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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

American OO in 1951-52, part I: Sunset for Scale-Craft

Regular readers of this series know by now that Elliott Donnelley clearly loved his Scale-Craft model trains. The time had come though to move on; their product line did not fit with the hobby trends of the time, and his career had gone in other directions.

Exhibit “A” being this letter from Elliott Donnelley. Dated February 28, 1951, the letter is to Lewis English (who ten years later would become the owner of Bowser). If you click on the image you can view a larger scan, and from that you can see several details. Note that the letterhead is rubber stamped with a Chicago “corporate office” address. As to the Scale-Craft product line, “ …we have just sold our entire “O” gauge line of model railroad equipment; the car line to the Thomas industries of Wenonah, N. J., and the locomotives to the Central Locomotive Works….” But the OO line was still available through a Mr. Gunnard Stark of Lake Forest, IL.

Later copies of the Scale-Craft Round Lake catalog have a rubber stamp on the cover reading “ONLY “OO” EQUIPMENT AVAILABLE” and that same new address on a second rubber stamp in Lake Forest, IL. When I look up 849 N. Summit Ave. in Google street view it shows it is a residential neighborhood across from a park, a pretty middle class looking area. My guess is it was at that time the home address of Stark, who was evidently the caretaker of the Scale-Craft OO line for owner Elliott Donnelley, with the Scale-Craft inventory and toolings likely stored elsewhere.

An article on Scale-Craft by Glenn Guerra in The O Scale Resource for Jan/Feb 2014 has a slightly different theory on the Summit Ave. address, which may be absolutely correct as to why this specific street address was used.
When I was visiting Art Miller [emeritus archivist of special collections] to look at the catalogues and other information at Lake Forest College [there is a special Donnelley collection there; he was at one time a trustee in addition to being mayor of Lake Forest], we went to see the Summit Avenue location. Summit Avenue is a two block long street with houses on one side of the street and a park on the other. Across the park from Summit Avenue is the Donnelley estate. Art told me that quite a few of the estate owners in Lake Forest owned homes for their help to live in. We suspect that this was the case with Scale Craft, and that whoever was in charge of production, was now living in the house at 849 Summit Avenue.
The Scale-Craft ad run in MR and RMC ends with the sale of the O gauge line, but two more advertisements for the OO line later ran in Model Railroader.  First up is this from September, 1951. In it we learn that Scale-Craft “is back and going strong.” The fine print is encouraging, as they were now shipping the following items:

  • 4-8-4
  • 4-6-0
  • Gas Electric (coach/baggage)
  • Hopper
  • Flat
  • Reefer
  • Stock car
  • Caboose
  • Coach
  • Baggage
  • Pullman
  • Diner
  • Observation
  • Power unit for Gas Electric or MU cars
  • Fibre tie strip
  • Midlin track kits

That last item is interesting as Midlin had quit advertising their OO track products several years earlier; most likely this was old stock that Stark or Donnelley had obtained to fill out the OO line.

Following that ad, so far as I can tell the final Scale-Craft ad is this one, from the January 1952 issue of MR. Note that it plugs the MU cars as new. This car was featured in the look at the 1950 Round Lake catalog (where it is illustrated), but it is possible that it did not finally get produced until 1952, which is why it is so rare. And, as the ad says, “watch for many other new items in the near future.”

Related to that MU car, I have an updated link. There is a type of passenger truck sideframe that is very rarely seen among Scale-Craft items. This article has much more on these plain bearing truck sideframes, and if you scroll to the end of the article I have added a photo of a variation of this with a different truck mounting. Perhaps the odd mounting seen on this sideframe relates to the very late MU car production?

To close (and jump ahead slightly in our story), Kemtron ultimately purchased the residual of Scale-Craft OO by 1954. More on that may be found in this article.

When this series continues the topic is that of “what happened.”

Continue in 1951-52 series

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A HO Pullman Conversion

A variety of models have been converted from HO to OO. Today the model featured is one such example, a conversion of the AHM (Rivarossi) heavyweight Pullman. It was a part of a 1920 heavyweight series of models.

In the first photo the conversion is seen on top of a vintage J-C Models Pullman. It is full scale for OO and in comparison the AHM model does look a bit undersized from the side. William Gilbert started this conversion and it was about 90% done when it came to me. What he did was split the car down the middle, add an OO scale roof (J-C models roof stock), and add a very nice interior, seen in the second photo. My main tasks were to finish up the roof details and add trucks and Kadee couplers

I suspect a sticky point for Gilbert was the trucks, as there is not enough space to use Scale-Craft trucks under the car and it really needs six wheel trucks. However, I have four pair of these trucks around that were modified by a prior owner who filed off the ends of the trucks. With both ends of the sideframes essentially gone they would fit the car. I had used them on another car previously, adding at that time upgrade wheelsets.

On this car the trucks work great! It handles the curves on my layout beautifully being a bit under 80 foot in OO and I enjoy seeing the interior and details of the model, with the windows being another nice touch (I usually leave them off – have seen too many cars where the windows are damaged). On the down side, it really does look a little small. It does match a few other cars I have though (some Nason in particular is closer) and I have two more of these HO conversion projects that were started by Gilbert (but less far along) that I can build up to match as well.

The J-C Pullman in the photos is also notable, one of a pair that I just finished up that had been started by the late Pierre Bourassa and came to me about 80% done. He had brush painted them a shade of green that was a bit off and there were some details not completed and no decals. They were a little rough; I worked the pair over, more details, new paint, HO decals. One interesting detail is he used Scale-Craft frames on the cars, seen in the last photo. It is those frames actually which make the pair not presently operable on my layout, there is not enough truck swing allowed. I could modify them, but even if I did 80’ cars don’t operate well on my layout. For now I will leave them as shelf models. I believe Bourassa planned by leaving the roof removable to add an interior similar to what Gilbert had added to the AHM car, and if I work on these more I will add the interior details.

UPDATE: I got inspired just a few weeks after posting this article and got a train of five full size J-C and Famoco Pullmans set up and running on the layout. It is all about good trucks, clearance for the trucks, and sufficient coupler swing to actually get the cars to operate, even if they do "look" a bit big for the layout. With that for inspiration I got the Bourassa cars running as well, with modified frames, upgraded trucks, and new couplers. They are nice cars and I like the removable roof; at some point soon I plan to add interiors that match the Gilbert HO conversion Pullman, I have all the parts to do it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Nason PRR Diner

Up today is a rarity, a pre-war Nason PRR Diner.

This model was a part of their line of EZ-Built passenger cars with stamped brass sides and was introduced in 1937. With the Scale-Craft line coming in that year they must have felt it a good time to expand their passenger car line in the growing OO market. Also, clearly the owners of Nason were enthusiastic about passenger cars, with several unique PRR models produced that would look great pulled by their classic P5-A model. The line also included a P-70 coach, a PB-70 combine, and a PRR postal (RPO). More on Nason Railways in general may be found here.

From the side I would note to check the small details on the roof, which include an ice hatch casting, which is original to the kit. When this model came to me (via eBay) it was not on Nason trucks, which it runs on now as seen in the bottom view. Normally I like to restore models to the level that they could operate on my layout, but at this time this one is a shelf model. I would have to modify the frame a good bit to allow for enough truck swing for my curves—or build a new layout! This car as designed/built needs something like 36” or larger curves. Also, while it could be disassembled and repainted/lettered, as I am not a PRR modeler I left it as it is, a nice example of the model but showing some age.

This final scan is from the instructions for this model. The builder followed them pretty closely and put in the time and effort to build what was not a simple kit. The instructions are dated, if I am reading them correctly, 8-9-37, with the drawings by "F.W." That would be Frank Waldhorst, business partner of Hugh Nason at that time. Both of them may be seen in this article. I can’t say how many of these were produced, but again these models are not commonly seen, the Scale-Craft diner is much more common. A classic model I am happy to have in my collection.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

"The Giant," a look at two Transportation Models 50' boxcars

This car some readers may have seen pass through eBay really recently, the big gray UP 50' boxcar. It was built up very neatly from either a Graceline "comprestic" kit or from from the successor Transportation Models kit. It caught my eye as this so rarely seen for sale and this is a great example.

In the first photo the car is with a Transportation Models 50' boxcar, featured previously in this article. This was rebuilt from a junk car but informed heavily by the two additional kits I have for this car, one complete and one partial. Look from the side first get used to the visual proportions of the boxcar red car, as they are about right. Then look at the gray car. It is made with the same sides and doors but note that the builder fit them to a larger body, so large that the model would pass as a 40' boxcar in S gauge instead of being a OO scale car.

Those that saw the listing on eBay will note I traded out the trucks for a set that were painted boxcar red (correct for the car) and also I gave it a quick coat of Dullcote, to seal the decals.

Looking from the end the body is the same width (too wide) but is shorter. The ends are exactly the same ends but on the shorter car they are cut down a bit on the bottom and on the taller car they were not cut down to the line it would seem Graceline intended.

I was especially intrigued by the different body size as this was driven by the wood parts. I pulled out my kits and discovered they had smaller wood body parts, closer to correct for scale. My guess is one batch of the same parts had the oversize bodies and Transportation Models shipped them out in kits. Maybe the original builder of the boxcar red car noted this and cut down the height?

Digging in the parts supply and in the kits on hand I discovered that there are two different sizes of ends. Click on the photo for a better view but note the larger one is the type on both of these cars but the smaller one is correct for OO. Also note that both are clearly Graceline parts, stamped right there plain as day. The larger one has to have been an "oops" on their part, corrected with the smaller end before they sold the line. They shipped out the big parts probably, and it would also seem the big parts were shipped out by Transportation Models too as they repackaged and sold off the residual of Graceline.

And also I found the same thing with the doors. Again, these are both Graceline parts as seen in the stamping, but there is the larger version as seen on both of the cars above and a smaller version that is correct for OO scale.

It is a bit of a puzzle but going back to the gray car, the builder made it up beautifully. After it was completed if it was ran on a layout I don't know, but the car looks huge and will certainly see little service here! But both cars inspire me a bit to work more with some of these parts I have on hand this summer, neat cars can be made from these kits with some effort.

For more background see: