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

Saturday, May 18, 2013

American OO in 1946, Part VI: Scale-Craft Ends the Year with Very Big News


Scale-Craft was the leading OO gauge firm in 1946, and OO gaugers must have been reading their advertising closely for news of their line. As such, let’s follow the trail of their advertising and perhaps experience it in much the same way as a reader of that time.

Their advertisements were a bright spot for OO gauge fans. In their July Model Railroader ad the full page is on Scale-Craft OO and the “Greater Detail and Realism” it offered.
For the hobbyist whose time and space is limited, the wealth of intricate detail on Scale-Craft “OO” gauge models assures the authenticity of each prototype down to the tiniest precision-scaled part. The greater weight of “OO” equipment permits locomotives and cars to ride the rails more smoothly, and to clear switches and frogs without danger of derailment … yet the Scale-Craft “OO” systems require only a fraction of the area necessary for larger systems.
The complete instructions and illustrations furnished with each kit, and Scale-Craft precision methods of manufacture, make perfect work and correct assembly a matter of a few hours of relaxation and enjoyment. Progress in building is rapid, as all intricate machining is already done. 
To start the fascinating hobby of model railroading, or to complete your “OO” gauge road, see your Scale-Craft dealer now.
Scale-Craft was doing their part to promote OO scale against the rapidly growing popularity of HO. But it was not very flashy advertising, as for a very long time now Scale-Craft advertising featured line drawings and/or text. Finally, in their August advertisement they have a photo in an ad! It is an old, stock photo of their stock car but at least it does accurately illustrate the car (with the early version floor and truck spacing). Also note the text plugging the new factory location, described more in this article. Click on the photo for a better view.

September brings another new ad with text worthy of quoting as well. Under the headline “We’re doing everything possible to bring you more Scale-Craft Models” we read,
We had hoped to have motive power and rail available April first of this year, but so far our suppliers have disappointed us. The present shortage of materials and parts makes it difficult for us, at this time, to supply you with all the models you’d like to have. But we’re doing our best to produce the cars and locomotives you want.
All we can do now is ask for your patience. Remember that Scale-Craft models, precision-scaled for intricate detail and true-to-life realism are well worth waiting for.
The ad indicates that in OO they had available “Passenger Cars, Box Cars, Baggage Cars, Tank Cars, Pullmans, Stock Cars, Hoppers, Diners, Flat Cars, Observation Cars, Cabooses.” The O line was even more limited, and for sure the market was extremely hungry for locomotives.

Reflecting that, their advertising for October (it ran in MR and MC) featured this very interesting illustration showing a photo of the new factory and their new power trucks. These were quite improved from the pre-war offerings, and this was the first powered unit for OO scale released after the war. The ad reads,
Motorized truck kits to give your system greater, diversified motive power. These versatile trucks, that are suitable for trolley, Diesel, gas, electric or interurban service, are rolling out of the Scale-Craft roundhouse. The “OO” gauge trucks will be at your dealer’s within the next 30 days. This is one of many sensational new products engineered and developed by Scale-Craft.
The production line at Scale-Craft is highballing out of the last reconversion curves. Steaming down the main line, Scale-Craft is rapidly approaching full throttle to bring you and enlarged and complete line of Quality Model Railroad Kits and Accessories.
Speaking of an enlarged line, their November advertisement focused on a brand new model in the OO gauge line! This was something to cheer about, a 50’ steel boxcar based almost entirely on new brass stampings. The car is described further in this article, and one note I make in it is that this car shows some awareness of a public looking for the “post-war kit.” On the whole the hobby was heading toward boom times and the products that drove this boom were not recycled pre-war models, they were new products. It was also a model not previously made by Scale-Craft in any form and the other two makers that sold 50’ cars as kits (Transportation Models and Hawk – examples of both are seen in this article) were not big players in the market (with Picard also producing plain 50’ bodies).

This movement toward new, post-war products could have been the big news hinted at when I teased this article in the previous installment of this series. However, it was not, as there was even bigger news. Just a couple pages into the December, 1946 issue of The Model Railroader, in their “At the Throttle” column we see this photo and read the headline “Good Luck, Elliott Donnelley.”
Elliott Donnelley, who for 10 years has owned and managed Scale-Craft, has sold the model railroad concern and is leaving the model railroad field to enter his family’s business. The R. R. Donnelley & Sons Co., world’s largest printers, off whose presses come Time, Life, Readers’ Digest, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and hundreds of other books and publications. The model railroad field is distinctly the loser, for Elliott Donnelley has contributed far more than his share to its business and ethical standards.
With a challenging and lucrative career open to him in the world-famous concern which had been founded by his grandfather, Elliott Donnelley instead chose model railroading because he liked it as a hobby. He went at his Scale-Craft work with enthusiasm, zest, and a tremendous amount of good sense....
…Everyone who has known him in model railroading must feel a very real loss, for in as much as any hobby is built by personalities Elliott Donnelley has been one of the great builders of model railroading. We wish him the best of success in his new position, and much fun with the model railroad which now once again becomes the true relaxation that it used to be before he bought Scale-Craft.
As a last gesture, Elliott was more careful about who bought Scale-Craft that he was about the price for which he sold it. The business is now under the ownership of Doug Douglass of Hollywood, former Scale-Craft distributor on the West Coast, and manufacturing continues under the management of Burt Barr, Elliott’s long-time associate. Elliott Donnelley, in leaving the model railroad business, at least feels that these men will maintain his own ideals in Scale-Craft’s policy and organization.
Also in this issue the Scale-Craft advertisement is on two facing pages and consists of two letters, both dated November 11, 1946, one from Elliott Donnelley and the other from Doug Douglass, "the new president and owner" of Scale-Craft. If you have been following American OO Today for a while you have seen more than a few quotes from Donnelley, and it is certainly best to read his personal statement in full. The image is extra-large for easier reading. Douglass was enthusiastic about OO and had sponsored a layout contest in MR back in 1943. In his letter he looked "forward to the privilege of serving you as well in the future as you have been served in the past."

I hate to keep giving spoiler alerts in this series, but I really should mention that Donnelley would within a few years actually buy the firm back. I tend to take his motivations of the time on this at face value, that he had to work full-time in his family business in ’47, but also there are rumors. I also hate to deal in speculations but two different sources I am aware of make reference to a story told that involved the death of a child and him losing heart for the business. One version may be found in this article on their Libertyville factory locations, and hobby pioneer Nat Polk has another version in this article.

Whatever the motivations of the ownership change, Scale-craft was operating from their brand new plant in Libertyville for less than one year. My general sense of it all is that Donnelley really liked pre-war O and OO products, but he also knew the market trends clearly as an industry insider (toward HO) and was perhaps getting a little burned out. But, as already noted, he would own Scale-Craft again in a few years, which we will get to later in this series.

For now this closes this look at 1946. As usual, I will need at least a few weeks before I am organized enough to start in on the next year, but 1947 looks actually to be a pretty good year for OO with Douglass Scale-Craft working to ship product and promote the scale and smaller makers also stepping it up. We will have more on 1947 soon.

Return to beginning of 1946 Series

Continue to 1947 Series

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