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

Friday, March 30, 2012

New Article on American OO in the Quarterly

Yes, it is true! In the April, 2012 issue of the Train Collectors Quarterly I have an article, titled “Stand-Ins: Scale-Craft 00 Models in the 1938 Lionel Catalog.” My copies came yesterday. I have not had a new article in a print journal for a few years and I must admit it was exciting to see. While I see a few mostly minor typos, overall I am extremely pleased with how it looks.

Regular readers of American OO Today will see that the article is probably 75% drawn on materials posted in this website. I had wanted to submit an article to the TCA for some time but felt I needed a strong topic and did not have one for a long time. Then, working on the 1938 series last year, I realized that it had never been noted (and I had never before noticed) that the freight cars in the 1938 Lionel catalog are all modified Scale-Craft cars, as outlined first in this article. Not only is it a great story to tell but also it gave me a great opening to present accurately the bigger picture of the launch of the Lionel OO line and early Nason and Scale-Craft products.

I will be very curious to see what response this generates as, in relation especially to the TCA, there are undoubtedly a lot of collectors who have OO packed away in boxes not too sure what it is. Hopefully, this article will peak their interest a bit in getting those boxes out again either to work with them or put them out for sale. If you are one of those readers just discovering American OO, welcome to our world! This is the most comprehensive source ever assembled on the topic and I hope to keep making it better.

I welcome reader thoughts as well as to directions for a follow up article. And, as I have mentioned elsewhere, it would be nice is some maker noticed the high prices that Lionel OO track can command in usable condition and start making some OO. It is a niche market but still I am inclined to think money could be made.

To close, what is interesting to me is that I would perhaps not even have noticed the underlying use of S-C cars in the 1938 Lionel catalog except for working on my ongoing series of articles on OO history by the year, which has taken things to a new level for me. As soon as I have a chunk of time I will finish up the 1940 series and start reading and reviewing my notes on 1941. And again, a note of thanks to regular readers of American OO Today, I appreciate your support.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

American OO for 1940: Part III, Smaller Manufacturers

Continuing this look at American OO in 1940, more than a dozen other manufacturers were active in the OO market in 1940.

Alphabetically we would start with E. H. Bessey. A brand new line to the OO market and produced in California, the line is described fully in this previous article. The line was rolled out with advertisements to be found in The Model Railroader; 2/40 features the new boxcar, 5/40 their express reefer, 6/40 their stock car, and 10/40 has their reefers (a signature model of the line) with a small advertisement packed with text, reproduced here. Of these cars I have only actually seen examples of the reefers and the boxcar, and I own two of the kits for the reefers. The sides of these all-wood cars were factory painted and beautifully lettered. These kits were a very fine new product.

Famoco was still in business but was pretty invisible. One of the few references I find is in the Polks advertisement in the February issue of The Model Railroader, where they advertised that they had their 0-4-0 kit available (2-rail) for $18. More on the line of locomotives and equipment produced by Famoco may be found here. Their catalog in my collection that I would date to 1940 also lists their line of passenger cars, which are essentially an upgraded version of the same models produced by J-C Models. Their freight cars are a post-war product.

Graceline was excited about their new automatic coupler. It was reviewed in Trade Topics in The Model Railroader for February, 1940, where they say it has "the contour of a regular coupler and have working knuckles and lock pins. They have a husky shank and are nicely detailed." I have several of these couplers, which I suspect did not work automatically that well but are still usable in manual mode today. An advertisement in October says they have over 60 new OO items, but what they are I am not completely clear. More on the passenger and freight cars produced by Graceline may be found here.

Roland Haddaway of Los Angeles had out a new line of track. From the ad it would be a type of self gauging roadbed. The product should be similar in principle to the later and better known line by Tru-Scale. This ad was in the August issue of The Model Railroader.

K&W still had their couplers available, seen in 1939, and this ad in the October issue of The Model Railroader features a great photo of another part they sold. Their advertisements in other issues speak of parts they sold being “For HO and OO,” which I would generally take to mean that the same part was to be used in HO or OO, and they did sell HO kits, but in this case there actually is a different part casting for HO and for OO.

Little Gem Models had a string of advertising in Model Railroader for their HO-OO building kits. I have a bit more on this line in this article.

Mantua still had their line of track and the advertisement in The Model Railroader for September and The Model Craftsman for October of 1940 notes that they also sell their Belle of the 80s model gauged for OO. This was also listed in their 1941 catalog; for more information see this article.

Maxwell had advertisements for their line of structure kits in The Model Railroader for 1/40, 2/40, 3/40, and 4/40. For more info on this line see this article.

Midlin had many advertisements for their line of track, which was as noted in other articles was a popular line with OO gaugers of the day. More on this product may be found here.

Next up alphabetically is a company I know next to nothing about. The Model Lumber Co. advertised OO bodies in the December issue of The Model Railroader. Beyond this ad I know nothing of their products, but there must be a few random bodies out there that came from their shop. I find it interesting that they offered these in OO, O, and Standard gauges.

UPDATE: Model Lumber Co. is the topic of the "Collector Consist..." column in RMC for May of 2014. Author Keith Wills had tracked down their catalog. Their OO cars were limited to a coach and combine, 62 foot open end passenger cars that could be built with truss rods or a metal frame. They also produced a plate girder bridge for OO; all their other products were for O and Standard gauges. The catalog photo of the combine (marked DISCONTINUED) may be seen in the RMC article, although I suspect it is an O or Standard gauge version of the kit. They also produced a line of twelve freight cars and two other passenger cars.

Newark Electric of Chicago had out a set of wood bodies for streamlined cars. For more on these see this article. I also have a copy of their catalog, which may predate the streamlined cars but is from 1940 I believe. It includes listings for a line of power packs of their manufacture ("Electro Paks"), Midlin track, a track layer by R. D. Denise (a device that drove four pins at a time to spike and gauge the rails), and the full line of Scale-Craft and Lionel OO, in addition to a variety of HO and O gauge items.

The Picard Novelty Co. of Westerly, R.I., was in the business of making wood bodies by 1939, but in 1940 added their line of OO bodies. An item in The Model Railroader for 4/40 notes they are adding OO, October 1940 features this nice advertisement, and also the December issue MR has a nice trade topics item on the line.
The sample O, OO, and HO freight car body kits received from the Picard Novelty Co. fit like a glove. All saw cuts are cleanly made and the wood is of good quality. On some kits the sides are furnished with scribing. A locked joint is provided between the floor and the ends of the car. Reasonably priced.
They had a great product, actually, which must have sold steadily for them until the end of WWII. Approved by the NMRA! For more on Picard read this article.

Strombecker was still going strong and had a great advertisement on the back cover of the February issue of The Model Builder. This is the bottom portion (full image here) which features three of their OO scale items, with even more OO to be seen in the full ad. For my overview of Strombecker production read this article.

Yardmaster had a line of freight cars as well that was out in 1940 only. For the short story of the production of this line read this article.

A final company to mention is Hawk. While I don’t see any 1940 advertisements, based on the dates on their instruction sheets production of their freight car kits dates to late 1940. For more on Hawk see this article.

UPDATE: Also, clearly J-C Models was still going in 1940! My 101 article on J-C is here. They missed this article as first posted though as I did not spot the line mentioned in any advertising this year. Checking back again though, actually I had just missed this in my notes.

AND: I also missed this manufacturer, Vanden Boom. They manufactured a line of reefers, a caboose, a single-sheathed box car, and a wreck train. For more see the series starting here.

To conclude this look at 1940 the focus will be on layouts and other articles on OO. Back with that soon.

Continue in 1940 Series

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Some M. P. Davis, Part III: Some Master Patterns

With the caboose kits featured in part II of this brief series were three envelopes with master patterns for sand casting.

First up we have these passenger car ends for a heavyweight passenger car. These both appear to be Nason parts, one in bronze and the other in aluminum, and he seems to have used these to have another run cast for his own uses. As always, click on any photo for a better view.

Next up we have this passenger car diaphragm. Is this the master Nason used? It really could be. The part matches my Nason parts and Davis is said to have been a silent partner in Nason. He certainly sold some models based on their parts after WWII. The wood part seems to be something necessary for setting up the core box properly, and note that the middle of the part is solid. The part itself is nicely made from brass stock.

The last envelope includes car ends for a troop sleeper. While Graceline produced parts for this model, it was never produced by Nason or Davis, so it must be for a car that Nason or Davis were considering producing. It is wood and nicely made.

This is the back of the pattern, with his handwriting visible. If we had the original master patterns for the other large castings I suspect that they would also be wood patterns.

To close we have this one other part of mystery. Simply marked “California car” it must be a master for a part of some other project that never made it to production. Perhaps a streamliner? Your guess is as good as mine on that. [UPDATE: See the comments for more].

So much OO history is slipping away, but I am always hoping that others out there who either follow or have stumbled upon this website will jump in and also find this vintage equipment interesting.

Return to Part I of M. P. Davis series

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Some M. P. Davis, Part II: The Streamlined Caboose

As noted in part one of this series, an important character in the American OO world after WWII was Myron P. Davis, and in this prior article may be found the full list of his known OO production and a photo of my pair of E-7 locomotives. Of those items produced, perhaps the most unusual would be the streamlined caboose. This photo of a built up car is reproduced from the January, 1988 issue of The OO Road and was in the collection of George Miller.

Why this model? Not sure. The cupola resembles some contemporary designs of the time (PRR, etc.), so maybe he is thinking it would sell. But the big windows below the cupola are really unlikely in reality. In any event it is a fanciful design he liked enough to build it up in 3D, and he thought others might like too.

Jumping forward to today, here I am, owning three of these kits, apparently the last three of his stock! Note the unique ladder stock and the streamlined step castings (!) in the photo of one of the sets of parts.

With the parts I also have the steel tool used to bend the body and the foundry receipt. The receipt, dated 4-11-55 and from a foundry in Stamford, Conn, is for eighteen 4 oz bronze castings in #85 bronze. Based on the weight given I believe the receipt is for a run of castings for the cupola of the caboose, and it probably tells us that only 18 of these cars were produced. This receipt is a find to be sure and great to have with these kits today.

Going back to the photo of the example once owned by George Miller at the beginning of this article, the builder (I would guess M. P. Davis himself) went to a lot of effort to clear out the windows in that cupola casting and it looks like it might have an interior as well.

I would like at some point to build up one of these cars from the parts. It will take a pretty big chunk of time to do (a bigger drill press than I have would be helpful) but I would really like to see one of these actually in use, as this unlikely streamlined model is absolutely one of the most unique things ever produced in American OO.

When we return to conclude this series we will look at four more intriguing items that were with the caboose parts.

Continue to conclusion

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Some M. P. Davis, Part I: A Bronze C&O 2-8-8-2 Boiler

One of the more interesting people of American OO in the post-war period is Myron P. Davis. One very distinctive feature of his OO line (sold as Cussewago Valley Railroad OO Scale Models) was it included six (!) different models of articulated steam locomotives. The full list of big boilers is in this article, and a longer view with a link to an extended TCA article on these models may be found here.

The item I would like to feature today is one of these boilers, an eBay find. The first of these I ever saw in person was years ago at the home of Bill Chapin. I don’t think that he was using it as one but I recall the comment he made was it was heavy enough to use as a door stop. Which it certainly is!

This boiler is for C&O 2-8-8-2 #1527, is sand cast bronze, and is nine inches long. I would guess it to have been cast around 1954 or 55. My guess is no more than 20 of any of these boilers were produced and probably hardly any of those have actually been built up.

I also don’t imagine that I will ever build this boiler up into a working model. Certainly I have a lot of projects I would turn to first, and to get interested at all in fact the first step would be I have a larger layout that is big enough to actually use a 2-8-8-2 on.

That all being said, I still really like this item. Holding it in your hands I feel like I am holding history and get a view also of the dreams of someone who was very enthusiastic about American OO, Myron P. Davis.

Next up in this three part series is another very unique item from his line of models, his caboose.

Continue to part II

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

A Hawk OO Flat Car

With the purchase of this flat car I now own examples (built up or in kit form) of almost every type of OO scale freight car sold by Hawk. For more general info on the line and the list of models see this article.

This particular car was one that from the listing on eBay I figured out was either nicely scratch built or was something not often seen. It turned out to be the latter. When it arrived it was on a pair of non-operable Nason trucks and most of the decals had flaked off. But the paint was in great shape. So what I did was flake off the rest of the side decals and work up Milwaukee Road decals from vintage sets, matching the scheme of a drawing I found in a book.

The car itself was very nicely built up. The builder added end castings for the coupler mounting, and also added stake pockets that I believe are HO parts.

Looking at the bottom you can see the Hawk frame, cut in the middle and extended from the version seen on their 40’ boxcar and gondola. I did not change the couplers as it would involve more modification than I wished and I am not likely to run this car a lot either.

For trucks I used a fresh set of “Morlok method” trucks. They are described in more detail in this article but in short it involves taking Mantua/Tyco/Model Power HO trucks with the heavy side frames and opening up the inside wider to fit widened 36” HO wheels. On a flat car they work well as they are somewhat hidden and even then they look better than S-C trucks (and operate better).

I have two Hawk 50’ boxcars in the shop now undergoing rebuilding, both needing pretty heavy work but projects of the type that get my interest going. Hopefully they will be out and on the layout as well in a few months.