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

Sunday, October 28, 2012

American OO for 1943, Part II: A Layout Contest and Other Notes

To begin, the OO gauge cover photo of the year was found on the March, 1943 issue of The Model Railroader. The featured model is a Scale-Craft 4-8-4 nicely built up by Sidney Wells. Note especially the re-detailed front end with dual air pumps and feedwater heater. His layout came up recently in another article, as it was mentioned in a note from Temple Nieter and had been seen in The Model Craftsman in 1941 and 1942.

In the March issue of The Model Craftsman an article by Red Adams on scenery shows four photos of his new OO layout. One of those photos and an extended quote from this article may be found here, and there is more to be found from Adams in the April, 1943 issue as well, on building observation cars.

Leon “Doug” Douglass sponsored a layout contest in The Model Railroader in 1943. Those who know post-war OO history know that Doug Douglass later was an owner of Scale-Craft, but as of 1943 he owned a hobby shop in Hollywood. His contest was announced in the May issue and this winning design by F. L. Jaques was featured in the September issue, along with a number of other entrants. In May it was explained what was wanted.
Mr. Douglass has a garage with a specially built room on the second floor in which he wishes to build a OO gauge model railroad. The space is 24x28 ft. and he wishes to have the spectators’ area so arranged that the whole railroad presents a complete picture in itself….
The type of layout where one walks in between various scenes does not appeal to Mr. Douglass, as it seems unrealistic to him. He very much prefers to see most parts of the layout from the distance. This was done in the large layout at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and 1940….
Mr. Douglass is not particularly fond of mainline operation, but it is permissible to have a loop of main line around the room, most of it hidden, from which a branch or branches can diverge. The layout should be adaptable to control by one man from a single board. No. 6 switches and 36” radius curves are the minimum ….
The principal line should be held to one per cent grade and others to two percent. His present motive power includes a 4-8-4 and a gas-electric, which should be kept in mind in planning the layout.
Within those guidelines the winner hit on many of the ideals and certainly it is a beautiful illustration, be sure to click on the photo for a better view. We will hear more of Doug Douglass after the war.

This next photo from the June issue of The Model Railroader is an interesting one, not showing a lot of detail but it is of a club visiting an OO gauge attic layout in Lima, Ohio, and how about all those suits! That was a different era of model railroading, and note that “The club plans to build its own OO gauge layout after the war.”

In the July issue of MR we find this very interesting photo. I believe it is the first published photo of the Yorkville and Western layout of Fred Schorr, who was a post-war OO manufacturer. According to his son Ed, when Fred moved from Pottsville this specific layout was given to an uncle who was also an OO gauge modeler.

In December the year ends with an interesting article in MR on building an OO gauge layout using Scale-Craft sectional track. This is probably the only article ever published on this topic specific to Scale-Craft pre-war sectional track, and it includes this photo of the layout in progress. The layout had been designed in 1939 by Linn Westcott for B. E. Padorr of Chicago, to fit a standard ping-pong table with an extension. Turning to the article,
Padorr liked scenery, bridges, trestles, overpasses; and his young son, shown in the photo on page 541, liked to run fast limited trains and switch freight in the yards. Scale-Craft sectional track was to be used. If you are not already familiar with this track, it may interest you to know that the radius is 26” on curves and each curved section is one-sixteenth of a circle. Straight sections are 10” long….
Before Mantua introduced the flexible track that you bend in any desired direction, one had to buy sectional track, or pay higher prices for custom-built work unless one had the time and desire to lay his own rail. Most people laid their own; nevertheless, a great deal of model railroad track is purchased in sections of fixed length.
More on this line of OO sectional track may be found in this article, with a comparison to the more commonly seen Lionel sectional track.

Overall, in the big picture of things, some hobby activity continued in 1943 but there was of course a war going on. Next up in our series we turn to 1944 and a year where things were starting to look up in the hobby.

Continue to 1944 Series

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tru-Scale Self-Gauging Roadbed

In the 1943 series last week I again arrived at the topic of Tru-Scale and their line of roadbed in HO, OO, and O gauges. It is high time for a broader overview of this classic line.

The line itself was introduced in 1941, and it quickly became a popular product. One thing that helped them greatly was that the product itself was wood and production was not impacted by WWII material restrictions. So long as you could locate some rail (steel rail being available during the war) you would quickly be off and running as the roadbed was cut with tie plates that gauged the rail properly and the product also was very easy to spike. After the war, the product retained a degree of popularity and for sure many users had their start with this product in that time frame.

Turning to the photos, first up are two views of the product itself. The switch blocks lack tie plates but the straight and curved sections have them. Note if you look closely that in the selections in the photos you can see that three different tie cutters were used. I take the ties that are very narrow (they look like HO scale ties) to be a somewhat later batch than the two types of wider ties. This probably relates to cutters wearing out and changes of ownership. The original owner was OO gauge enthusiast Jaurez (“Joe”) Tostado, who was tragically killed in 1943. From there the firm has had a series of owners (see UPDATE below for info on the second owner) and it remains in production to this day (but not the OO gauge product).

I have some Tru-Scale, enough for a small layout if planned carefully. About 15 years ago I did lay a short test track with Tru-Scale, seen in the final photo. As I wanted to use modern code 100 rail I took the option of sanding off the self gauging feature and spiking the rail down with gauges. It still was quite easy to spike and really this was/is a fine product, one I would personally think about using if I were to build a new layout. I see no signs of warping on the examples I own, and this clearly was a high quality product.

Vintage OO gauge Tru-Scale is not often seen on eBay, at least in part due to shipping costs being high in relation to the actual value of the roadbed. It certainly has a retro look and is a classic to look out for.

UPDATE: The second owner was August Kniff. This bio and photo were published with an article on "The Importance of Roadbed" that was published in the 1950 Model Railroad Equipment Corp. catalog, giving several interesting details on him and his background.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

American OO for 1943, Part I: What Could you Buy New?

In short, everything you could buy new was either old stock from before the war or made of wood and paper. Overall, I am sure it was best to focus on what you could buy instead of what you could not buy. The following manufacturers were active and making products especially useful to those still working on their railroads.

E. H. Bessey had their line of OO boxcars and reefers available, but by June they advertised (in Model Railroader) that they were “closing out” the line of OO freight cars. The line continued in business, but selling primarily wood shapes including during the war wooden rail. More on Bessey here.

Champion car sides were available but not advertised extensively. More on Champion here.

J-C passenger car kits were available steadily at an affordable $1.95 each! Their ad in the April issue of The Model Craftsman mentions they have “new management, plenty of stock,” and another ad in MR emphasized that they were “not rationed.” More on J-C here.

Picard OO car bodies were easily available and would set you back four for $1, a great deal. In their April MR ad they state they have 84 different car bodies in their line of HO, OO, and O bodies, and by November the line had grown further with new gondola car bodies. More on Picard may be found here.

Scale-Craft advertised steadily but with content more along the lines of “buy war bonds” and on their post-war plans. Selley advertised every month, they were able to sell their full line from parts on hand. More on Scale-Craft here, and on Selley here.

The Tru-Scale ad in March of 1943 in Model Railroader states they have a “vast stock in all three gauges.” By June they were running this ad, which states they have plenty of roadbed but are running short of switches. These would have been made from brass rail which was not available for model railroad production. But then there was tragic news in MR in November! Under the headline “Tostado, Tru-Scale Proprietor, is Dead” we read,
Model railroaders of Southern California lost a good friend when, on Aug. 20, Jaurez (“Joe”) Tostado was killed by an automobile while crossing the street in front of his shop. Joe was the proprietor of Tru-Scale Models and the originator of Tru-Scale roadbed. He was a model railroader beyond the extent that he was connected with the hobby commercially.  
In the Fall of 1942 a layout was started in the three-car garage of Joe’s house. As OO had always been his favorite gauge, the layout was planned accordingly. The project took the form of a club with a few friends helping with the work, and every Tuesday evening much activity went on in the big garage. At the time of his death a great deal had been accomplished and the layout had reached a stage where all mainline track had been laid and much of the basic scenery was built.
The article continues that the members of the club had made a rental agreement for the garage and that work on the layout would continue. “The members hope to carry on the model railroad that took form in Joe Tostado’s mind several years ago and try to make it as good in its final form as Joe expected it to be.”

The article was very sad news but it explained a lot about why Tru-Scale made such a good product and in OO specifically. Also just learning the name and by extension the ethnicity of the owner was a surprise in a way; we tend to have stereotypes of what model railroad manufacturers and enthusiasts looked like back in 1943, and he did not fit that stereotype. A real loss for the hobby, but his product line went forward after his passing and some of the line (not the OO part) is still available today.

Finally, there was more available in OO than met the eye in the form of old stock. In particular the Model Railroad Equipment Corp. of New York City advertised in The Model Craftsman that they were “specialists in OO” and for example stated many times in advertising that they had a “large stock of OO kits” including “Two and three rail Nason and Lionel OO locos for immediate delivery,” and what must be J-C passenger car kits. And their big news in August was that they had purchased the entire inventory of Graceline, seen in this portion of their ad.

The January, 1944 issue of The Model Railroader sheds more light on this, as it states that Graceline owner John Devore was now working in an engineering department doing war work. But not to worry, it was not the end of Graceline, they will re-tool and actually have some models back in production in 1944. More on Graceline here.

And, of course, there was quite a bit of used OO out there too, available for example through dealers such as Leonard Blum of Cleveland or as listed in the "Readers' Exchange" advertising in Model Railroader. Enough OO was out there to keep things rolling.

When we return we turn to the topic of layouts in 1943.

Continue in 1943 Series