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

Sunday, September 25, 2016

An ATSF heavyweight combine

With this beautiful car we have the first of a group of passenger cars that were built by James Trout. As noted in a prior article he was an artist with Disney for more than 40 years and put his considerable skills into action in his American OO models.

I will begin by saying what this car is, it is an ATSF combine and it caught my eye as a perfect car to have for a Santa Fe branch line mixed train, such as would have run on the line I traveled along so many times with my parents growing up in Kansas. Although I have to note that this specific car is from a group (2602-2608) which were actually not used in mixed train service, instead they were rider cars for The Fast Mail. For more information on these cars in general see this page in the Santa Fe Railway Historical Society website. 

Still though, this car really caught my attention not only for being at least very similar to a mixed train combine but also as I had recently completed a similar model someone else started years ago, they converted a pair of Scale-Craft bodies into a combine (seen here). That car, when I completed it, seemed like a nice car for my layout to run on an approximation of an ATSF mixed train, and I planned to upgrade it with an interior. Now, with this new Trout model here, I am not so sure….

The arrival of this car and others with it may mark a slight turning point for me. Let me explain. The first issue, if it is an issue, is that this model is so well made. When I look at the average vintage model in American OO, I definitely have better modeling skills than a lot of people back in the day. But this combine, it is built at a level of old-school craftsmanship I have aspired to but never quite achieved, one that is rarely seen today in any scale.

This model must have taken many hours to build. It is obviously scratchbuilt and there are hardly any commercial parts to be seen, the most visible being the Nason trucks. The sides are sheet metal -- some sort of a dull tinplate material -- and he used some sort of rivet making die or machine to punch in all the rivets. It is an accurate and beautifully built scale model of the prototype, with real glass in the windows and an interior. As always, click on the photos for a closer view.

The couplers are an interesting choice, they are HO Devore couplers. It was an oversize (for HO!) working knuckle coupler produced in the 1950s that scales out very close to correct in OO. Trout at one point had a large layout, but with the limited swing they offer I am thinking that Trout either only displayed this particular car as a shelf model or he had very wide radius curves.

Of course the lettering was all done by hand as well. It does not look like it was at any normal viewing distance though and clearly Trout had the steady hand of a real artist.

Basically, this and other cars that recently arrived have suddenly pushed the bar much higher for me in American OO. I have over the years had fun building and rebuilding quite a few nice, neat models. I own other models built to a similar level as I have achieved, but built by others (thinking especially of Pierre Bourassa, William Johann, William Gilbert, and Fred Schorr). But these models have really challenged me, they are absolutely the best scratchbuilt models ever to be in my train room and certainly leave the average model built on a pre-war design now looking less good than it did before, no matter how neatly built. Also, while I would love to run this model, I actually can’t as my curve radius is not big enough – and even if I swap out the couplers out it will look better on 36” or more radius. That issue I will have to ponder as years go forward.

There are quite a few more of these cars by James Trout to describe one by one, about half and half ATSF and his personal road which I will introduce in a later article. Some are very complete and in beautiful shape and others have significant issues from storage that I will need to address. In any case, it is good that I have at least the skills to lightly touch up these models as needed, the group is giving me a good challenge and I will aim to describe a couple every week or so, be watching for more of these stunning models.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Two modern 60’ boxcars

Today we have a pair of modern cars in American OO, one completely scratch built by Bill Johann in 1985 and the other started by him in the 1990s and finished by me.

The Cotton Belt car is the older model. The body is wood and it is built with traditional methods, rolling on Lionel trucks which he must have felt had enough heft to look right on the car. The car in front has perhaps more of a story. The frame was in the OO Inventory, and the model had no body. It clearly had one before, maybe a couple different bodies even based on the dates on the frame (seen in the third photo), and was also on Lionel trucks. In any case it originally must have had a plastic body generally similar to the one I built up.

So the body I made has its own story. Way back in high school or close to it I bought an Athearn HO 86’ boxcar body thinking it could be converted to OO. And then it sat and sat, moved from place to place. But looking at that orphan frame it was clear that the Athearn body would make a good basis for a somewhat freelanced 60’ boxcar in OO. It exactly fits the frame, and the big plug doors I think make the model, as do the couplers on the long cushion draft gears.

How I worked the Athearn body over is fairly clear in the photos. I did split the roof and cut both ends off, making a new roof and new ends. The brass part of the ends are extra parts that I had that were produced for the Scale-Craft 50’ boxcar, and the other commercial looking parts are HO. The roof was a special challenge and actually the roof you see is the second roof that has been on the car. I opted to do a simplification that Johann did on other models I have, it is probably not totally prototypical but then again the car has a few compromises. But it is a good match for the frame and will certainly be a believable model when decorated, most likely for the ATSF.

UPDATE: The finished car is here.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Introducing American OOn3

Although a new topic in this website, over the years I have seen a few references here and there to OOn3 models being built. Attempts at activity in this gauge date from after WWII, as the 12mm gauge track required for OOn3 is the same as TT standard gauge track, so you could make use of TT gauge locomotive mechanisms and, if you did not mind the small wheels and ties, commercial TT gauge track and trucks.

Recently obtained were these two cabooses. The one in the front is standard gauge and was scratch built by Fred Schorr, and is lettered for his personal road. (It is a near twin to the caboose in this article, and has full interior and lights!). The one in the rear is OOn3 and was built by his son Ed. It is neatly scratch built and rides on modified HOn3 trucks.

Note, in comparing the photos, that from the side they are similar in size but the narrow gauge model is not as wide. As always, click on the photos for a closer view.

According to Ed he made one other model in OOn3, a D&RGW C-16! If anyone has that model out there reading this, I would love to hear from you. I do hope the owner knows what it is and how unique the model is!

The idea of OOn3 has intrigued me for years, I like Colorado narrow gauge, but it just seems like too much work compared to for example switching scales and then building a layout in Sn3. I laid that OOn3 track seen in the photos back when I was in high school (!), but as an experiment I think originally to lay some TT gauge track. But the ties I used were way too big for TT and it ends up being about right visually for OOn3 or maybe more correctly for HOm (HO, meter gauge) due to tie size.

Speaking of track, you can buy what would be very workable OOn3 track commercially now, as there are several lines of HOm track, also 12mm gauge. It is more of a European specialty product so tracking down suppliers in the US is more of a challenge, but it should in closing also be noted that there are entire lines of products that are built in HOm and various types of OO narrow gauge models as well, but not specifically US prototype of course. Maybe if a situation came where I really had to seriously downsize I might think about freelancing some mining or logging line OOn3, who knows the future?