bill Gilbert. It has the ends that were from a S-C stamped boxcar (perhaps the same car as the first car) but modified so that the pitch of the roof is correct. Those ends were mated with scratchbuilt Milwaukee Road horizontal rib sides, Famoco/Eastern roof ribs and doors, a frame in the same style as the S-C frame, and Schorr trucks.

This is a close up of the ends. That change of roof pitch makes a huge difference. I have got to think that buyers who saw the S-C 50 foot cars when they came out could not have liked that element either.

Finally, the last photo compares his built up frame to the frame of my stock S-C 50’ car. On it I aimed to modify it little from the original kit but I, as he, added some basic HO brake details. The stock detail shipped out with the car, a spun brass part similar to a K type brake cylinder, is far from accurate for any prototype.

They are not super-detail jobs in the style of models you see featured in the magazines but they are great retro models based on rearranged vintage parts combined with scratchbuilding. This does give me some ideas as to how to better use those late S-C car sides and ends. What he did, in terms of my layout anyway, is take a car that I am unlikely to run as it is so ugly (the S-C 50 foot boxcar) and turn parts into cars that I would love to run often.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

1939, the Peak Year: Part IV, Lionel

When you look at the 1938 Lionel catalog, in relation to OO you get the sense that they were scrambling a bit to get the line out. They used modified Scale-Craft cars in the photos instead of their own, and basically all of the 1938 offerings were different than what they offered in 1939.

1939 was the year that defined the Lionel OO line. Backing up a step, I always find it fascinating to look at their 1939 catalog. What is so striking to me is you have O-27 and Standard gauge trains that really look like toys and then you have the OO models which are real scale model trains in 1/76 scale. This photo in particular illustrates this well.

What was new?

The headline of the first page on Lionel OO gauge in the catalog pretty clearly spells out what was new: “Midget models that operate on 2-rail or 3-rail track.” The 1938 models were all three rail with a center third rail, which was out of step with the offerings of any other maker of the time. A center three rail model could be of course modified for outside third rail, but if you were operating in two rail you were out of luck. So the essential innovation for 1939 was offering the same models as before but decorated somewhat differently and in versions that were either “super-detailed” or “modified” (with some details left off) sold set up for two or for three rail.

This required modifications of the locomotive and a new line of two rail track. When I was working on my Hudson recently one tricky thing was setting up the power contacts to the trucks and also the truck mounting, both of which are a bit different than what I expected. When they designed this model it clearly was not with two rail operation in mind, but they worked out a way to make it work.

The track was a separate story, and has been covered in depth in an earlier article in American OO Today. But I would offer this photo from the 1939 catalog, which has this text: “This display is used by stores to exhibit Lionel ‘OO’ gauge trains. Track area is 50 by 86 inches. Outside oval is 2 rail track. Inside loop is 3-rail, extended with straight sections.”

Another item highlighted in the catalog, although not new, are the “Knee-action” trucks. These are of course a distinct feature seen on both Lionel and Scale-Craft trucks. This illustration is from the March, 1939 issue of The Model Craftsman, the same ad running also on the back cover of April issue of The Model Builder.

So what about the train sets?

These have also been covered previously in American OO Today. To quote from my earlier article,
Lionel expanded the line with two rail and super-detailed and modified cars and locomotives in 1939. There were eight different sets offered.

The most expensive of the new sets was the 0090W at a price of $42.25, the super-detailed two-rail outfit. For your money you got the 003 locomotive with 003W tender, 0044 box car, 0045 oil car, 0046 coal car, and 0047 caboose, eleven pieces of 0031 curved track and one piece of 0034 connection track (no straight track), and a whistling controller. The same outfit without the whistling tender sold for $37.50.

The original 0080 set was still available for $35 but the components changed. This was now listed as super-detailed and included cars that were “similar to” those in the 0090W set (car numbers not specified), eleven pieces of 0051 curved track, four 0052 straight track, and one 0054 connection track. The 0080W set was still $39.75, with the whistle in the tender. One major note, not mentioned in the catalog, is that the connector between the 001 locomotive and tender was modified compared to 1938 production and the cars are decorated differently.

The other four sets for 1939 included versions of the modified engine and only three cars. The cars listed with the 0092W set were the 0074 box car, 0075 oil tank car, and the 0077 caboose. The differences are pretty minor between the modified and scale versions, lacking only a few small details (no brake cylinder, modified valve gear, etc). The 0092W outfit included the 004 locomotive and 004W tender, the three cars, and track as in the 0090 set; the 0092 set was the same but lacked the whistling tender and controller. The 0082W set included the 002 locomotive and 002W tender, three “similar” cars, and track as in the 0080 set; the 0082 set was the same but lacked the whistling tender and controller. It was the cheapest version, selling for $27.50.
I would only add that the catalog notes that “Any Trainmaster Transformer can be used to operate ‘OO’ gauge trains. Type B will operate one train and an number of accessories. Type V will operate two trains simultaneously and numerous accessories.” This use of toy train transformers is another unique feature of the line and part of what contributes to their honorary toy train status today (along with the three-rail track and the Lionel brand).

Car kits??

Another new item were the car kits. Looking at it now, the price break between a kit and an assembled model intrigues me a great deal. Car kits for the box car, oil tank car, hopper car, and caboose listed for $2.75 while an assembled model listed at $3.00. It is only a 25 cent difference but also note: the comparable Scale-Craft kits listed at either $2.85 or $3.25 so either way they were priced to make OO gaugers of the time notice.

The kits themselves were pretty deluxe for the day and included paint and a paint brush in a neat display box. I don’t own an example of one of these kits and they are valuable collectables today to be sure. I can't imagine anyone building one of these up today either, they are too valuable and also make a great display item just as they are for the Lionel collector.

Magazine coverage

To close, Lionel did advertise the OO line some but it was spotty. The fist ad of the year related to the OO line in The Model Craftsman was in the March issue and is chock full of the breathless advertising copy of that day, highlighting the scale detail, draw-bar pull, and the Bettendorf trucks on the freight cars. [UPDATE: see this article for an example of their 1939 advertising.] The April issue of MC had this nice photo of testing OO models at the factory, and in July Louis Hertz reported on the new two-rail OO line. There were other mentions through the year in Model Craftsman, and in the December issue of The Model Railroader may be found another nice advertisement.

How sales went for the new line initially I don’t know, but certainly buyers who had started out with Scale-Craft two-rail models (introduced in 1937) were pleased to see the Lionel two-rail models out and on the market.

When we return there were a lot of other smaller companies entering the market, and these we will have to work through in this look at 1939.

UPDATE: See this bonus article for additional coverage of Lionel OO layouts in The Model Builder in 1939.

Continue to Part V of 1939 Series