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

Thursday, June 7, 2018

American OO in the 1960s, part I: Too invested to quit

After a hiatus of a few years it is finally time to continue the OO history series. By the 1960s products had commercially slowed down to a trickle in American OO, but there was a core group of individuals very dedicated to the scale and gauge active over this entire decade. This series, as it continues, will begin to be their story.

Kicking off things off, 1961 was a year that saw the Greenbrook of David Sacks on the move! Two articles in particular have been previously posted here that relate to the Greenbrook, with the layout being featured in the August, 1961 issue of Model Railroader:


Moving on in 1961, a second run of Schorr 4-6-0 models were reaching the USA from Japan. Schorr by this point relied on essentially direct mail correspondence to market his models, and this photo has a hand-written note from Schorr on the back. Delivery was slated for December, 1961, price $39.95, “reserve yours now!” The original run of this model was listed as being available in 1956, and the 1957 price/sales sheet says “only a few of these left.”

There was more quietly going on, a good example being found in the March, 1964 issue of Model Railroader. There we find an article on signals, but the layout featured is actually an OO layout with nice photos. The author, C. Kenneth Hurd, a dentist by profession, had published several prior articles on signals and other electrical concerns. There is an earlier photo of his layout in an article on automatic interlocking in the June, 1946 issue of MR, and intriguing photos of a trolley layout in an article on train control in the Feb. 47 MR, but it unfortunately does not state that those models are OO. This present article, “How I built my layout – with signals” provides an “easy-to-understand contact arrangement” that “controls signals and stops trains automatically.”

There is a scale drawing of his large, 8 x 20-foot layout and several photos, this being the best of the group, showing how the passenger train has “passed far enough beyond the signal bridge to change the signal at right from green (upper lamp) to red.” That the signal system is applied to an OO scale layout he only notes well into the article, where he states, ”I’m afraid the gauge I use dates me, for old-timers will spot Nason, Lionel, Scale-Craft, and other makes of OO scale equipment in the photos.” He also in the next paragraph talks about his track; a large layout with signals needs good track!
I discovered that the die-cut paper tie strip I used would not hold the gauge; the ties would warp and pull the rails together. I changed to the Midlin type with one rail fixed in wooden ties and a slit for the other rail. [Midlin track has not been made for some time, and few, if any, shops still have it. – Ed.]
The editor’s note is significant too (and I have more on Midlin here). Taken together, American OO was not a major player by 1964, but people like Kenneth Hurd were invested enough in the scale to keep on going with projects that interested them, such as developing a working signal system.

Worth mentioning as well, from the same issue of Model Railroader, Eastern was still in business and had just moved their operations from New Jersey to Montana. They would run a monthly ad in MR. for many years; you could still buy their OO kits from them into the 1980s.

Before closing, an aside on this series as it continues into the 1960s and beyond. With years of effort and some much appreciated help I own physical copies of all but about a dozen magazines before 1960, and I have in fact skimmed/read and taken OO related notes on nearly every issue of every model railroad magazine before 1960. But as this series goes forward I have not read every magazine (owning a lot, but not all), and I turn to other notes I’ve developed. I don’t recall who pointed me at this 1964 article, but in short I am in appreciation to many people over years of looking at the history of American OO.

As the series continues we look to the late 1960s.

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