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

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Scale-Craft OO Gauge Trains 101

To begin a series of introductory articles on the various lines that produced American OO gauge models first up is Scale-Craft. The image below is from their 1939 catalog.

Scale-Craft & Co. (originally known in OO as Scale-Models, Inc. and sometimes listed as Scale Craft or Scalecraft) was without a doubt the most important OO scale model railroad manufacturer, certainly eclipsing Lionel in variety and very likely also in overall volume of sales. Founded in 1933 in Chicago as an O gauge manufacturer (originally known as American Model Engineers, Inc.), Scale-Craft introduced its OO scale line in 1937 under the leadership of Elliott Donnelley. Donnelley was also involved with the family printing firm, R.R. Donnelley and Sons, one of the largest printers in the world. It was a quality line that utilized the same construction techniques as the best O gauge models of the time with many die cast parts.

They chose OO over the slightly smaller HO scale to allow for larger motors and better operation. Highlights of their pre-war offerings include:

  • 4-6-0 based on a Maine Central prototype, die cast. The most common Scale-Craft locomotive.
  • 4-4-2 variation of above model
  • 4-6-4t variation of above model
  • C&NW 4-8-4, die cast
  • Heavy 0-6-0, brass and die cast of Chicago, West Pullman, and Southern prototype
  • 4-6-2, sand cast bronze; of Southern Pacific prototype, this model had first been marketed by H. L. "Red" Adams
Passenger equipment
Freight cars
This photo is of three of their early models, the cast boxcar (with original decals), a tank car I rebuilt, and a baggage car that I also rebuilt. Also on this page please find unpainted examples of yet another baggage car, the open end variation of their coach, and two hoppers. The links lead to still more photos and information.

Of these models it should be noted clearly that at a glance the caboose, hopper, and tank are all very similar to the comparable Lionel models but may be recognized easily by the differing trucks (VERY popular with modelers of the day [more here]) and other markings. Scale-Craft it should also be noted introduced their versions a year before the comparable Lionel models.

These were all marketed as kits but were available built up and very early on Scale-Craft marketed two very rare train sets with track, a complete passenger train (4-6-0, baggage, two coaches) or a complete freight train (4-6-0, box car, tank car, hopper, and caboose). The track is sectional on a steel base and may be seen in this article.

Production of this line was temporarily halted in 1942. Production resumed after the war, but in late 1946 the line was sold to Doug Douglass who moved operations to California; he had been west coast sales manager. Douglass made a go of it, tried to promote OO to be sure, but it was a tough sell. He seems to have mostly shipped out products that were put together from old stock, as only the "loose leaf" catalog, price list, and order form are known to have the Hollywood address printed on them. Soon Donnelley purchased the line back.

New offerings from post-war Scale-Craft included:
The 4-6-2 was dropped from the line before WWII, and one gets the sense that OO sales must have been slow in spite of the effort made to launch a few new items (in particular the 50' steel box) and serve the market.

Eventually the residual of the line was purchased and marketed by Kemtron starting in 1954; by the 1960s they only stocked a few OO parts. Kemtron also produced a great OO GP-7 in brass (introduced in 1953) and passenger trucks.

I would also note that S-C had their own line of decals in the prewar era, later selling the models with Champion decals. More on their line of decals may be found here.

One common question today is that of how to wire and trouble shoot Scale-Craft locomotives with their big Universal motor. This article on bench testing these motors will get you started. There is a link there to the wiring diagram as well. These can be run nicely on DC with the use of a modern rectifier, as described in this article.

Another note being that you need a power pack that puts out plenty of amps, those motors draw like crazy, the average modern HO train set pack won't do much for these old motors. But also my current DC power pack seems to not work well with these specific motors in bench testing without a rectifier connected. It is a puzzle. If you are a Lionel OO operator and run AC you will have good luck with these vintage motors I think. The two S-C locomotives I most frequently run on the layout both have the early S-C DC motor installed, which work well for me. Finally, probably for the reason of the ease of use of a permanent magnet DC motor, operators who stuck with OO in the post-war era often converted older models to run on DC. See for example this Lionel Hudson that I run frequently, upgraded by a prior owner with a big can motor.

To close, while Scale-Craft was not the first OO firm, certainly they were the firm that made things really happen in OO when they introduced their OO line in 1937. To learn more about these models and their historical context explore the links in American OO Today.
See also

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