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

Monday, December 29, 2008

Is American OO Tinplate?

While I would say no as a first reaction to the question of American OO being tinplate or not, the answer is not clear cut. Three rail Lionel OO maybe, with those tight, toy train curves, although they were marketed in the 1938 catalog as scale models, "railroading for the city apartment." What about early Scale-Craft?

Thanks to my brother I now have a copy of Collecting Model Trains, the classic 1956 publication by Louis H. Hertz. A most interesting book! It covers a lot of topics from the practical to the philosophical relating to collecting model and toy trains. One of the more philosophical topics was that of early HO and OO being scale or tinplate models. In particular on page 29 Hertz took up the
question of the proper status of Knapp HO and Scale-Craft OO trains of the late 1930’s. Both lines were sold in both assembled ready-to-run and kit form. Knapp was classified as tinplate and Scale-Craft as scale, first because these were the expressed preferences of the makers themselves, and second because Knapp was a long-established toy manufacturer and many years previously had made 2” gauge, two rail tinplate trains, whereas Scale-Craft was essentially and originally a manufacturer of scale kits. At the time both manufacturers endeavored to sell their models in both the toy train and scale model hobby fields, and as the late Harold V. Loose, then managing editor of Model Craftsman, pointed out, the whole affair was not a little contradictory. As he noted (although not in print), Scale-Craft’s die-cast locomotives, and their use of the same locomotive body casting on more than one wheel arrangement, plus their metal-base track, were closer to most hobbyists’ usual conceptions of tinplate train designing and manufacturing practice than that of scale model production, while Knapp’s brass locomotives represented a material more frequently associated with scale kits than with production tinplate. Furthermore, he regarded Knapp’s 2-8-2 type as a truer scale representation of the prototype than Scale-Craft’s varied 4-4-2, 4-6-0, or the tank locomotive (4-6-4), all using the same body casting.
Hertz has a point on some elements of the early S-C line being tinplate oriented. Another example for sure is the early, die cast Scale-Craft boxcar, it is not as scale detailed as the comparable Nason or Lionel models, and the trucks are tinplate in look.

They are I feel in the end all scale models, collectible but not tinplate, but there is certainly an element of tinplate design to the early models which is a part of the charm of American OO gauge models today.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

1938 Lionel OO set in action

I just did a quick YouTube search and found this video of a Lionel 1938 set in action, on display at Trainfest Milwaukee 2008. It is a short video but it is good go see that OO was on display at the show.

This was the first time I have searched for American OO on YouTube. While there are plenty of British OO videos there it appears that this might be the only American OO video posted. If you know of more let me know, or consider posting your own if you have the video skills.

UPDATE 2010: Another, sharper video below is online of the same layout, with the following text by the builder:
I purchased the train & Track off of the original owner several years ago. I built the layout 2 years ago, and do a little here a little their on the layout. I have been taking this layout to Trainfest in Milwaukee Wisconsin for the past few years. This year I plan on having all of the buildings lit and will try to have a push button on the crossing gates and may add another acc to have a button to push.

UPDATE 2013: And also check out my American OO Today videos. Episode 4 on models available in 1938 would be a good place to start in relation to the videos above, and I hope to post a new series soon.

AND -- the 2013 version of the layout may be seen here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Scale-Craft and Lionel sectional track for OO gauge

As leaders in the OO market, Scale-Craft and Lionel both produced lines of sectional track in American OO gauge.

In conjunction with the launch of their OO line in 1937 the first maker to introduce sectional track was Scale-Craft. Their sectional track is two rail on a metal base. It is rarely seen today but those that have it recommend it as Scale-Craft track has often held up over time better than Lionel track. Lionel track is similar but on a Bakelite base and is prone to warp, crack, and become unusable.

I don’t [as of 2008 ... see update at end] own any examples of either brand, but Dick G. has kindly provided these photos of Scale-Craft and Lionel two rail track which illustrate the differences well. The Scale-Craft track line was produced 1937-42 and included:

1154 Straight section, 10"
1159 Curved section, 16 to circle, 26" radius
1199 Straight section with transformer leads

In the 1938 catalog S-C track was priced at .25 for each straight or curve and .40 for the straight with transformer leads. This was at a considerable savings over the OO three rail track listed in the 1938 Lionel catalog; it sold for .40 for each straight or curve and .75 for the curved connection track.

In the photos the Scale-Craft track illustrated is the curve and the straight section with transformer leads. It has steel rails and fiber ties on a steel base. Dick notes “The straight S-C track in the photo is a connection piece. There is an oval hole in the side of the base (at the center) allowing you to run wires through the hole and under the track, and solder them to the clips holding the rails to the base. Regular S-C straight and curved track don't have the connection hole.” He also adds that “there are no markings on S-C track. You have to know what it looks like to identify it.” They also produced turnout kits that were not on a metal base but were intended to mate with their sectional track.

The rail used on S-C and two rail Lionel track is similar, approximately code 125 and solid. The sections between the two brands will however not mate without modification. Lionel three-rail track has in contrast a hollow, tubular rail.

Lionel introduced their line of sectional track in 1938. The initial offerings were three rail, with spring clip connections between sections. In 1939 they changed the connections in the three rail line and added the two rail line of track. Both types were available until 1942.

As the photos from Dick are of the two rail track, I will start with this part of their line. The curve is a very slightly tighter radius than Scale-Craft, making a 48” diameter circle. The Lionel two rail track included a curved connection track (in the photo), a straight section, and a curved section. Turnouts were not marketed but pilot models are said to exist for two rail turnouts.

The primary type of track produced by Lionel was their three rail OO track. It is designed around a much tighter radius, making a circle of only 27” in diameter, and has a more toy-like/tinplate look. The three-rail line included:

OO-51 Curved section (1939-42)
OO-52 Straight section (1939-42)
OO-61 Curved section with spring clip connections (1938 only)
OO-62 Straight section with spring clip connections (1938 only)
OO-63 1/2 curved section
OO-64 Curved connection track
OO-65 1/2 straight section
OO-66 5/6 curved section
OO-70 Crossover
OO-72 Switches (sold as pair, L and R)

The Lionel name and part number are on the bottom of each piece. See the UPDATE 2014 at the end of this article for a note on the roots of the three-rail track design.

The very important point to note is that Lionel produced three distinct types of OO track. Besides producing two-rail track they also produced two different types of three-rail OO gauge track with different connectors that are actually incompatible with each other. When they made the change over in 1939 to the new type for the curves and straight sections they changed the catalog number but the part number on the sections remained the same. The other types of track were also changed to the new connector but sold under an unchanged catalog number. Confusing? Yes!

An article that details the three types of Lionel OO track is the aptly titled “The Wacky World of Lionel OO, part 1” by George J. Adamson, published in volume 23, no. 4 (Summer, 1977) of The Train Collectors Quarterly. The types of track are illustrated on page 22. If you are a TCA member this issue may be accessed as a PDF in the “Members Only” area of their website, a wonderful resource. Adamson introduced his story as follows; one I believe lived by many Lionel OO enthusiasts over the years.
Can you imagine someone back in about 1940 who had bought one of the early OO sets and then buys some extra track to make the layout on Christmas Eve …, only to discover that the track won't fit together? Bleep! Bleep!

This writer had a similar experience recently in trying to build an OO layout. My first set had only two straight sections with the circle of track, and after begging for track two sections at a time I was finally able to make a decent loop. After assembling the curves I started to add the straight, and lo and behold! Some of the straight track wouldn’t join. All of the curved track had a spring clip underneath the center rail of each section, and there was one round mating pin on each of the outside rails. Most of the straight track, however, had a thin flat blade on each end of the center rail and each outside rail had a thicker blade with a notch (like a hook) at one end. The end of the track was completely open so that the blades would slip inside. There was no spring flip. Further examination revealed that the blade type track had beveled holes for screws while the spring clip type did not. The blade ends were mounted into the bakelite base, and any chance of mating the two tracks seemed less likely than finding an OO set at its original catalog price of $35. The building of a railroad came to an abrupt halt.
There is much more in the Adamson article. The photos above from Dick Kuehnemund show the different connectors. See this article as well for two interesting 1938 track sections which are likely Lionel engineering samples for sections that were not produced.

To give an overall view of the three rail track I have however linked in these last two photos from the online article “TM's Lionel OO Studio Layout” in Toy Train Review. This article is a must read for anyone interested in Lionel OO, with a number of photos of the three rail track in use. The layout was built for shooting videos on the history of Lionel, which I would highly recommend also. The one I have, on VHS, is Lionel OO & HO in Action. They note in the text that the switches are “very rare” and that an oval of 2-rail track “is almost impossible to find.” As to using this classic track on the layout they noted that “the track was gently fastened down …. [being] careful to leave some play in the track because the bakelite roadbed of Lionel OO can be brittle and crack.”

As to what this track is worth, it is all quite valuable, so much so that some manufacturer out there ought to notice eventually and produce reproduction track. The only Greenberg guide I have handy is from 1995, which lists the Lionel switches as selling for $225 a pair in excellent condition. They are even more valuable today for sure. Besides the switches, Lionel two rail straight track is probably the least common. Any type of Lionel track on a good day and in usable condition may sell for toward $50 a piece on eBay. [UPDATE: A lot of ten pieces of Lionel two rail straight track recently (2/09) sold on eBay for over $1,000! Over $100 a piece! Thanks to Ed Havens for this update.]

And the Scale-Craft track? It almost never shows up on eBay but is also desirable for operators and rare. As to why it is desirable I will let Dick G. have the final word:
I think the S-C track is superior to Lionel 2-rail track because it doesn't warp like the Bakelite base on the Lionel track. When you assemble and disassemble S-C track multiple times, the rails tend to slide a little on the base. If you don't tap them back in place, you will get gaps in the rails above the rail joiners on the ends. This is the only problem I've had with S-C track.
UPDATE 2012: Within a year or two I did pick up some examples of Lionel and Scale-Craft track. As I say in the article where I note that I purchased some Lionel track finally,
It really does not “feel” pre-war. I can kind of imagine how someone would have felt back then to hold it in your hands for the first time, this is pretty amazing stuff. I did a quick survey with a couple of my favorite junior high students to guess how old this track was. They guessed that it dated to the 1960s-70s. Lionel had quite a product going with the pre-war OO line; no wonder collectors drive a market for our defunct but most interesting scale.
UPDATE 2014: A reader noticed something that I don't think has ever been noted in articles/writings on Lionel OO--that their three-rail track seems to have been copied and scaled up from the 1935 Trix Twin HO/OO track line. See this article for more on the comparison of these products.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Bit of Scenic Progress

Over the weekend I made some progress on scenery.

This section has long been in progress; the middle of this scene was originally a 2’ x 4’ module, my initial OO layout, which was according to the date on the bottom of the layout started in August of 1978. The scenery was built up using pretty conventional techniques, plaster, latex paint, white glue mixed with alcohol, ground foam, etc. As slow as I have been on scenery it is always interesting how quickly it can be brought to this state when I finally get in action. The area is not done yet but this is certainly looking much better than before! The buildings lack signage, Corno Feed Products and Atom Pop, and my daughter was quick to point out that I need to put cows in the cattle pens. The vehicles are mostly the over scale models that were/are sold by AHM as HO. Click on the photo for a larger view.

The next and final segment is to the left of the area in the photo, the depot and edge of town area. For this I am pretty much set as to buildings and design and really hope to see this area also brought to a fairly finished look in the next month. Will see where progress takes me.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Blow-Smoke, a newsletter from Scale-Craft, part 1

Elliott Donnelley is certainly one of the fathers of American OO gauge. In 1936 he took over the O gauge line American Model Engineers, Inc., and in 1937 Scale-Craft introduced their OO gauge line, which was imitated the next year by Lionel. In that period the company was known officially as Scale-Models, Inc.; the street address was 1516 S. Wabash Ave, Chicago, Ill.

In those early days of the hobby the marketing and selling of model trains must have been a major challenge, especially for a maker like Scale-Craft hoping to go into a new scale in a big way. Besides great catalogs and print advertisements in publications such as Model Craftsman and Model Railroader, Donnelley decided that a newsletter would be of help to their marketing efforts.

Nine issues of the Blow-Smoke newsletter were produced between 1938 and 1941. I [Updated] own  the full run of Blow-Smoke, this being the cover of the first issue.

Volume I, number 1 was published in May of 1938. This issue (as are most other issues) is four pages long and features elements of their O and OO gauge lines along with helpful articles. The OO gauge equipment featured are the tank car, hopper, and their OO switch kits (these were produced to match their line of OO sectional track on a metal base--see this article for more information on the track); on the O gauge side of things they featured the gondola, stock car, and two rail trucks. Articles included the topics of laying OO track (with fiber ties), applying decals in O and OO gauges, and wiring locomotives for two rail operation. But the most interesting item is the opening editorial from Donnelley himself. He began,
With this issue, Scale-Craft “Blow-Smoke” is born. I intend to use these columns in each issue to say what I wish in an informal manner. Every organ of this kind ought to have a purpose all its own and our purpose is to inform you what is new; to throw fresh light on what is old; and to help you in building and expanding your model system by giving you various construction hints not usually available nor fully described on instruction sheets. We will try to include in each issue a description of an attractive addition to your model system which you can make yourself and which is not found in available kits.
Marketing was his major concern. Scale-Craft was at the time experimenting with different sales policies, which included a price reduction after the publication of their 1937 catalog and a change to direct sales. I will let Donnelley elaborate.
Since the change in our policy, there have been a great many rumors floating into our office. Most of them boil down to the belief that we are in distressed financial condition. This is emphatically not the case. Our financial condition has never been better and it is steadily improving. Our bills our paid and our inventory is well up. Our plant is fully equipped and we are incurring no new expenses that we are not prepared to meet.

Our reasons for changing our policy are these:

We found few dealers who were in a position to merchandise model railroad equipment properly. Not many were willing to stock our complete lines and give them the attention needed to keep them moving. This gave rise to complaints from many of our customers whom we directed to certain dealers. They found the dealers unhelpful—mere order takers, in fact. A still more important reason was the fact that selling through dealers necessitated too high a level of prices. We could not reduce them, as we have now done, while we were selling to dealers at approximately one-half list price. Lastly, we were unable to get enough wholesale volume to make it profitable, and, naturally, no business can last without a profit. …

No doubt many of you will wonder at the listing, herein and in our national advertising, of our three new display rooms and outlets. After several weeks of operating a strictly mail order business under our new policy, we decided to establish these display rooms in various parts of the country for the convenience of our customers. At present they are located in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. They will not be operated as dealer-outlets in the strict sense of the term, but under a new plan. If the plan proves successful, other displays will be established in other cities.
To expand briefly on the OO related news mentioned earlier in this article, S-C highlighted the tank cars and hopper cars (both available either for $2.85 as kits or $4.95 assembled) and also this switch kit. The kit was designed to make track that would match their track line, with the metal base, but it was not metal but to be built up on a plywood base. They must have sold a few of these as it was a huge need for anyone trying to build a layout. Also in this issue is an article on laying OO track, using their fibre tie strip, a plywood base, bird gravel, etc. "We have compared our method with others, and believe you will find it the easiest way to obtain the best results." An example of their switch kit in box may be seen here.

Be watching for more soon from the Blow-Smoke newsletter; it is a fascinating window into the history of Scale-Craft and the marketing of American OO gauge. [Article updated 2012]

Continue to part 2 of series.

Friday, December 12, 2008

More notes on the Nason “EAZY-BILT” cars

In several recent posts I have focused on the early but fairly common Nason “Easy-Built” cars, models that I have continued to look at.

To begin I should confirm the spelling. Nason in their own catalogs spelled the words that describe this type of kit several ways. In the 1936 catalog they are EASY-BUILT (all caps), and in the 1938 summer edition, 1939, and 1940 catalogs they are the catchier EAZY-BILT (always all caps).

I am still looking to sort out the history of the freight cars better but to expand on my previous posts, at this point in time I believe that these were also produced by Page but their version has a solid block of wood for a body. Among cars in my collection I have several versions of this car as produced by Nason. I am not sure of the chronology but this pair of photos, top and bottom views show most of what needs to be noted between them.

Looking at the roofs we can see that these cars were built and presumably sold several ways. Most notably the car in the middle is wider. The car on the left is a boxcar and the rest are reefers. All of them are hollow body and all of the reefers use the printed base for the reefer hatch. All but one uses a cast hatch instead of the printed hatch--the printed page that included the hatches is also in the photo for comparison.

Looking at the car bottoms we see cast and also wooden frames and a variety of other details. Three have a big brake cylinder that looks closer to O gauge and may not be an original Nason part. Also note the Nason trucks on the one car, with their bronze side frames. These trucks actually are quite good on the layout, especially with new wheel sets. These particular trucks are two rail with a square, Bakelite bolster. A bronze bolster and a different Bakelite bolster (U shaped, similar to the one with the passenger kit) are also seen on Nason freight trucks. Click on the photo for a larger view, or check this post for more information.

On the passenger cars, since the earlier post on metal side heavyweights I have obtained an un-built kit of the Nason PRR coach that answers several questions I had. First, the ends, seen in this first photo of the big parts of the car, which I had originally taken to be die cast, are actually sand cast aluminum. The sides are very nice brass stampings. This is much better than the cardboard sides of comparable heavyweights by J-C, Famoco, Graceline, and Transportation Models in one major respect for us today; these cars can be stripped and rebuilt.

Moving on to the final photo, it shows the small parts in the kit. The vestibule and steps are die cast, and other parts are sand cast bronze and turned brass. Note the two rail trucks and bronze couplers.

It would take effort to build up one of these but they would build up into a handsome car and be worth the effort. This particular kit I will likely never build (keeping it in "the archive") but I have another car in parts that this kit will help me toward accurately rebuilding/restoring at some future point.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A roller bearing truck for OO

Today I attended the annual "Turkey Meet," the main Phoenix area TCA event. I saw one OO gauge item (only!), a Lionel 003T tender missing two wheelsets for $75 that I did not purchase. But I did spot one item new to me, a roller bearing truck convertible to OO.

This truck was sold originally with cars in a Tyco HO train set. I have modified a number of the similar Bettendorf version of this truck for OO but have not before noted this version, roller bearing, perfect for more modern cars.

In this post I describe the process to do this conversion. The idea is that the sideframes are heavy and can be trimmed enough on the inside so that OO gauge wheelsets will fit. The process will only work with certain HO trucks; standard Athearn trucks for example won't work, the sideframes are not heavy ("thick") enough to be re-worked in this manner. Normally I have used Athearn 36" wheelsets on their original axles, widened out to OO.

I will modify these Tyco trucks soon, I now have three pair of these on three cars that only cost me $1 each. Not bad!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Metal side heavyweights

Two lines offered standard, heavyweight passenger equipment in OO that had metal sides but were generally similar to the pressed cardboard sides seen in the offerings in the previous post by J-C Models, Famoco, Graceline, and Transportation Models.

Following up on their first heavyweight cars that are sand-cast aluminum (see this post for more information) the Nason "Eazy-Bilt" passenger kits were introduced in 1936. The line included:

Coach, PRR P-70
Combine, PRR PB-70
Diner, PRR
Postal, PRR
Pullman, 12 section

As seen in the example in the photos (a Pullman, unfortunately on S-C 4 wheel trucks) and the loose sides (coach) and underside of the Pullman, the sides are brass with a mixture of sand cast, die cast, and turned brass details, including sand cast aluminum ends with die cast vestibules. A Gas-Electric of similar construction details was also produced of a B&O design as a coach, coach-baggage, and coach-baggage-mail.

The first passenger cars produced by Scale-Craft were die cast, the coach and baggage car, and were introduced in 1937. These cars could be built either with an arch roof that was die cast or with a standard monitor roof made from wood. These cars were followed in 1940 by these models with stamped metal sides:

Pullman sleeper

These cars, like the Nason cars, present an interesting combination of materials. The frame is sand-cast aluminum, there are a variety of die cast and formed parts, and the sides are stamped metal. The metal I would describe either as tinplate or steel, at least for any car I have ever seen. They contrast with the die cast cars easily as they lack rivet details. In the photos we have a pair of the Pullman sleepers showing the sides and bottom details and also a late version of the observation kit. Click on the photo for a larger version.

They also introduced a very similar Gas-Electric car (coach/baggage or baggage/mail) in 1941 and packaged the die cast cars a variety of ways (the MU coach and baggage being particularly notable, introduced in 1950).

The final point to note is that the S-C coach and baggage were the only two body dies ever produced for die cast American OO passenger cars. These cars can be rebuilt easily today and look great. The last photo is of a pair of these that I rebuilt some years ago. The coach windows were modified by a prior owner; the detail level rivals that of HO plastic models of today.

Paper side heavyweights

There were four makers that produced American OO heavyweight passenger cars with paper sides.

In our first photo we have three of the brands represented. The top car is a J-C Models Pullman on Scale-Craft trucks, in the middle is a Graceline diner, and at the bottom a Famoco combine on Scale-Craft trucks.

A first key point is if it is a model other than a baggage, coach, combine, or Pullman it is either Graceline or their successor Transportation Models, as J-C and Famoco only made the four standard cars.

Looking at the next photo of the car bottoms gives us more to go on. The Graceline car in the middle has a heavy, die cast frame and die cast details. The Famoco car on the bottom has a wood frame but with die cast side members and details. The J-C car is all wood. But this particular one (you can’t easily see it in the photo) was built with Selley bolsters and Scale-Craft brass steps.

This is what can make these somewhat hard to ID. Reality was that these were cars built by model railroaders for use on a layout so they may not match the stock version. I have for example a Famoco (I think) Pullman that has a Nason sand cast frame (or is it a J-C car with Nason and Famoco parts?), and most J-C cars I have ever seen have picked up at least a few parts by other makers.

Finally we have the ends. Famoco cars used wood and paper parts that are absolutely identical to those of J-C but they had metal details and die cast ends, shown in the photo. The Gracelilne car also has die cast ends, but the J-C ends are pressed paper with wood. Built up well these can look quite good.

I don’t have a good example of Transportation Models to compare with and none of their passenger car instruction sheets either. My so-so example (see this post) has wood frame details and paper ends. If you have a better example I would love to hear from you.

UPDATE: For information on American OO heavyweight passenger cars with metal sides see this post.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

J-C Models 101

One type of American OO gauge passenger car that are seen pretty often today are those produced by J-C Models.

Introduced in 1939, J-C Models (also known as jc models, as shown on these kit box ends) of Brooklyn, NY marketed a line of OO heavyweight passenger cars until ca. 1948. These cars had no metal parts, consisting of card sides, wood roof, floor, and details. Models produced were:
This car below is their Pullman, put together nicely, with a set of sides for comparison--click on the photo for a larger version.

The sides are an interesting material. Painted well the detail matches that of modern plastic models, but it is a die cut cardboard material. In a note years ago Temple Nieter described it to me as follows:
Paper is “wood flong,” stenotype matrix sheet; it is pressed by the die (for this) or by type/cut form for printers. Ask a newspaper older-timer about it.
The last photo is of a pair of kits. These are complete but were started by someone long before me. The sides are painted. They give a good sense of what the kits are like.

One problem with many of the cars that are around today is the sides have warped. There really is no fix for this, as there was no provision to remove the roof or sides. Some years back I built a string of these for a friend, the only custom building I have ever done. For those I did work out a way to make the roof removable; it involved reinforcing the sides with wood strips.

One reason why there are a lot of these around is because these were available all through World War II. There were no critical war materials used in their construction (they were sold less trucks and are all wood and card) so the supply of this kit was uninterrupted.

J-C produced a line of very similar cars in O gauge and in HO, this ad for all three running in October of 1947. In fact, this HO instruction on the HO Seeker site is exactly the same as the OO version I have, just with the words HO instead of OO. More of their HO instruction sheets may be found here, including information on their new, post-war line of “Silver Sides” HO passenger car kits. These were introduced in 1948 and were never produced in OO.

Built up examples of these cars can be tricky to ID as modelers added metal parts to the kits, Famoco used exactly the same sides and major wood parts, and the Graceline/Transportation Models sides are generally similar -- except that Graceline cars have cast doors.

These are Classic OO models that while once common, probably are not so common today. Good examples are worth keeping your eyes peeled for.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mantua OO Turnouts

Dick G. recently sent this photo of a mint pair of pre-war Mantua OO turnouts.

I have a bunch of these but they came to me in a lot purchase and are not in great shape, they all saw layout use and have warped ties. These from Dick on the other hand look great. Click on the photo for a larger version.

The ties are an interesting material that looks like plastic if it is in good shape but is not. In the Mantua catalog they called the material "heavy black fibre." It is a thin, pressed fiberboard that appears to have been coated with a clear or perhaps tinted black lacquer. The rails are attached with clips and glue to the fiber tie stock.

In this photo the fiber strip is easier to see, as it is in a turnout that has deteriorated a bit. Also very visible is the code 100 brass HO rail. It is a no. 6 turnout.

My layout was built with code 100 rail and number 4 frogs but I worked up my own tie template and did not really hit it right, the turnouts never worked that well (I should have Xeroxed a HO turnout and blew it up to OO gauge for a template, but did not think of that at the time). After getting these Mantua turnouts I realized that I could use the rails and re-lay my turnouts into a better geometry. Due to a quirk of the design of the Mantua turnout the throw arm for the points fit perfectly the way I had laid my ties. This turnout is actually re-laid on one of my very first turnouts that dates back to 1978! Finally I have reliable turnouts! The brass rail requires more cleaning but these are good turnouts worthy of re-use all these years later.

Tri-Ang streamliners

In the post on the Fleischmann FA’s I noted also that a colleague who collects HO felt that the Tri-Ang streamlined passenger cars were a good match for the FA and were over scale for HO.

The Tri-Ang American prototype streamlined cars were part of their transcontinental series of cars, and were also sold in the United States boxed as AT&T and Model Power products. In the photos I have included two other cars for comparison, a Schorr RDC that is full scale for OO and an Athearn HO streamlined baggage that is on the money for HO. In the first photo the comparison is pretty clear, from the side the Tri-Ang car is between HO and OO. In the second photo (008) it is clear as well that the Tri-Ang car matches the FA well. In length the cars are short, being roughly 72 foot in HO so they would be roughly 60’ “shorties” in OO, but on something like tight Lionel curves that would actually be a plus. I will let Bob O. describe them further.

Tri-Ang did two series of passenger cars, 1st and 2nd. The "Transcontinental" name comes from the fact that the second series were sold in differently colored sets with only the word "Transcontinental" in the letterboard.

Series 1 was the baggage, coach, dome coach, diner (actually a coach with a different interior), and round-end obs with the viewing bubble at the tail. These cars generally resemble Pullman-Standard cars, except for the tail car, which is taken from the one-of-a-kind tail car of Milwaukee Road's Olympian Hiawatha. They were sold in silver/gray, silver with a red window stripe, solid blue, & blue with a gray roof. The ones I've seen have "Tri-Ang Railways" in the letterboard, but some made for the Australian market had "TransAustralia" or "Southern Aurora" in the letterboard. I don't think these cars ever had the word "Transcontinental" on them, but for some reason people seem to call both sets "Transcontinental" cars. Go figure.

Series 2 was the baggage/dorm, coach, diner (coach with a different interior), and dome observation (i.e., with the viewing bubble in the roof, not the tail, and a boat-tail rounded end). These cars were all modeled after Budd cars of the Canadian Pacific. They even have a raised shield-shaped molding next to the door, to hold the beaver herald that CP mounted on the cars.

These cars were sold in many liveries. One group is lettered only "Transcontinental." These were sold in silver with a red window stripe, silver with a red letterboard, blue with a gray roof, and two-tone green. All these sets have only "Transcontinental" in the letterboard.

The same models were sold in the 1950s Canadian Pacific livery (silver with a tuscan letterboard and yellow lettering), the 1970s CP Rail livery (silver, red letterboard with the "PacMan" CP herald), the CN "new image" livery (silver, black window stripe with the "wet noodle" CN), and at least 3 sets of "TransAustralia" livery.

The second-series cars were imported into the US by American Train & Track, and when AT&T went out of business, Model Power acquired the remaining stock and reboxed them. You can find them in either box. The American versions had X2f couplers, instead of the British-style wide loops, and came in Santa Fe (silver), Burlington (silver), Pennsylvania (silver with tuscan letterboard and yellow lettering), and B&O (silver with blue letterboard and yellow lettering).

Tri-Ang also produced an RDC-2 (the RDC that combined a baggage compartment and passenger compartment), in both powered and dummy versions. This car also came in versions lettered "Trancontinental" and "TransAustralia," but the more common versions are the ones for the North American market. These were the silver/black/red Canadian National and in the U.S. (AT&T again) the Santa Fe, Northern Pacific, Cheasapeake & Ohio, and Reading. The American RDC's are all silver; C&O has blue lettering, the others black. The CN car is silver, black windowband, red ends.

Any of these things in excellent or better condition, especially with the original packaging, will command a decent price among collectors.

For more information on Fleischmann Bob suggests and for Tri-Ang he suggests, where there are a number of photos of these models. Thank you again Bob for this great information.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Fleischmann Alco FA

A German toy company with a history dating to 1887, Fleischmann entered the HO gauge model railroad field in 1952.

According to the outline of Fleischmann history in the website, their early HO products were in a scale of 1/82 instead of 1/87. Most notable to us in American OO was this American prototype Alco FA, which is clearly overscale for HO.

The model is of an Alco FA-2. The prototype was introduced in 1950. The first advertisement I located for the Fleischmann version is on the inside rear cover of the September, 1957, issue of Model Railroader, selling for $14.95 ready-to-run. It is all metal; in this advertisement the model is listed as being available for Union Pacific or New Haven, and it was also available for the Santa Fe.

This model has been converted more than once to use in American OO. Thanks to a colleague I was able borrow the stock version of one of these models and also the F-7 (plastic body) that replaced the FA in the Fleischmann product line for comparison. The photos tell most of the story, click on them for larger views.

First, compare a top view of the Fleischmann units with that of a Schorr F-3 and a M. P. Davis E-7. The FA is close to proper width and length for OO. The FA body should be about a foot and a half longer than the F-3. It is not full length for OO, but is certainly closer to the length of the OO model than the HO model.

So while the length is close, from the front it is easy to tell that the FA is short, HO height instead of OO. But it is again wide enough to pass for OO, if just a little narrow.

Finally, in profile below, we can see yet again that the model is a handsome one, overall about half way between HO and OO and in reality something close to 1/82 scale. This unit in good shape is a very collectible HO item, so I will be on the lookout for a junker. My thought is that the body rebuild would need to include a new pilot and also an extension on the bottom of the sides. Looks like an interesting project, I do like early Alco diesels.

UPDATE: My colleague (thank you Bob O.) pointed out a couple more points very worth mention. First, "I’ve seen models on Ebay that have been custom-painted for other railroads (e.g., New York Central), but the only factory paint jobs are UP, NH, and ATSF. Curiously, no matter which railroad is modeled, the engines always have the same road number: the powered unit is always 1341 and the dummy 1342, which are the Fleischmann item numbers." He clarified that the FA was always in metal and the F-7 that replaced it was always plastic (and sold for less). Finally, there are passenger cars that look to match the scaling of the Fleischmann FA that I will investigate further. "The Tri-Ang American-prototype streamliners are all just a little too wide and a little too tall to be standard American HO (1:87). I’m not sure that they are 1:82, but I suspect that they are because they look “right” behind the Fleischmann FA. Fleischmann’s own metal passenger cars (UP and NH) seem to be 1:87, but since they are European prototypes, I can’t be sure that they are not just low-profile 1:82 cars. The plastic Hi-Level cars that Fleischmann sold to accompany the Santa Fe engine are 1:87—at least they look right with 1:87 engines and a little undersized with the 1:82 Alco FA."

UPDATE II. This photo includes the passenger cars that were companion pieces to the three versions of this locomotive. The ATSF version is in plastic and is clearly HO. The NH and UP cars are rather curious looking to the modern model railroader as they are I believe 1:82 scale versions of European prototype cars but painted for American prototypes. They are in metal and in size match similar American cars in HO as the prototypes would have been smaller cars.

UPDATE III. I converted two of these models to OO operation, seen in this article.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fixen and Early Nason

One of the first suppliers of OO gauge was The Fixen Line of Richmond Hill, NY. Ed Morlok some years back gave me a copy of their price sheet. It is three pages long with pages dated 12/1/34, 12/5/34, and 12/19/34, and they state that they are “agents for Nason Railways.”

The first page notes to “make all checks, money orders, etc., payable to E Fickeissen” and later notes make all checks payable to E. Fickeisson or H. Goret. The page presented here is the first page; click on it for a larger view.

Within the price sheets they are not always clear who the maker is of the listed item. Certainly the first listed item is Nason, the P5A model. These were not cheap! The “Craftsman Kit” was $32 and was only rough castings, a “Workbench Kit” was $37 where at least the wheels were machined and finished, a “Simplified Construction” kit ready for assembly was $62, and a completed locomotive would cost you $75! Makes those eBay prices today sound pretty good.

For passenger equipment they had the original Nason sand cast passenger cars; the Pullman, coach, coach-baggage, and express. At the bottom of this page they also list “blueprints.” This caught my attention as I have was told by Ed Morlok that Fixen acquired the Thuillgrim toolings but did not develop the line, and the original product advertised by Thuillgrim partner Harry Thuillez was blueprints for the PRR D76B dining car back in 1930. Alas, the blueprints in the Fixen listing seem to just be the instructions for the Nason models.

The last page features “small lifelike figures of American types correctly made for OO gauge.” These would seem to be of their own manufacture. The full list was:

X-1 Engineer or fireman, standing
X-2 Engineer or fireman, walking
X-3 Laborer or switchman, standing
X-4 Laborer or switchman, walking
X-5 Conductor, standing
X-6 Conductor, walking
X-7 Pullman porter, standing
X-8 Pullman porter, walking
X-9 Red cap, standing
X-10 Red cap, walking
X-11 Red cap, standing
X-12 Red cap, walking
X-13 Man in business suit, standing
X-14 Man in business suit, walking
X-15 Woman, standing, short coat
X-16 Woman, standing, long coat
X-17 Whistle posts

Fixen advertised intermittently in Model Craftsman and Model Railroader between 1934 and 36. I don’t have a complete magazine collection in that era but the figures seem to be one of the principal products mentioned in the advertisements I have access to. The Fixen Line did not last long but was an interesting early advocate of OO gauge and another element of the early, New York based American OO scene.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"... showed some promise in the late 1930s"

Train collectors today are often only vaguely aware of American OO. Why is this?

Besides not being seen often at shows it also is rarely mentioned in the hobby press. I recently noted an article in the Classic Toy Trains magazine website on "The difference between gauge and scale." It is a reprint of a section of the book Beginner's Guide to Toy Train Collecting and Operating by John A. Grams. Way down the page, toward, the bottom of the article, OO gets mentioned as follows:
OO (1:76) showed some promise in the late 1930s.
And that is it! Does it show promise today? If you are a regular reader of this site I believe you also feel that American OO has promise. It is an interesting size with an interesting history, with some big production by makers like Lionel, such as illustrated above. It is up to all of us to do what we can to get the word out.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More on Mantua OO

A site I enjoy poking around in is the HOSeeker site, which is chock full of old instruction sheets and catalogs. A number of firms featured in the site produced HO and OO models. One of those was Mantua.

From this page you may access a number of Mantua Catalogs. In my collection I only had the OO highlights of the 1942 catalog, but in the HOSeeker site you may view the full 1940, 41, 42, and 47 catalogs and many more.

Mantua as of 1940 only sold the OO track. In 1941 they introduced the Belle of the Eighties, and in a footnote on the page featured here note that it was available also in OO. I have seen this model in OO in the collection of Bill Chapin with a pair of their old-time passenger cars, first seen in the 1947 catalog. By 1947 however only HO items are in the Mantua catalog.

What happened was the old time cars were introduced late in 1941. An advertisement from September of 1941 may be seen in this article, showing the cars as available in HO and in OO. The 4-4-0 model itself is exactly the same as the HO version, just re gauged for OO, and the cars must be the same story..

The catalogs also cleared up for me that the 8-ball Mogul was never marketed in OO--I was told at some point that it might have been, but this is not the case. In short, Mantua OO was only available before World War II, and production was limited to the Belle of the Eighties, the three old time passenger cars (the combine being introduced in January of 1942), and the track.

My general overview of Mantua OO may be found here.

Updated 2012

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Page Scale Models

In my recent post on car sides I mentioned there were several other makers that produced OO gauge cars with printed sides besides the more commonly seen sides/models of Champion, Eastern, Famoco, Nason, and Scale-Rail.

UPDATED 2011: Initially, all the info I had on the Page Model Company (Page Scale Models) of Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, was contained on this instruction sheet. Bill Chapin had this sheet (only) and allowed me to Xerox it some years back. Click on it for a larger version.

From it we can glean the details that the body must have been a solid wood block and that printed car sides and ends were glued on.

While I was always pretty sure it was a pre-war firm, after years of looking, in 2011 I finally tracked down a Page advertisement in the December, 1938 issue of The Model Craftsman. That ad may be seen in this article.

Also I was able to examine photos from Dick Gresham of a pair of Page kits that were sold on eBay. Comparing these cars to the kit shown in this photo was interesting. I had thought that this kit was by Nason (it was sold to me as such, but without instructions). Actually, it is Page. But read on.

What is especially confusing is the sides are identical to those of the Eazy-Bilt cars of Nason, which Nason had added into their line by late 1935. The box in the photo is actually marked Page Model Company under the pasted on label that shows it is a Erie boxcar kit. The Page marking seems to have been intentionally pasted over, later. I think this kit was actually sold as Nason back in the day, after they quit trying to market these as Page.

Page really did not last long. My guess as of now is it was a brief attempt to put out a lower cost version of the Nason cars [see comment #4, below], but it did not work out and Nason sold what residual stock was left from the attempt, such as this kit.

Be watching for another update or article on this--I don't believe this relationship has been noted previously, and there are certainly variations in details of the Eazy-Bilt cars as well to note in more depth. (The built up car in this photo and more details on the Nason Eazy-Bilt boxcar kits may be found in this post).

UPDATE 2013: And welcome to the Train Collectors Quarterly readers who did a Google search for the Page Model Company and found this article after seeing the Page 00 gauge cars in Part 122 of the "Who Done It?" series, published in their January, 2013 issue. As a text search this article is presently on the fifth page of results, but as an image search the instruction sheet here is right at the top! See this new article for more photos and information on the Page Model Company.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hoffman's OO Freight Cars

As with most topics, the more you look at it the more you know you don’t know. One company I would love to know more about is Hoffman's.

Hoffman's was a pre-war manufacturer of OO gauge freight car kits in Philadelphia. Their kits included painted and lettered card sides, wood bodies, and cast details, including sprung Bettendorf trucks. The line included:

Box car, RDG, DL&W
Flat car, RDG
Gondola, RDG
Reefer, wood, MDT, ARLX, FGEX
Caboose, eight wheel

Details are a bit sketchy but I did manage to see one of their kits at the home of Bill Chapin some years back. The photo of is the kit and their instruction sheet. If you have more Hoffman's I would love to hear from you.

UPDATE: For the first Hoffman's advertisement from 1938 see this article, and for photos of three more Hoffman's kits see this article.

An OO Gem: The Famoco GG-1

In the article on OO gauge track in the October, 2008 issue of The Train Collectors Quarterly Ed Morlok mentions the Famoco GG-1 as one of the “gems” of American OO.

I don’t own one of these but I did scan from my archive this photo of a model and instructions. I took this photo some years ago at the home of Bill Chapin. Click on the photo for a larger view of the model and instructions.

Note: The rest of this post was updated with the assistance of Dick Gresham. He notes that my photo is probably a prewar version of the die cast model with the AC-DC motor and vertical drive shaft.

The model was originally introduced in 1939 in sand cast bronze. The “Famoco Flash” flyer, reproduced here (thank you Dick G.), introduced an updated version of the die cast model as follows:
Now the famous FAMOCO GG-1 is powered by the powerful Pittman DC-71 PERMAG Motors, geared directly to all drivers! The single motor loco has all six drivers of the power truck pulling --- in the twin motored loco, all twelve drivers are working! … The FAMOCO GG-1 is without doubt, the most powerful OO engine today.
Click on the image to see a larger version. This pulling power was a great thing to have as OO cars are, as we all know, typically somewhat heavy and not especially free rolling. The GG-1 was also available with two of the DC-71 motors, which would have made it quite a puller.

As implied in the flyer, this model is seen today with several different motors. This photo is from Dick Gresham, which is an incomplete model of this version.

Dick also shared a pair of photos of another, older GG-1 in the collection of Dick Kuehnemund. This sand-cast model has a different motor with a horizontal drive shaft and a spring driving the power truck. There is an access plate on the top. He believes that this hole and access cover was added by a previous owner, and he is not sure if the motor in this GG-1 is an original Famoco motor or not.

I have a copy of a Famoco catalog that dates to I believe 1939. This catalog lists a three pole motor as being in the standard kit and a seven pole motor was supplied with the deluxe kit. At the time of the catalog the model was still bronze, with prices ranging from $37.50 for the deluxe, machined kit in two rail to $25 for the semi-machined kit with a three pole motor. By the date of the Famoco Flash flyer the price had gone up to $44.50 for single motor and $56.50 for twin motor.

Finally, it should be noted that Famoco after the war shifted out of OO and produced several models in HO. At the HOSeeker site on this page there is a link to the instruction sheets for their HO GG-1 and also B-1 models. These were introduced ca. 1950, being advertised as new models in the January, 1950 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman for example. The advertised price is a rather more affordable $34.50.

This model is definitely an OO classic to be on the lookout for. As already noted, I don't own one, but it would certainly be an impressive model to see in operation today.

UPDATE 2014. Working over the photo files on my new computer I found this great photo of a built up example of this model. I don't have any idea who to credit it to, and I suspect I have had this photo around since before I launched this blog. An impressive model, one that should be in any OO gauge collection.