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

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Scale-Craft 50’ Box Car


Of the new OO scale products introduced by Scale-Craft after WWII by far the most commonly seen is their 50’ boxcar. And it is a model not yet properly featured in this website, although there is a bit of info in this article and also in this article, both containing photos of the first example of this car I rebuilt, with comments.

This model was introduced with some fanfare in November of 1946, this image being the top half of the first advertisement in The Model Railroader. The text reads exactly as follows,
Here’s a “side door Pullman” that’s built like a Pullman . . . and rides the rails like a dream! Designed by Scale-Craft to replace the die-cast construction formerly used, this new stamped brass box car is tops for realistic detail, and finished up like a Pullman. Kits come all knocked down and ready to assemble, bringing you nearer to actual box car construction, and providing many fun-filled hours of relaxing enjoyment.
The 40-foot box cars in this improved construction will be ready for you soon . . . 50-foot box cars are available now in “OO” gauge . . .  reefers and auto cars to follow. Ask your dealer for them today!
The second illustration is also from that first advertisement and shows the kit pretty well. The kit is stamped brass with a wooden body for support. Note that the illustration is for a double door version of this car. The first catalog to follow this advertisement (the Hollywood catalog) only lists the 50-foot single door version. The final Scale-Craft catalog (the Round Lake catalog) however lists and provides photos of five variations of this model:
  • 50’ 6” refrigerator car
  • 40’ 6” box car
  • 50’ 6” box car
  • 40’ 6” automobile car
  • 50’ 6” automobile car
The 50’ car illustrated here is seen pretty often; clearly a large run of these was produced in 1946 in their Libertyville, IL location. All of the instruction sheets I have seen for this car have elements dated 1945 and 46. I have never seen an example of any of the other cars listed above and I strongly suspect that they may not have been produced at all. From the Hollywood location I suspect they only sold from existing stock of the 50-foot kits, and when production moved back to Illinois clearly they were planning to produce the others, but probably did not. I throw the question out to readers – anyone have any example of the other cars?

And why the change of construction? Rumor is that the dies for the die cast boxcar were damaged, although it may also been a part of a drive by Scale-Craft to produce a "post-war kit." It is a very new model in many ways. At this point in my study of the topic I am fairly sure this was the only type of boxcar manufactured or sold by Scale-Craft after WWII.

This final photo is of a car nearly complete showing the construction a bit more clearly, and the Schorr trucks are a nice upgrade for this model. And this example at present still has the coupler with the sprung draft gear on it, although I will change it over to Kadee couplers when I finish it up with paint and decals. As I note in one of my prior articles linked earlier that touched on this car, “Scale-Craft in my opinion dropped the ball on this one…. It looks OK, sure, but it is not a scale model of any recognizable prototype.” And in the other “…look at the roof. Ugh! It is pretty terrible; pitch too high, strange stamped ribs, and also those tiny end walks.”

While it could have been improved upon, it was a welcomed product and one to keep in mind as an important part of any Scale-Craft OO collection.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

American OO in 1946, Part V: Layouts and More


While model railroading was trending away from American OO after the war, there were quite a number of individuals who were working happily in and committed to the scale, which will be seen especially as this series continues into the following years.

To open up the year, first up in the January issue of The Model Craftsman we find these two sharp, scratchbuit steam locomotives. I admire this type of vintage model. Clearly some real time was invested in them and the builder had some real skill as well. As always, click on the photo for a closer view.

Richard Houghton has been heard from before in this site (see this article for a 1940 photo, for example), and was still active. Two photos of his layout may be found in the February issue of The Model Railroader, in an article on building a timber trestle. From the article, “The Photograph shows a double track trestle on a curve with a two per cent grade. It’s an eye-catcher….” The models are Scale-Craft.

There is no photo but I enjoyed reading this item in the April 1946 “Along the Division” column in Model Railroader.
Bob Maus of Seattle, Wash., hearing tales about what work horses O gauge engines are at lugging around 80 and 100 car trains went downstairs to his OO pike to see what he could accomplish in his gauge. He made up a train of 64 freight cars including the caboose, coupled up a pair of Scale-Craft Ten-Wheelers to them, got it up an 18 volt head of steam, and watched the sturdy little hogs walk off with the train without so much as a grunt. Neither of the engines had been weighted or modified to increase tractive effort. Fifteen of the cars were die cast; the remainder were the usual wood or cardboard construction. The run included a long grade of 1 ½ per cent and a short one of 3 per cent. Bob says the figures speak for themselves.
Turning ahead to the May issue of MR, we read in Along the Division a sad/lucky tale involving another California OO gauge pike.
W. R. Bolinger’s OO gauge Sierra View Lines, at Pasadena, Calif., was kept suspended from ropes in the garage above the family car when not in use. It was recently destroyed by fire, but gave an alarm that saved possibly the whole house from destruction. Flames burned the main suspension rope through and the 7 x 14 ft. layout crashed onto the top of the car, alerting the household. Firemen quenched the blaze before it got beyond the garage, but the layout was totally destroyed.
Also in the same May issue we learn the winners in OO gauge at the annual NYSME show, a Mohawk Valley observation car and a NYC caboose by Carl Schutzman and E. Wesley Oliver, respectively.

In the November issue of Model Railroader we find this great construction photo of the OO layout of Herb Friend. Clearly a large pike, toward the back note the diesels. They can’t be Schorr F-3s as they had not been produced yet. This layout was up to date and will be heard from again.

The last OO layout photo published in MR in 1946 is found in their December issue. The caption reads,
Miniature industrialists in and around Minneapolis, Minn., are familiar with George Hurley’s OO gauge Minnesota Central Lines, famous for its speedy freight service. The road’s 155 ft. of track is laid with HO gauge rail. The freight has been broken to allow highway traffic past.
In the big picture, OO gauge layouts were to be found coast to coast. When this series returns this look at 1946 closes with some startling news.

Continue in 1946 Series

Friday, May 3, 2013

Oh! Oh! Here's OO, Part 3: “Here’s OO again”


H. Temple Nieter was author of the very first article related to American OO gauge that was published in The Model Railroader (in volume 1, no. 2, February, 1934), “Oh! Oh! Here's OO,” which featured his beautiful scratchbuilt MU car models. A pair of articles were posted in this website in 2009 that looked at this article and the models featured, the series on those beginning here. And at least one of the MU cars still exists today.

Temple stuck with American OO for a lifetime, was a leader in the OO gauge community in his later years (carrying on extensive correspondence and selling [at cost, I suspect] a line of OO reproduction parts), and very notably had an article in Model Railroader in November, 1984 with a similar title, “Oh, oh! Here’s OO again.”

The short article includes photos of people and layouts familiar to regular readers here, including David Sacks and Pierre Bourassa, and other “OOldtimers” as well. From the article,
Few of you Model Railroader readers have seen roads in this scale, yet some thousands were built in the younger days of the hobby. By now [1984], only about 60 men remain true to it, unmoved by over-the-counter HO items….
Our die-hard U.S./Canada OOers, of decades standing, I dub “OOldtimers.” They were and are truly modelmakers, forced to become that before suppliers rose from their ranks. When production kits and parts did at last appear, no one disdained what suited their needs. Nostalgia recalls some of the early sources: Nason, Famoco, Eastern, j-c Models, Scale-Craft, Andresen, Thuillgrim, Zuhr, Graceline. Even Lionel OOed for 4 pre-war years. And the first two issues of Model Railroader (January and February 1934) spoke of O and OO but nary a word about HO….
This photo was the final photo in the article and is the only published photo I am aware of showing Temple Nieter. Note the coveralls for his Lake Lines railroad. The caption reads,
To MR readers Temple Nieter is perhaps the best-known OOldtimer, his by-line having appeared in the magazine often since he first wrote “Oh Oh! Here’s OO” for the February 1934 issue. Temp is an OOldtimer since 1932, is also a ham radio operator and enjoys working on and running equipment at the Illinois Railway Museum at Union, Ill.
And now for, as they say, the rest of the story. Nieter suffered a heart attack in January of 1984 and spent weeks in the hospital. He recovered, but ultimately passed on October 15, just before the article above was published. He did see the proofs of the article at least, but it is a bit of a shame they could not have published it in the February issue, exactly 50 years after the original article.

In re-organizing my letter archive (more here), the first big binder starts with the first letter I received from Temple Nieter in 1977 and ends with a very warm letter from his wife Dorothy that included his obituary. It is a memorable one, too, for how many obituaries have you read that began,
Temple Nieter, a neighborhood activist who fought for city improvements with calls to the city officials and letters to the Evanston Review, died Oct. 15 in his southeast Evanston home. He was 74.
Residents who dubbed him “the mayor of the neighborhood” called on him about problems concerning everything from street cleaning to sewers….
Mr. Nieter, a licensed professional engineer, was active in the electronics industry. He was in the process of manufacturing a life-saving device used by power line workers, and had invented another device to enable a paraplegic to use the telephone….
He was survived by his wife, three children, and five grandchildren. In the letter his wife mentioned that he often spoke of me! The OOldtimers of his generation were keenly aware that OO was a dying gauge badly lacking of younger people. As noted in the previous article (on a special high school graduation present I received) I hope this website is planting some seeds but at the same time, we all need to do our part to help more people know about this classic scale.

I will let Nieter close this “Oh, oh!” series with the final sentence of his last published article -- “Model railroading truly is fun; OOldtimers have known this for more than 50 years.”

Return to Part I of “Oh, oh!” series

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Pole Load and an OO Gauge Graduation Present


Today we have a pair of Scale-Craft flat cars built by William Gilbert and decorated for the Union Pacific. Both have replacement decks and a nice, sharp job of painting and lettering.

The car with the power pole load came to the layout relatively recently from Gilbert. It is on Schorr trucks and the load is a beauty, I would like to duplicate the load on the second flat car.

The second car has more of a story. I knew it came from Gilbert years ago. One of my projects presently is cleaning and reorganizing a storage system at our home, and as I had purchased (at a garage sale) a number of large binders I also got started on a long overdue reorganization of my OO letter archive.

Gilbert was one of the first OO people out there that I corresponded with back in those days long before E-mail, one of a few in particular (along with Temple Nieter) that encouraged me as I got started in American OO when I was in high school. Where this is going is I found the letter that was sent along with the box this car came in. Gilbert sent it to me as a high school graduation present!

It has rolled a lot of miles on my layout over the years. It came to me on Scale-Craft trucks, but in one of  my several projects to move good trucks around I converted this and all but one other of my Scale-Craft flat cars to “Morlok method” (modified Mantua/Tyco HO) trucks (described further here). The wheelbase is a little short but they roll almost as well as Schorr trucks, and visually on certain cars (especially flat cars) look fine to my eye. (This flat car may also be seen ["before"] in this article, where I compare early and late Scale-Craft flats and a flat set up with the Morlok trucks).

As noted already, I would like to add another pole load to this car and it should be fairly easy to duplicate. Pairs of cars such as this look great running together on the layout.

And to close with a deep thought, perhaps I was the last high school student to receive an American OO model as a graduation present, but I certainly hope not. This website is I hope planting some seeds, and now more than ever I hope there are people out there physically sharing OO models with a younger generation. And thank you again to William Gilbert for both of these sharp cars.