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

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

American OO for 1940: Part II, Scale-Craft, Lionel, and Reality

By 1939 Scale-Craft and Lionel had established themselves as leaders among makers of American OO model trains. Both had a number of new items in their line in 1939. But to cut to the chase, the underlying feeling I have is that 1940 was a reality check for both companies.

Let’s start with Lionel. Lionel was anxious to get in on this “scale model train” market and had scrambled to get their line out fully over the course of 1938-39. By 1940 they must have already known they made the wrong choice of gauge; OO could not have been selling well. They put a brave face on it all, of course, as they had an investment to recoup. For example in their magazine The Model Builder an article may be found in the February, 1940 issue on the topic of how to start a model railroad (read it online here), and in that article they only mention O and OO gauges as options. The cover of this issue also features this great image, featuring a number of their OO models that were 1938 only (full image here). So while they could write HO out of existence in their magazine, reality was a bit different; HO was coming in big by 1940.

Turning to other magazines, Lionel OO was pretty invisible with very little to be found outside of their own publications, but I would highlight this photo of screen and singing star Felix Knight with a Lionel OO display layout (I am very doubtful it was really his layout, unless he owned a Lionel display layout) from the June issue of The Model Craftsman. Those following this series will note it is the same display layout we have already seen and featured here, and it would not surprise me at all if it were a stock image taken the previous year, as the layout does not have the standard 2-rail track but a stand in.

Their 1940 catalog I describe briefly in my article on vintage American OO train sets. There I note that
in the 1940 catalog Lionel clarified the kit contents further. On the two rail side of things the 0090 super-detailed sets included the 0044 box car, 0045 oil car, 0046 hopper, and 0047 caboose and the modified sets included the 0074 box car, 0075 oil tank car, and the 0077 caboose. For three rail the 0080 super detailed sets included the 0014 box car, 0015 oil car, 0016 hopper car, and 0017 caboose and the modified 0082 sets included the 0024 box car, 0025 oil tank car, and 0027 caboose. All of the above sets were still available with the W [whistle] option.
The line is illustrated very well. For me the most interesting catalog image is this display layout with a father and son. It is the same layout seen before, but now has been updated with the production two-rail track. Compare to the photo with the singer earlier in this article; the singer is in the same general location as the son but with the photo taken from the other side of the layout, with the non-standard 2 rail track clearly visible. Note also the 1938 hopper near the son, oops, that was no longer available. As always, click on the photos for a closer view.

Turning to Scale-Craft (officially known then as Scale Models, Inc.), they focused their marketing on their catalog and the Blow-Smoke newsletter, with very little other advertising to be found. And actually they only got out one issue of Blow-Smoke, which may reflect on sales being a bit slow. The catalog is pretty impressive (over 75 pages!) but substantially based on the 1939 catalog. One “bad news” item was that the 4-6-2 model was discontinued, but they noted that “For those who are building this locomotive, we are continuing to carry Sections 2 and 3.” But on the side of “good news,” while Lionel had no new OO gauge items at all for 1940, S-C had three new cars in their catalog, the Pullman Sleeper, the Observation, and the Diner. These all sold for $6.25 each and are described further in this article. This illustration of the Observation and Diner is from the 1940 catalog.

My sense with S-C is also that even though they thought OO was a great scale they had to know that OO was not selling that well. But they were heavily invested in the scale and would stick with it. And maybe they had shot too high across the board with their O and OO lines, reflected by their move to a lower rent area. To quote how it was presented in the October issue of The Model Craftsman, "Elliott Donnelley of Scale Models announces that the firm is now located at Libertyville, Ill. Scale Models has been at 1516. S. Wabash Ave., Chicago."

To close I would like to feature one more cover image from The Model Builder, this time from the October, 1940 issue. It seems like Lionel was still working through their stock photos taken of the 1938 OO line (I now feel very familiar with that display layout!) and that they still hoped the youth of America would embrace the great scale of American OO. Full image here.

For sure also there were some enthusiasts out there that had been bitten by the OO bug; when we return to the 1940 series the topic will be other makers active in the OO market.

(Article updated)

Continue in 1940 Series

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