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

Thursday, December 20, 2012

American OO on Hold in1944: Part IV, Making Big Plans at Scale-Craft

To close this look at 1944 I would like to focus in one final article which gives quite a window into wartime operations in the hobby industry.  The article is “What’s Cookin’,” which ran in the April, 1944 issue of The Model Railroader. The topic overall is “What Manufacturers are Doing to be Ready for Business after Victory,” and “Boomer Pete” visited with several manufacturers for it including Gordon Varney, Rollin Logaugh, M. Dale Newton, Bill Walthers, Megow, and Mantua Metal Products. But the article opens with one of our favorite manufacturers, Scale-Craft.  The photos below are from the Scale-Craft 1941-42 catalog (with yet more views here), and the text of this portion of the Boomer Pete article is too interesting to not quote in full.
The model railroad manufacturer is the forgotten man these days. Without much of anything to sell he has receded some from the model fan’s horizon – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t plenty busy. I’ve visited some of the manufacturers from time to time and their present activities, while very different, are every bit as interesting as what went on before the war.
I went to Libertyville, Ill., on the North Shore one sunny afternoon, and walked across the east edge of town to Scale-Craft & Co., located in a medium-sized brick building which, along with several other industrial plants, backs up against the Milwaukee Road tracks. Probably 50 automobiles were parked outside and the place was obviously humming with activity. When I came in I was greeted with that now-familiar request in war plants, “Fill out this information slip, please, and I’ll give you a badge.”
Tall, dark Elliott Donnelley, boss of Scale-Craft for the last eight or nine years, invited me into his pleasant corner office, decorated with framed originals of old-time railroad lithographs.  (Donnelley, incidentally, has one of the finest collections of these in the country.) Several OO gauge model locomotives decorated the window sills. After getting my hat and coat off I was invited to take a look at the plant, and then the fun started. Donnelley asked the phone girl to ring for the “gestapo,” the local nickname assigned to the county deputies who guard the plant. When the officer arrived from his guardhouse at the back entrance, there was a long conversation about whether or not I should be allowed into the sacred precincts. It ended with Donnelley loudly expostulating, “Who’s running this place, anyway?” [Donnelley is to the left in the 1941 photo, K. M. Boyd on the right.]
Out we went through rows of assorted machinery – milling machines, turret lathes, screw machines, engine lathes, grinders, drill presses – to the steep stairs which lead to the mezzanine floor above the tool room in the rear of the plant. That mezzanine has always been the headquarters of the model railroad engineering department. And it still is, I’m happy to say. An experimental OO motor of new design was just being finished and lots of new designs of all kinds were on the drafting board. Scale-craft is really enthusiastic about what it will be able to produce after the war, with all the equipment and production lessons which can be learned in doing more or less special jobs of unusually difficult specifications. 
Motioning me out over the crowded machine floor and cautioning me to look at the machinery and not at the blond in the yellow sweater, K. M. Boyd, advertising manager, said, “Using this right, we can supply model railroad materials for every fan in the United States, and intend to have products that they’ll all want.”
How those goals will play out over the next few years will be seen. Scale-Craft advertised steadily, the ad here being from the same April issue of The Model Railroader, and clearly they had big plans for the OO line.

Looking ahead, 1945 looks to be a pivotal one for OO scale and model railroading in general. The Germans surrendered in May and the Japanese in August. People were ready, really ready, to move on from the war and the hobby market would boom. Be watching for the series to continue in another month or so.

Return to the Beginning of the 1944 Series

Continue to 1945 Series

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