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

Friday, March 15, 2013

American OO in 1946, Part I: Lionel Stays Out of the OO Market


To begin this overview of 1946 and American OO gauge, while supplies and manpower were short, the smaller companies that had still been producing OO in 1945 were still perking along. J-C Models, Tru-Scale, Picard, and Selley were all still on the market. And the Transportation models kits that were introduced in late 1945 certainly were hitting the shelves in some quantity as well and will be the focus of an article later in this series, as will Scale-Craft, Nason, and several new lines for 1946.

The OO gauge line that was conspicuously absent in 1946 was Lionel. They had left the OO gauge market in 1942 and the line never resumed production.

It is not that their OO scale models were not around and in wide use. For example this nicely detailed Lionel tank car is seen in the February issue of The Model Railroader. Another car by the same builder, a hopper, was also featured in their July issue, seen a bit later in the present article. It was a simpler time to be sure -- I don’t think any publication today would feature a nicely modified kit in quite this way. As always, click on the photo for a better view.

Plenty of used Lionel was available of course. The classified ads in MR show many Lionel items for sale at great prices. It was difficult to decide which issue to scan an example from, and I initially chose this list from the October issue for the interesting custom-built streamlined train (and plenty of used Lionel). Most issues in 1946 also have long lists of OO gauge items for sale, and it is an interesting puzzle to look them over and figure out what is for sale. As you might guess though in general Lionel, Scale-Craft, and Nason models dominate the listings. And then scan down to that last listing this month. Someone named William Johann is selling out a batch of Midlin track--the very same William Johann that was later an OO manufacturer (see an example of his 2-8-2 here), active in the North Jersey group, and much later editor of The OO Road! Some views of his layout in the 1980s are found in this article and you guessed it, the track is all Midlin. But that jumps ahead quite a few years in the history of American OO.

Back to Lionel and 1946, I think one of the more telling facts is that in spite of being out of production for four years several mail order places still listed new Lionel OO cabooses for sale. For example Polks was still listing the Lionel caboose in this ad the June issue of The Model Railroader, along with the new Transportation Models kits and Scale-Craft. The problem for Polks and the rest was by now not many people needed to buy a new Lionel caboose. The market was shrinking and long saturated. And Scale-Craft was also producing kits for essentially the same car (that sold for $1.45 more!) in 1946, so their sales of cabooses must have suffered too. HO was where the action was in the market.

For a bit of context on that point, a layout feature in the August, 1946 issue of MR was on an HO gauge railroad that had “replaced pikes in two other gauges.” The builder started out in OO with Scale-Craft models--a ten-wheeler and “a number of freight and passenger cars.” But then the builder “got the itch to trade my stuff for an O gauge two-rail layout,” which he “did through and ad in The Model Railroader.” But O gauge proved too big for his space. “So, early in the spring of 1939, I decided to trade again. After a trip to the Kalamazoo Hobby Shop, I was sold on the possibilities of HO, and it wasn't long before I made the exchange.” Certainly there were many variations on this story, but the general outline must have been a common one.

When the series continues the topic is Scale-Craft OO in early 1946.

Continue reading in 1946 Series

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