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

Friday, March 29, 2013

On the Scale-Craft Factory Locations in Libertyville


One piece of information that was never revealed in Scale-Craft advertising was the physical street addresses of their factories in Libertyville, IL.  But now I have several articles to update, as both locations are now clear.

This first image is clipped from a scan of the January, 1946 Libertyville, IL phone directory. It was found by reader Harry Lewis, who worked in the second factory for many years. Note the dual listings for Scale-Craft and Scale-Models, the prior corporate name. Lewis notes that
The Scale-Craft plant designed by Skidmore Owings & Merril (the "$75,000 building" [see the photo below]) was located at 400 West Lake Street in Libertyville, Illinois.  In 1947 or so, the property was purchased by Trimm Inc., a manufacturer of radio and telecom components.  It burned in 2006.

I worked in the building from 1982 - 1991, after Trimm Inc. was acquired by Newton Instrument Company, Butner, NC.  Trimm Inc. is still in business and is also in Butner, NC.

The property is bounded to the north by the former Milwaukee Road (now Chicago RTA) commuter tracks, to the east by woods and the parking lot for the train station (off of Brainerd Ave.) There is a cemetery to the west and a row of residential lots to the south.

One can still see the parking lot in the current Google earth view, and if you click on the little clock on the toolbar and move the slider back to 8-20-2005, you can see the facility as I remember it.

The six-acre property is currently for sale.

The darker gray roof is the original SOM building, and the lighter roof to the north was added in 1960 - something by the Austin Company.  There was a similar building, no doubt by the same architect at SOM, built by the Johnson Wax Co., possibly in Racine, Wisconsin.  As to why Scale-craft occupied the building so briefly, I do not know, but Paul Bottorff, the former owner of Trimm Inc, once told me that Elliott Donnelly became discouraged when a friend's child was electrocuted by a model train set.
From the satellite view the original 804 E. Church location is more or less in the middle of another larger building now. The street also no longer extends to an 800 block location -- it looks pretty likely that the older building was torn down to build what is visible, but perhaps it was built around in some manner.

Donnelley sold Scale-Craft in late 1946 to his west coast distributor, so Trimm moving into the second factory ca. 1947 makes perfect sense. It was a new, vacant building designed for manufacturing, this image being again the design as conceived by the architects. The location given by Lewis (400 West Lake Street) is essentially the same as the one in the phone book for the construction site (404 W. Lake), with possibly the Post Office improving the address on occupation. Scale-Craft used the building for less than one year.

As to the story Lewis heard about the child, I have never been able to track down the full story on the child either, but I have seen a variation on this in print. The version recalled by Nat Polk was “When Donnelley's daughter died in an accident at home, he lost all desire to do anything, and that was when he stopped making anything else. He kind of lost heart.” I have never been able to confirm the story, but one would think there would be other sources that mention it if it was his daughter, so perhaps the child being that of a friend has more of a ring of truth.

Lewis also adds that “According to Wallace Newton, the current owner of Trimm Inc., the Libertyville plant was empty when it burned in 2006 (I am not 100% confident of the year).  He thinks some squatters built a fire that got out of control. There was no power to the building at the time.” Trimm certainly made good use of the factory, with a wide range of customers from NASA to the BBC to The Grateful Dead, and they remain in business to this day. 

The Scale-Craft factories are gone, but we can still enjoy the models, and thanks again to Harry Lewis for this firsthand information.

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