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

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Video: American OO at Trainfest 2013

November 9-10, 2013 you will find American OO in operation at Trainfest in Milwaukee, "America’s Largest Operating Model Railroad Show." The event link is here, but a preview of the layout is below! (Direct video link here).

The layout is by Mike Slater. He has displayed the layout before (see this article for two older versions), but this year it looks to be in especially fine shape. In particular it is great to see this 1938 set running, both just to see how nice a product it was but also to allow people to see these vintage models in motion. Seeing such models run at a train show will catch some attention!

The models run nicely, this is a video well worth watching for any American OO enthusiast. If you are in the area of the show be sure to stop by and see it running in person.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

1949 and American OO. Part III, Buy it by Mail

Mail order was an option for OO gaugers of the day, and two different catalogs from 1949 give a clear perspective on what you could buy new at the time.

First up is the clearly marked 1949 catalog from The Electronic and Hobbycraft Stores. Inside may be found one page of OO gauge listings. It is hard to say if these items are old stock or new stock, but I believe they actually had them on their shelves:
  • Famoco – single and dual motor GG-1, turnouts, track layer, freight trucks
  • J-C Models – baggage, combine, coach, Pullman
  • Midlin – track kit and turnouts
  • Scale-Craft – 4-6-0, 0-6-0, stock car, flat, tank, caboose, hopper, reefer, box [50’], Pullman, observation, diner, coach, baggage, power truck, freight trucks, four and six wheel passenger trucks
Then later in the year we get to a very interesting catalog. I have Xerox copies from two different sources. One has it marked as Polks 1946, but based on what was in it I knew it could not be from 1946. The other copy has it labeled as “Model RR. Equip. Corp. Catalog 1950” and with a bit of detective work that is correct. From the content I knew it had to date from probably late 1949 and it turns out that it was first advertised for sale in the December, 1949 issue of Model Railroader, making it fit with our narrative at this point. UPDATE: But noting after finally tracking down a copy that the copyright does actually say 1950. But certainly the catalog was put together in late 1949.

UPDATE: This is the cover of this catalog. This was an exciting one for OO gaugers, as the cover features an image of the OO scale Norfolk and Ohio layout of Carl Appel! The same image as published in MR in 1948 may be seen in this article (scroll down). Click on it here for a better view. The locomotives in the background of this realistic scene are a Nason 2-8-0 and a Lionel Hudson.

The section on OO begins with an article by Famoco owner Ted Menten, “Alive Again … 00 Gauge,” which has already been quoted in full as a “bonus article” in this series of articles on American OO in 1949. One of the hooks used to advertise this new catalog in a series of advertisements in Model Railroader in 1950 were these short articles by figures in the hobby industry.

As to the catalog content itself, it is divided by type of model rather than by manufacturer. In locomotives we have:
  • Scale-Craft – 4-6-4t, 4-6-0, 0-6-0
  • Famoco – GG1, single or twin power
  • Super Scale – EMC Diesel switcher, 600 HP or 1,000 HP with or without booster
The first locomotive listed is a good case study for us, as (spoiler alert) Scale-Craft would be back under the ownership of Elliott Donnelley in 1950 but the 4-6-4t was not listed in the 1950 (Round Lake, IL) catalog. Was it old stock? Did Douglass Scale-Craft ship some of this model out? As to the others, 1949 is pretty much the end of production for the Famoco OO GG-1 but it was the first year for the Super Scale NW-2 (the 1,000 HP model that is listed—the SW-1 dating to 1948).

Next up are box cars. There were three (really two) models available. The most expensive was the Scale-Craft 50’ car at $5.45. Then we have the listings for Eastern and Famoco boxcars. As described in the longer listings with both manufacturers here in this website, these are essentially the same models in every way except for having different frames and most (but not all) Famoco cars have die cast ends. The sides are the same, built up the cars look pretty much the same. But the price was certainly not the same! The Famoco cars sold for $2.95 with trucks and the Eastern cars sold for $4.40 with trucks and $2.95 without. Which one would you buy?

Refrigerator cars are the next listing and it is the same story, there is the one Scale-Craft car and all the listings of Eastern and Famoco models with the same printed sides but Famoco much less expensive.

Under the heading “other freight cars” we have the Eastern gondola and the Scale-Craft tank car, hopper, and caboose. From the listing, “The only available caboose in 00 gauge is the Pennsylvania type illustrated here. Model has excellent detail cast integrally with the major body parts.” The photo used was this one, a stock photo used in S-C catalogs for years. Following that is quite a list of parts, including a number of Selley OO parts and what would appear to be Picard bodies.

Next up are “Passenger Train Cars” from four manufacturers:
  • Famoco – baggage, baggage coach, coach, Pullman
  • J. C. Models – baggage, baggage coach, coach, Pullman
  • Scale-Craft – baggage, coach, Pullman, diner, observation
  • Zuhr – mail, baggage, coach, 18 roomette, bedroom, diner
The Famoco, J-C, and S-C models are all "standard passenger train cars" and the Zuhr cars are "streamline passenger train cars." In all of the above I use the terminology as presented in the catalog and note too that the catalog mixes 00 and OO gauge in their copy. The J-C cars I am thinking are old stock but the Zuhr models are brand new for 1949.

Following that are listings for passenger car parts (including again Selley parts), track materials by Midlin, Eastern, and Tru-Scale, and switch controls. There was certainly enough available to build a nice layout -- if you wanted to work in OO there were supplies out there. To close this look at 1949 we will turn to look at a few of those layouts.

Continue reading 1949 series

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

1949/50 Bonus: “Alive Again … 00 Gauge” by Ted Menten

Model Railroad Equipment Corporation put out a large catalog of model railroad supplies (144 pages!) that was first advertised in the December, 1949 issue of Model Railroader. The image below is from their June, 1950 ad and shows the cover. The catalog contains not only listings of models in all scales but also articles by leaders in the model railroad industry. Of particular interest to us is an article on page 69 that was presented as a prelude to their OO listings, written by Ted Menten, owner of the Famous Model Co, Inc. (Famoco). In the context of post-war American OO this brief article is very significant and well worth quoting in full. I will have a few more notes after the article.

After eleven years of manufacturing model railroad equipment and having passed through many “Battles of the Gauges,” I still feel that 00 Gauge has much to offer which the other gauges lack.

For many years, there existed the feeling that prices were considerably higher for 00 equipment than for similar equipment in the smaller gauges. Today, locomotives and car kits are offered in 00 Gauge at prices no higher than the smaller gauges, and with the advantage of size, which permits quieter and more secure traction.

Particularly interesting to note is that although 00 Gauge requires only 14% more space for a layout than HO, it has 50% more space in its locomotives, which permits the use of considerably larger and more powerful motors. This added power of 00 Gauge allows for smoother operation. And the additional weight found in both locomotives and cars permits quieter and more secure traction.

There has been an acute shortage of 00 Gauge equipment since model railroading again became active after the close of the war. However, the situation is changing. Four new manufacturers are starting production of 00 Gauge, three of whom will offer locomotive kits, and the other a string of aluminum streamline cars. Within the coming year, our company will be releasing over twenty new reefers and express reefers. The release of this flood of new kits should provide the variety for which the fans of the gauge have been waiting these past four years.

In conclusion, I have a suggestion to offer those about to take part in a fascinating hobby. Before deciding upon a gauge, purchase a single car kit in each of the gauges in which you feel you may have an interest. Assemble the kits. Then compare, the cars, side by side, for detail, the price paid for each and the space you have available. You should come up with the right answer. However, even if you don’t, you will still have fun with model railroading.

There are many interesting details in the above. Menten states that Famoco planned to introduce express reefers, but those were never produced. He also states there are four new manufacturers and three are introducing locomotive kits. Two of those are certainly Super-Scale and Schorr, but it is not very clear who the third would be. The article concludes with this biographical sidebar on Ted Menten, with this great photo.

Ted is a man with a mission—to convince the world 00 gauge is the ideal size for model railroading. To sustain his crusade, he will labor far into the night on military contracts or turn out an occasional HO locomotive to help pay the freight. Both he regards as merely an end to the good fight to build 00 gauge. Ted has been a model railroader since 1935 and a manufacturer since 1937. The Famoco trade name in 00 is recognized as tops in the present market. Years of making precision military instruments has been experience which has resulted in finer Famoco locomotive kits.

His OO line dates to 1938, which confirms the date of this article as 1949 in relation to his "eleven years of manufacturing model railroad equipment." (But UPDATE noting that the actual copyright in the catalog is 1950). When the series returns the focus will be on the items listed in this catalog (including an important note on the cover image!) and also the catalog of E&H Stores.

Continue reading 1949 Series 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

1949 and American OO. Part II, New Products!

As could be determined reading the letters cited in part I, there was a demand for some new products in American OO in 1949, and these three manufacturers stepped up to answer that demand!

First up was Super-Scale. Their NW-2 is a 1949 addition to their line, being first mentioned in their January, 1949 ad in Model Railroader. Their SW-1 model dates to 1948, so this was a logical expansion. As I note in my longer article on Super-Scale,
According to their advertisement in the January, 1949 issue of Model Railroader; these more complete models were to be ready January 15. They referred to them as being either the 600 HP model or the 1000 HP model, which would translate as a SW-1 diesel (600 HP) or a NW-2 diesel (1000 HP), the latter of which if I am understanding their language was available as a cow or calf. They offered in addition to the two switcher locomotives a “1000 HP Booster Loco” and a “2000 HP Two Unit Loco.” The SW-1 at that time ran $14.50 “less paint, decals, trucks” and the most deluxe NW-2 cow-calf combo would put you back $28.50.
See this article for more on the somewhat modified but beautifully built up example of this model seen above.

The next new OO scale model seen in 1949 is an iconic one, the Schorr F-3. The first ad I have noted for this model is in the November issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. It may actually have been advertised there slightly earlier; not sure, I am missing the previous three issues from my collection.

The first MR advertisement for this model is found in their December issue. Note that he has by this time tweaked the font and the look to make it stand out a bit more. The main elements of the model are made clear to the potential buyer. The body castings are bronze and a dual power drive was available. See this article for a view of the raw castings as later produced. 

Due to how this website was laid out info on Fred Schorr is spread out somewhat, but in this article from his son Ed I learned
Fred Schorr was born in 1902 and died in 1976 and according to Ed “was a die-hard 00'er till the end.” He got started working in American OO around 1938. He worked for Pennsylvania Power & Light for 53 years and retired as Chief Systems Operator. His personal road was the Yorkville and Western, a name he registered with the NMRA in 1942.
I have three operational Schorr F-3 models in my collection at present, the trio being described further in this article. Click on the photo for a better view. They make a very impressive rumble running on the layout and pull like crazy! They were and are not easy models to build up but have a great payoff in the end and were a perfect model to have on the market in 1949. And Schorr would have more for his OO gauge friends soon.

Our final new model to feature today are the streamline passenger cars by Zuhr. These models were first advertised in the December issue of MR. The longer article on Zuhr introduces the line of smooth side, aluminum models in some depth. To this I will add as a teaser, I am not sure there actually was a person named Henry Zuhr! The letter that you would have been sent had you replied to the ad states that the owners are Hildegard Schuler and Herbert Swan. The letter also makes clear their motivations, as it opens,
Dad-blame it !!! Something had to be done. Well ----- We did it ----- !
Here is what you have been waiting for. One of the first real pieces of equipment that has been added to "OO" gauge in years. We give you ----- All Aluminum Streamline Pullmans and Coaches (smooth sides).....
Keeping with the Canadian theme of the first photo, this is a modified Zuhr RPO, described further here. And there was even more on the market in 1949, which will be outlined more fully in part III.

Continue Reading 1949 Series

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Surprising 1937 Star-Continental Find

Star-Contiental Models of Brooklyn, NY introduced their OO scale 4-4-2 model in 1937. As noted in my longer article on this model, "The model is not quite a PRR E-6--it is actually a freelance version of PRR K-4/K-5 Pacific, but built as an Atlantic." The model was later (1939-WWII) produced by Nason Railways.

In a group of papers that arrived this week was an instruction sheet, the first page only, for of one of four sections of the Nason version of this 4-4-2. What Nason did was drop their name in on the instruction sheet, but otherwise they are the original Star-Continental instructions, dated 1/16/37.

Next to my bed on a night stand I had put up what I thought to be sort of a random, novelty train printing block, as a display item. Then I noticed it looked familiar, like an illustration I had just seen. Getting out that sheet again, it was the same, it is of the same locomotive illustration as on that instruction sheet, complete with numbers and a bit of text. The numbers matched the key on that page, but the print itself was a different size.

Having a hunch, I got out my file for Star-Continental and it turns out that the printing block I have is the illustration on page 4 of their 1937 catalog. At least I think so! It matches perfectly except that it is just a bit off in length, about 10 mm shorter than my Xerox copy of the 1937 catalog. I am thinking it is old Xerox (probably 20 years old) and the image was stretched by the machine.

The first image in this article is the printing block compared to the Xerox print of the catalog, and the second image is the printing block itself, but a reverse image of the scan so that it looks like the print. Click on it for a better view.

How I got this block I have no idea. It came with some OO trains and parts, and some chain of ownership took it from Brooklyn in 1937 to Arizona in 2013. I am very happy to have seen the connection! A very rare, one-of piece of American OO history.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

1949 and American OO. Part I, Put a Fork in It?

Looking at the big picture, in terms of advertising and magazine coverage, OO might seem dead in terms of commercial viability. Kicking the year off in fact, in the January issue of Model Railroader there is an interesting interview with Irving Shull, who was “manager of the Lionel New York Service Station.” One of the questions MR posed has to do with “if Lionel would again produce its scale model OO gauge Hudson and train set, inasmuch as we had heard that all the dies for the OO equipment had been destroyed.” Shull “informed us that the company would very much like to resume manufacture of OO gauge scale model equipment, but at today’s cost of manufacture, the outfit which formerly sold at under $40 would have to retail for more than $100.” They unfortunately “could not hope to sell a sufficient quantity of them at that price” and the article concludes,
Mr. Shull said that the rumors we had heard about the discontinuance of the OO gauge equipment because the tools had been destroyed were unfounded. “On the contrary,” he wrote, “the tools have been safely set aside until the time comes when we can again place them on the market.”
That was a time that never came for Lionel. However, there was a real public out there that were established in OO gauge and would not give up so easily. They are the shaping force for all the models yet to be produced, and to set that larger context I would like to start this look at 1949 with a look at their letters.

An interesting series of letters in particular was published in MC/MRC/RMC. Under the heading “OO the Best Bet” in the March issue of Model Craftsman we hear from a reader in North Carolina that
I don’t have every back copy of The Model Craftsman, but I’ve got a lot of them, including many of your latest ones. But the old ones I like the best. I still look up those old copies and reread those car construction articles by Hugh Richard Nason. Back along then is when I started in model railroading and I’ll bet you don’t have to be told what gauge I went into. So today when I picked up your September edition from a news stand you may bet that I was reminded of those old times when I hit that article by H. R. Treat. More power to Herb and M.C. I hope there will be many more articles like it and by Herb, of course. I’m back of your magazine a hundred percent and I want to see it grown and grow and grow.
A photo from that article may be seen here in the 1948 seires, and the first photo above is another view of the OO layout of Herb Treat, published in the December 1949 issue of RMC.

Another letter also reacting positively to the models of Herb Treat may be found in the May issue of Model Railroad Craftsman. Model Railroad Craftsman? Model Craftsman had become 100% model railroading in 1948 and was changing their name to match the content. The April, May, and June issues were published under this MRC banner, but the more familiar Railroad Model Craftsman was adopted in July. A reader from Rockford, Ill wrote, “Sure would like to see more of Mr. Treat’s articles and perhaps a story, plans and pictures of his layout. I really go for his stuff…. Let’s go OO, Maybe a little boost for us, eh?”

In the June issue of MRC we find a reply illustrated with this neat little graphic from a HO gauger in Detroit. The mixture of 00 and OO gauge is original to the text, perhaps an editing glitch.
I was just going through some of my back copies of the Craftsman and came across a letter in last August’s Safety Valve about the tremendous possibilities of 00 gauge. To me this is a laugh. The writer of that letter should go into any hobby shop and take a gander at the shelves—note the absence of 00 gauge equipment. When I set out to build up a locomotive in HO gauge, it is no longer a major operation. There is a large variety of materials on the market that will fit most any prototype. In 00 gauge you are too limited unless of course you have a veritable machine shop in your basement…. I’m all wrapped up in HO gauge myself but can still see other modelers’ viewpoints – but when it comes to OO, that’s another matter!
In the following issue, the first issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, we hear again from the reader in Rockford, Ill. This time under the heading “Still Plugging 00” we read
Here I am back again, still plugging. I am one of a minority group, however small we are, but I still feel that we are the only true model railroad builders of the present day. Kits are few and manufacturers fewer in our gauge, consequently nearly every piece of rolling stock and trackside structures to gauge are homemade and home-planned. We are in this gauge because we still think it is the finest of any of our present day popular gauges. It takes a lot of work and things are pretty slow at times but we do have fun railroading knowing that we build with our own hands….
Things I would like to see some one come out with for 00 – a good power truck for both four and six wheel diesel units or even some full scale plans to work from. Some freight and passenger trucks also some streamline passenger cars.  
Those things would actually all be coming soon. Our final letter for the year is from the December issue of Model Railroader, written by a retired Major and published under the heading “OO Gauge Parts.” He wrote,
I would appreciate it if some effort could be devoted to solving the problem of securing OO gauge material and parts. 
Most of us in OO gauge hope to see, with each new issue of MR, that some manufacturer has taken up where the other manufacturers let us down. Many of us purchased heavily in the past and are still in need of plenty of parts to complete what has been under construction since the war stopped production.
OO gauge may be dead to most model railroaders in the other gauges and may not be a profitable venture for new manufacturers, but there may be enough OO gaugers left in the air to justify someone’s making enough parts to keep us going until we finish the things we started. 
It may be necessary for those of us who are left in the gauge to form a guild in order to secure parts. What do OO readers think of this idea?
Finally, the last photo in this article is from the June issue of MR, of the Miniature Railroad Club of York, PA club layout. Note the extremely interesting locomotives including in particular that scratchbuilt FT Diesel. This model predates the introduction of the Schorr F3. The fact that OO club layouts existed such as this and the letters above all reflect that there was a market for more OO models! As we will see in Part II of this series on 1949.

Continue reading 1949 series