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

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What Happened to the Great OO Layouts?

One question that comes up from time to time is what happened, ultimately, to some of the great American OO layouts built in the past, particularly ones featured in the model railroad press. With learning of the passing of Pierre Bourassa I updated an older article in this site, which focused on two great photos of his layout that he worked on actively from 1948-2001. It was featured in the March, 1956 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman (an issue well worth tracking down--the cover photo is of another OO great layout, that of Newton Guerin), and the layout itself was purchased and moved to Pittsburgh, where so far as I know it remains in storage to this day.

Other layouts, the story is not so clear. I was recently sent a small group of vintage OO letters by an eBay seller (thank you!) which open a window on a couple layouts. All the letters to varying degrees touch on the topic of what will happen to their trains or what happened to the trains of others. Pierre spent years breaking up what he had and tried his best to get his models in the hands of people who would still work with them. Others clearly hung on to what they had a bit too long. This quote from a 1980 letter from Temple Nieter is pretty clear to those points when he writes,
There is an OOdtimer near Cleveland who has a lot of OO and a lot of partially-built stock. He won’t part with it, despite my urging; his eyes and body are not equal to doing any work on or with it, so I hoped he would help the active men with it, but no. That goes with the widow of a nearby friend, whom you may recall, Sidney Wells, artist, ad-man, executive. She wouldn’t hear of him trading with me or selling, so now she is hanging onto the stuff for grandchildren or veterans’ hospital plans, where the material will just be lost because it isn’t HO and won’t be understood. Sad way for some rather good OO to lie fallow or worse. 

The Birmingham and Glencoe layout of Sid Wells won the OO division of the Model Craftsman layout contest in 1941 and was depicted as well in Scale-Craft publications (see this article for another view). In working toward the 1942 series for American OO Today I also found these two great photos of his layout published in MC in February, 1942. The caption with these reads in full,
The two photos on the two following pages depict colorful and realistic spots along the OO pike of Mr. Sid Wells of Glencoe, Illinois. The old-time locomotive is surrounded with equally ancient devices for realism. The other photo shows a high wooden trestle along a mountainous section of the high iron. Both pictures emphasize the life-like possibilities of miniature railroading. Mr. Wells’ pike, incidentally, was awarded first prize in the OO division of last year’s MC Layout Contest. Have you sent in your entry for the current competition?

Back to the letter from Temple Nieter, I have mentioned this various places in this website but he was the person who most encouraged me getting into OO and had a feature article in volume 1, no. 2 of The Model Railroader in 1934. I believe most of his equipment is out there somewhere today, and also I feel sure some of it passed through the Morlok auction, as did some from Pierre. Clearly equipment from other big layouts such as the Norfolk and Ohio have passed through eBay as well, models from the Greenbrook seem to have scattered widely, and the Moale trolleys survive. And we have featured many great models from the layout of Howard Winther and many models from Fred Schorr are out there today. As to Sid Wells, I hope his equipment fared OK too, but perhaps as Nieter implies it may have met a less ideal fate, and nothing from the layout of Red Adams seems to have surfaced either. Hopefully at least this website is helping some heirs out there get a handle on what they have, so that they might more easily get their old stored American OO trains into the hands of people actively interested in these classic models.

1 comment:

Wonderboy said...

Do you have any further information on the layout in Pittsburgh?