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

Monday, June 30, 2008

Scale-Craft and Lionel Box Cars and More

Among the last projects I have been able to complete this summer is the rebuilding a pair of die cast boxcars, one by Scale-Craft and one by Lionel. It creates a good moment to do a comparison of these classic OO gauge cars.

Starting with the older model, the Scale-Craft box car was introduced in 1937. This particular car was an eBay find with a very poor paint job. I stripped the car, repainted it, and added just a few details to the underframe, HO scale AB brakes. Actually, I also replaced the underframe. There were two versions of this casting produced. One has the trucks at the correct prototypical distance from the ends, and the other has the trucks too far away from the ends. This particular car had the original type frame but someone had tried to modify it to space the trucks out correctly. As I had a spare frame I used it instead and added correct brake details rather than use the simple brass turning that Scale-Craft supplied. On the whole the effect is OK; it probably looked pretty good in 1937 but the doors are a bit too wide and basically every feature is a bit off from any presumed prototype giving the car a toylike feel.

One side note would be the trucks on this car had the “shrinking” bolster. A look at a number of Scale-Craft cars will provide an example of what I mean. Some of the batches of Bakelite bolsters have held up and others have not. I had to replace the original trucks with another pair with good bolsters.

Lionel was taking notes for sure as their boxcar, introduced in 1938, is based on a recognizable prototype, the PRR X-29. The effect is much better overall. It is a somewhat unique car still but at least it follows the prototype pretty closely. This particular car also came to me via eBay as a junker. It had been damaged at some point and was only a body and bent frame. I bent both largely back to their original dimensions (there is some visible damage to one side that passes for wreck damage) and used modified Selley doors to replace the missing doors. I went all out on the trucks and used Ultimate wheelsets in a pair of Lionel trucks from the parts box. The car rolls great! For my purposes I always replace Lionel wheelsets; they are oversized and while they will operate on code 100 track work they bump along a bit on the turnouts. Scale-Craft wheelsets however work fine with a lower profile.

Both cars were equipped with Kadee couplers and will be great additions to the layout. These are both pre-war models; the Lionel OO line was dropped after the war and the Scale-Craft boxcar body die is thought to have been damaged either in storage or right after the war, leading to the introduction of the later version of the Scale-Craft boxcars with brass sides, ends, and roof. It was made in four versions, 40 and 50 foot, single or double door.

This model is one of those for comparison, the 50 foot single door version. This car I put together from a partially complete kit (missing most of its wood parts, which I replicated) a few years back. Scale-Craft in my opinion dropped the ball on this one as well. It looks OK, sure, but it is not a scale model of any recognizable prototype. It works in a sense as a car for the Orient as a freelanced road but certainly boxcars were a weak link in the Scale-Craft line and are a weak area on my OO roster. I will continue working on the boxcar problem in the coming months; I have a number of other boxcars in progress.

To conclude I would add that there were two more makers that produced boxcars that had metal sides. The first boxcar produced of this type was the very early Nason sand cast aluminum boxcar, described in this article. These are fairly rare items but probably even rarer today is the final type of metal boxcar, made by Graceline. It has thin brass sides and ends mounted on a wood inner body and came from the factory with hand lettered sides; a photo of an example may be seen toward the end of this article, decorated with hand-lettered markings for the C&EI; these appear to be factory applied marking such as described in this article.

Hawk OO Freight Cars 101

The newest issue (June, 2008) of The OO Road (the publication of the NMRA American OO SIG) contains an article by Edward Morlok on the Hawk OO gondola, with information on the unusual wood sided prototype (it is a sulfur car) and a photo of a nicely built up car.

The Hawk Model Company was located at 3521 Fullerton Ave. in Chicago. A producer of model airplanes, they advertised their line of OO gauge freight cars little. I have never seen a catalog and at present (2008) only have this one complete kit for the gondola, a nearly complete caboose kit, parts for an automobile boxcar that could be rebuilt, and a few extra frames. The most recognizable feature of the cars is the die casting for the frame. Note also the original glue and paint which is in a glass vial with a cork stopper. These were included in the kit which sold in 1941 for 50 cents. They also sold O gauge kits that sold for $1.

Hawk seems to have produced the OO line only for a short while before and into WWII. The instruction sheet is dated 11/26/40. I believe this is the first advertisement for Hawk OO, reproduced from the February, 1941 issue of Model Railroader with photos of four of these five cars:

No. 500 Gondola (wood)
No. 501 Box car (outside braced)
No. 502 Steel caboose
No. 503 Auto car ( 50’ double door box car, steel)
No. 504 Flat car

Hawk also produced a tank car in OO and I have been told that they also produced a stock car but the latter is unconfirmed by other sources. If you have more information on Hawk OO, especially the catalog they list in a later advertisement, I would welcome hearing from you. My contact info is in my profile.

UPDATE: I note that the draftsman of the plan for the gondola is P. L. Mates. The cover photo of the April, 1941 issue of Model Railroader is of a Philip Mates of Chicago working on an O gauge interurban, there is a good chance it is the same person.

UPDATE 2010: I now have a few more examples of Hawk and have updated the links above. Also as this is the general article on Hawk OO, a few more general notes. The company itself dates back to 1928 and they produced a wide range of products. One of their best known products for me was their line of "Weird-Ohs" as my brother made several--a nice profile on the company and the production of these models may be found here. According to the Wikipedia Hawk was purchased by Testors in the 1970s.

UPDATE 2012: And, as noted in a couple of the articles on the cars they made, the boxcars apparently were produced with either a body built up from parts (floor/roof/sides/ends) or a body made from a solid block of wood. Examples in my collection match each other visually perfectly and would appear to have been cut from the same cutters to produce the same design of car.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Davis (Cussewago Valley) E-7s and more

This summer finishing these models has been a highlight as not only do they look good but they run great.

First, about the E-7s. They were produced by Cussewago Valley Railroad OO Scale Models, better known among OO gaugers by the name of the owner, Myron P. Davis. Davis at one time served as Chief Chemist and Metallurgist at Otis Elevator and after WWII was a partner in Nason Railways [but see UPDATE III, below, for more information]. His Cussewago Valley models were produced in the post-war period and only in limited quantities. The E-units must have been produced in the greatest quantity starting probably around 1953, or at the least I have seen the most of them, several models that were built up and operable.

It is sand cast bronze and heavy! The body alone weighs more than two pounds. I purchased this pair off eBay in a partially finished state, and I am not sure the builder was the same for both models. The A-unit builder certainly had a drill press and a supply of small drills, at some point I may add more details in the pre-drilled holes. I added enough details to the B-unit to match the A. Also I will have to add more screens at a later date; I want to match the style of the one in the A unit but need materials.

Also shown in the photo is an original truck side frame. Compared to it the HO PA-1 trucks look pretty good, and I love the way the drive worked out, reported in a previous post. Click on the photo for a close up.

This was part of a line of OO gauge models that included in particular a number of big steamers. Here is the list, with links to more on some of these models:
It would have taken incredible craftsmanship to finish one of these models, because so far as I know they were sold as boilers only.

While we are on the topic of Davis, he also produced a brass model of a wrecking crane and the following freight cars in sand cast aluminum or bronze with brass parts:
I have seen over the years few items by Davis, the large boilers and some of the circus cars. It is an interesting and rare line.

UPDATE: Photos of several of the above models may be found in the January, 1988 issue of The OO Road.

UPDATE II: The November, 1993 issue of The OO Road has even more in the form of a short biographical article on Davis. It states that a four page Cussaewago Valley catalog was put out in 1954; I would love to see this if anyone has a copy out there.

UPDATE III!: I have even more on Myron Park Davis here, including a link to the TCA article that reproduces all four pages of the 1954 catalog/price list and much more.

Monday, June 23, 2008

On (Vintage) Decals and American OO

When I was starting out in OO I used Walthers and Champ HO scale decals. One thing I liked about the Walthers decals was that the dimensional data was probably just a bit overscale, at least it looked OK on OO models. And the Champ sets have a nice, classic look.

I have made much use of alphabet sets also. These Davis E-7s are being decaled with parts from two different Walthers sets that match perfectly for color.

While I have been excited to find a Micro Scale decal set that includes an Orient tank car is produced today, I am also glad that I purchased quite a few decals in the past (new and “used,” from two different estates) as the Walthers line of decals has been discontinued and the Champion line is selling only from existing stock [UPDATE: And formally went out of the decal business in 2010]. Although eventually I may have to look into some custom decals, I will be good for a few years with what I have on hand.

UPDATE 2012: I did break down a couple years ago and purchase a run of custom Orient decals from Rail Graphics which have saved me a ton of time; they can be seen on many of the more recently completed projects in this website. And I continue to use vintage HO (and sometimes O) decals (mostly Champion) quite often on projects. I would offer a few brief notes of advice on using these older decals, which are not difficult to use today.

1. The surface to be decaled should be glossy. If gloss paint is not used on the model prep the surface with Testors Glosscote.

2. You may need to soak the decals a while, much longer than the package would indicate, to get the adhesive to release. Some old decals will take 15 or more minutes to release from the backing paper!

3. The good news being hardly ever have I ran into a set of decals that could not actually still be used, with care and patience.

4. Decal setting solution is a must. In the photo above bottles of these may be seen from Micro Scale and Champion. Poke (when the decal is dry!) the "bubbles" with a sharp knife and add more solution. It will probably take many rounds of this spread over days to get the vintage decals to settle over details. Why this is relates I believe to the thickness of vintage decals; they need a stronger setting solution than do modern decals. Or, put another way, modern decal setting solution is weaker than the comparable vintage products, so it takes more repeated applications to get the same effect. But be careful! Setting solution may also attack the ink used to print the decals. Avoid putting setting solution on the lettering, use capillary action to your advantage and put the solution around the edges of the decal as much as possible.

5. The last step for me is an overspray with Testors Dullcote.

A sharp set of decals really make vintage items pop! To do a good job is time consuming but well worth the effort, and don't shy away from vintage decal sets, they usually are still usable with good surface prep and some patience.

UPDATE 2013: See also this article for tips on using pre-war Scale-Craft decals. Also, from a reader of that article,
I have used the Microscale “liquid decal film” product with success on old decals.  It adds a “top coat” so that they do not crumble when wetted, and once the dullcoat is applied it is invisible.
I will be trying this, I have some older Scale-Craft decals in particular that visually look like they will break up and will need an extra top coat.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Johann 2-8-2 and notes on Guild

I can only work on a big project when I have time, and early this summer I finally had the time to finish rebuilding a model I have had for a few years, a Johann 2-8-2.

Introduced in 1953, this sand cast bronze model of a USRA light 2-8-2 with cast details was the last of its kind in terms of American OO. Produced by William Johann of Westfield, NJ, the original sales flyer was dated October 20, 1953 and is quite interesting to look back on today. He starts,
Fellow OO Gauger:

This flyer is the first public announcement of a new OO loco. DON’T PASS OUT. For some months a light Mike, very similar to the World War I USRA type, has been in development, and the first section will be ready soon. This loco will not be one of the “one evening screwdriver” types. An ability to drill, tap, solder, rivet, and to use your head somewhat, will be in order. Accurate drilling (side rods) and milling (mainframe axle slots) has been done for you.

As most of us in OO know, mass production in our gauge is not feasible due to the high tooling costs as against low volume (in relation to the total number of model railroaders) of sales. This is unfortunate, but only too true. In working up this engine, my principles have been to purchase as many parts as possible, to use French sand castings in place of stampings (art bronze), and to eliminate as many expensive tools as proper design would allow. This makes limited, or job, production possible without getting into customizing, and thereby making the final price exorbitant.
I was told by William Johann that only 50 were produced. His original plan was to produce the locomotive in four sections. The locomotive was sections 1-3, and I have instructions for section 4, the tender -- but I am uncertain if it was actually produced. A later flyer says that “the tender is the Guild of the Iron Horse stock tender,” I believe the one that would have been for their 4-4-2 model. A “hobby kit” was only $46. The “assembly kit” with all holes drilled and tapped and soldering completed cost $75. An assembled locomotive completely assembled and tested but unpainted was priced at $110.

In the case of this model in my collection it had a scratch built tender with it as purchased, and as I had a Nason 4-4-2 tender on hand (very similar to the Guild tender) I used it instead. I think this combination just looks great, especially with the Microscale decals (these are produced for use on HO tank car models of the real Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient RY).

While Johann and the original builder did all the really big work, rebuilding this model was also a bit of a task as it was not operable as purchased. In particular the motor was shot. Luckily, I found another of the exact same Pittman motor on another model that I planned to put a new drive in, so that motor was liberated for use in this locomotive. On the bench it runs great but on the track it still has an issue I hope to fix shortly. Or, I may end up replacing the drive/motor, I really want to run this model. In any event, I am still excited about this model, a real classic and a rarity. [UPDATE--the problem was more with my track than the model. See this article for more, it is running now.]

I mentioned Guild twice in this post, so I should expand on it a little. This is a firm shrouded in a little mystery today. Run by Jerome Bailey Foster of Winchester, Mass in the postwar period, The Guild of the Iron Horse sold in limited quantities sheet and spun brass kits for basic parts for steam locomotives, probably manufactured in Japan. While their PRR E-6 4-4-2 (more finely scaled than the comparable Star-Continental/Nason model) is thought to be most common, they also produced a SP 2-8-2, a B&M 2-8-4, a NYC 2-8-4, and a PRR K-4 4-6-2. All I have in my collection however at this date is this empty box.

UPDATE: For more on Guild and photos and notes on their 4-4-2 locomotive (I now own one) see this article.

Midlin--The Best American OO Track

Back in the article on the Norfolk & Ohio I mentioned his use of Midlin track. This line of track was produced from 1939 into the 1950s (with a production break during WWII) by Fred J. Chemidlin of Scotch Plains, NJ, and was available in HO, OO, and S gauges.

Their standard kits made up 24 or 51 feet of track. The track itself used wood ties with slots that the rail fit in. The blackened brass rail, a version of code 100, had a fin on the bottom that fit in the slots. Two styles of turnout were made (24” radius and 36” radius) along with crossings and crossovers.

Overall it was probably the most realistic track produced for use in OO and was a favorite among operators. It is a little hard to read due to wear but the box notes that this is “The Semi-Assembled Track Kit,” “The Only Track of its Kind,” and that “No Spikes or Track Gauge Necessary.” It was a unique, quality product. Besides the semi-assembled track (one rail was attached at the factory, the second was applied by the purchaser when the flexible track was fit to the location) you also received ballast and ballast cement in the box. This is the 24’ kit; it is marked at $5.20 per box.

For a closer view, this specific piece of Midlin track is unusual and was given me some years back by Bill Chapin. He thought this piece to be very interesting (he had several more) because not only did it have slots for OO two rail (their standard product), it also has a middle slot for a center third rail (Lionel style) and also a slot for another third rail that would result in dual gauge track in HO and OO! Someone had Midlin make up a batch of this unusual track for their layout. The slots are easier to see if you click on the photo for a larger version.

UPDATE: For more information on this track brand and a photo of Fred Chemidlin see this article.

UPDATE II: For another view of the company in 1941 and photos of Chemidlin and his staff see this article.

UPDATE III: The other major product offered by any maker of track is turnouts. This photo shows a mint/boxed example, with the envelope having extra ties and rail joiners. Click on the photo for a better view. Their turnouts were excellent products of the type and matched the track itself perfectly.

The final photo is of remnants of a switch control. It does not specifically say it is an OO product and I am not sure it is complete or even if the parts that came to me associated with the box are actually Midlin. Still, it shows the brand, and the box certainly is for a product that was usable in OO or HO, or even S gauge for that matter.

A Mantua/Tyco 4-6-0, and notes on Vintage Mantua OO

One category of models usable in American OO are HO scale models that were produced with over scale bodies. While Mantua had a pre-war line of OO gauge models and track (in addition to their HO line--scroll down for more), much later Mantua/Tyco produced a 4-6-0 in plastic, a model of Sierra Railroad No. 3. As noted in the NEB&W Guide to Mantua Steam Locomotive Models,
Based on the Sierra's No. 3, a loco used by Hollywood in many films. It was also featured in the TV show, Petticoat Junction. The loco was originally built by Rogers in 1891. In 1929, it was seen in Gary Cooper's The Virginian, but then put into storage until after WWII. In the '50's, when mainline steam was gone, it was brought back out for the camera for High Noon, The Great Race, Lassie, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Wild Wild West, and Little House on the Prairie. Currently (2006), the prototype is in pieces and needs funding to be restored. Unfortunately, the model was made to OO scale (1/76) rather than true HO (1/87).
A couple variations of this model were produced mounted either on 2-6-0 or 4-6-0 mechanisms and I had an eye out for one for years to convert to OO. Finally I located one cheap at a train show with a damaged boiler. My first plan was to replace the boiler but I was able to locate a new boiler that I could apply a more modern cab to, in this case from a Scale-Craft 4-6-0 body. My idea was to make the model look more like Hoosac Tunnel & Wilmington No. 21, a similar 4-6-0 which I had seen a photo of in the February, 1964 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. With a few more detail changes and Schorr tender trucks it came out well. An unmodified HO version is also shown in the photo for comparison. The bell on my new model is a temp, it will be replaced.

How does it run? It runs nicely. The drive is not an easy job to modify but it is fairly straightforward, the hardest part being that you have to widen out the drivers on the existing axles without altering the quartering of the crank pins, and then add spacers to the frame to keep things from moving around too much. The locomotive when I first got it running ran better than every other locomotive on the roster, in fact, which was a bit of a bummer and motivated me that things had to change!

I chose number 9 as there was a gap in the roster of the real Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient RY at that number. If they had a number 9 it would have been a similar locomotive.

While this model was not produced for use in American OO, as already noted Mantua, a major early HO manufacturer, actually produced OO in the classic period, just before WWII. Most notable were a re-gauged version of the HO 4-4-0 “Belle of the Eighties” locomotive, three matching cars (coach, combine, and baggage [see UPDATE]), and track. The track (introduced in 1938) used HO size (code 100) brass rail on fiber (cardboard) ties. The photo illustrates the track, sold in 18” lengths. I also have used the metal parts from Mantua turnouts on my layout, see in various photos in this website. A boxed example of their OO turnout may be seen here.

UPDATE: As I note in a follow-up article on Mantua (read it here), the old time passenger cars were not listed in the catalog, but they were advertised in 1941 (see The Model Craftsman for September, 1941 for example) as available in HO or OO. That ad may be seen in this article. Also note the combine was introduced in early 1942, as seen in this article.

UPDATE II: Also note the deep roots of Mantua in the development of American OO with the initial production of their "Midjet" motor (more here). This is the original advertisement, from the March 1930 issue of The Modelmaker. Their motor was sized right for OO models, too large for HO, and was the standard motor used by the earliest American OO enthusiasts. Smaller motors were developed a little later.

In an article in the HO catalog put out by the Model Railroad Equipment Corp. in 1953 Mantua owner John N. Tyler looked back on those early days in an article titled "These are Better Days." He wrote,
Now it is about time we took up the very heart of your railroad empire as a subject. Locomotives:-- And a whole book could be written about scale model locomotives in the early days. How they were built and how they operated would consume many chapters and every phase would be intensely interesting. To have operating scale model locomotives it was necessary to have extremely small electric motors. Mantua pioneered, developed, and built the first motors to be used commercially in HO and OO. Through the years these motors have been re-designed and improved.
At the end of the article he wrote,
Model railroading as a hobby has come a long way in a comparatively short time as time is measured. Yet, it has given pleasure and relaxation to many thousand who have taken up the premier hobby because of its diversity and lasting fascination.
I am glad that it was my good fortune to be among the pioneers. I take great pride that Mantua originated and produced so many of the important items that have lead to the success of the model railroad hobby. I only hope that this brief outline of the past and present has been interesting to you. I am gratified that it was my good fortune to have lived it.
The article offers this photo and this brief bio of Tyler:
Mantua Metal Products is one of the large producers of locomotive and car kits in HO gauge. For a generation the Mantua name has signified quality and Mantua and John Tyler are synonymous. Today the Mantua plant employs over a hundred persons engaged entirely in manufacturing HO equipment. During the past war, the company was awarded the Army-Navy "E" for the precision quality of its workmanship.
Mantua was founded in 1926. Tyler was an electrician by training and emigrated to the United States from England in 1925. For more on their Midjet motor see this article, and a good overall history of Mantua may be found here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A new grain elevator

I have been working on this model off and on since the late 1970s and finished it this morning!

It is a Suydam grain elevator kit combined with a Suydam office building kit. While the two have been sitting together for years on the layout, construction has also been stalled for years. When I purchased these kits I purchased an extra sheet of the siding material which is a stamped tinplate. This came in really handy as I was inspired by an article on kitbashing the Eskridge, KS grain elevator that was published in the August, 2006 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. I had to make the middle section and modified the rest of the model resemble Eskridge as much as was practical. I might wish it were just a bit larger but the finished model is a great addition to the layout and works well with American OO trains.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Nason cast aluminum passenger cars

One of the more interesting early OO gauge models that I have only seen a few of over the years are the cast aluminum passenger cars by Nason Railways. Introduced in 1934, they were joined in their line by the easy-built (later called "eazy-bilt") versions by 1936, which implies these were perhaps not so easy to build. Both versions were available until WWII.

Dick Gresham was kind enough to send photos of the entire line from his collection. These two are representative. The line included a PRR P-70 coach, a PRR PB-70 coach-baggage, a 12 section Pullman, and an "all-service express" car. This first photo is of a built up version of the all-service express car. Looking at the photos this model has always looked rather free-lanced to me, but perhaps there is a prototype somewhere. I am not sure which style of truck is on this model, but Nason listed three types of four wheel passenger trucks in their catalog (PRR plain, PRR roller bearing, and Commonwealth).

The second photo is of all the parts in a kit for a Pullman. The floor, sides, and ends are sand cast aluminum, with a wood roof and other details including bronze couplers. This car is equipped with their six wheel Pullman trucks.

These cars are pretty recognizable, there is nothing else like them really with the sand cast sides and frame, and from what I can tell they seem to be somewhat uncommon. Someday I hope to own one, but for now I will have to content myself with a couple of the later version of their passenger car kits with brass sides.

UPDATE: Dick has come through with a couple more photos of interest. First, the underside of the all-service express. I find it interesting how this car is described in the 1940 (6th edition) catalog as "a unique car, different from the usual run."

Second we have a close up of the two and three rail versions of the PRR plain four wheel passenger truck. The all service express car in the photos is equipped with the Commonwealth truck. Dick also reports that he sees two versions of the 6 wheel truck in his collection. I see no note as to two versions of this truck in the 1939 or 40 catalogs, this may reflect some evolution in the design during production over the years.

UPDATE 2: One more photo from Dick G., it shows both versions of the Nason 6 wheel Pullman truck and also another view of a built up Nason sand cast Pullman.

UPDATE 3: Another example of the Pullman may be seen here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The American OO Checklist

Some of you reading this blog may be wondering “how did this guy get so much OO info?” It is the result of a lot of work over more than thirty years, collecting Xerox copies of catalogs, reading many old magazines, etc., with help from a wide variety of people.

One big push for me in the mid-1980s was writing with the late Ed Morlok a pair of articles on American OO that were published in the October, 1986 and April, 1987 issues of The Train Collectors Quarterly. But even before that I was working on versions of checklists.

From the article work and the checklist drafts that existed from as far back as the early 1980s I completed in 1997 a manuscript version of a fairly lengthy book that I titled The American OO Checklist. At that time I looked for a publisher with no luck. Some parts of the manuscript were worked over for publication in The OO Road, the publication of the NMRA OO special interest group, and now parts of it are making it online in American OO Today mixed with new materials. This photo is of the copy of the draft I most often refer to.

While someday I would love to see some version of the manuscript published, for now I am happy just to focus on getting some accurate information out there on OO and posting about projects and models that interest me. As I have worked on posts for this blog I have also been double checking the original sources so it is also helping me in getting the info squared away better as well; I am learning new things about American OO literally every week and have been able to expand my source materials quite a bit since back in 1997 when I worked out that draft book.

For me also there is a bigger picture. I realize fully that I am in a very unique position in relation to American OO gauge today, with materials to reference and ability to post articles about it. I am a firm believer that God puts each of us in unique circumstances and there are things we can do within those. I recognize that I can make a contribution in relation to this information on American OO, and will keep working to add new material to this site at least every week.

As of now the checklist project is formally on hold. At some point I will come back to it but for the moment I am enjoying learning more about American OO and sharing it with what site statistics suggest is a varied group of readers. I have a few ideas of actual print articles that I would like to work on but on the whole I am pretty content to keep working over the materials for online publication for now, with an eye someday to a bigger publication.

Updated November 2010

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The OO Gauge Norfolk and Ohio

When the topic of great American OO layouts comes up, certainly very near or at the top of all lists would be the Norfolk and Ohio of Carl Appel. I first saw this layout in a 1980 Kalmbach publication, Classic Articles from Model Railroader. The article is “Norfolk & Ohio Revisited,” reprinted from the November, 1958 issue. The photo below is a scan of a photo in that issue and gives an idea not only how large the layout was but also the realistic scenery of Appalachia.

Appel was a jeweler in Allentown, PA who started in OO in 1939. This layout is arguably the most impressive ever constructed in American OO. It was large, 13 feet by 45 feet. The eleven photos in the 1958 article show realistic scenery with water, bridges, and mountains (including a model of the N&W Island Yard in Lynchburg, VA), long trains, and big locomotives, especially a scratchbuilt 2-8-8-2 of N&W prototype but many others are visible. The track work with broad, sweeping curves is very realistic; the track itself is Midlin, a favorite OO track of the period that had an extra fin on the bottom of the rail that fit into slots in the ties.

In short about all one can do is look at the photos with a sense of awe. This was quite a different layout than the typical "spaghetti bowl" layouts of the day.

For a larger dose of awe, this is actually the second feature article on the Norfolk & Ohio; the first one appeared in the August, 1948 issue of Model Railroader, pages 524-528. Eight more photos of the layout may be found in this issue including one of Appel himself. In this article Boomer Pete focused on the scenic successes of the layout and wrote,
It’s not that Appel’s OO gauge Norfolk & Ohio had exceptional locomotives or fantastic control devices or buildings complete to pigeons on the roof ridges …. It is a model railroad made of components such as you or I might make. But everything is so beautifully planned that the overall impression is one of perfection. No single phase of the railroad is neglected in the slightest, and the result is photographic realism such as I have never before seen. Yet it is an example of what any of us might create, with average ability but infinite patience and painstaking care.
It can't be emphasized too much that the novelty of this layout back then was that it was based on replicating an actual prototype scene. The caption for the photo above reads "This yard and engine terminal in OO is inspired by the Island Yard of the N&W at Lynchburg, Va. River channel at left has been drianed to provide the major operating space." Continuing in the text by Boomer Pete, "Appel figured you can't beat nature, so he picked an actual scene for the germ of his track plan." He studied aerial photos, vacationed in Lynchburg, and "took dozens of photos of the bridges across the river, even to details of construction and abutments." As I think is reflected in this final photo. Later in the text Boomer Pete relates "probably the most stunning effect of all is the background, a flat photographic panorama which makes the countryside back of the railroad stretch without limit into the distance. Most model railroads end at the wall."

The actual models seen in the 1948 article are mostly pretty standard models of the day, but check out the engine on the turntable in the middle photo above (click on the photo for a better view). The 1958 article gives more nuts and bolts details on the layout, including notes on equipment and a track plan. Both articles are very worth locating and reading in full.

As with the other classic layouts featured in this series of posts the layout is a memory now. Appel passed on in 1997. Periodically Norfolk & Ohio items are sighted on eBay. Hopefully many of his models survive; it was an impressive layout of a type highly unlikely to ever be seen in American OO again.

For more see:
Updated 2013

Also note: The third image above was used on the cover of the Model Railroad Equipment Corp. catalog that was first advertised in December of 1949. See this article for more.

The best American OO wheel sets ever, and the indispensable tool

Mentioned in several posts now are the OO gauge wheel sets produced by Ultimate Screw Machine Products Co.

This company placed one advertisement in Railroad Model Craftsman, on page 5 of the June, 1968 issue. So far as I can tell this was the last advertisement placed in the model railroad press by an American OO gauge manufacturer. The street address shows up as that of a small factory building; it must be the same building today as back then. The ad points out these products are not imports, "American Made by American Craftsmen," and also that "Diesel and steam locos available soon." The most common items actually produced were a new run of Schorr F-3 bodies (clearly marked as Ultimate) and these wheelsets seen below. They were available until the early 1980s, as I purchased some directly at the time from the owner of Ultimate Screw Machine, Alfred “Bud” Spice, Jr.

These are great wheel sets! They are RP-25 contour of nickel-sliver and plastic and were available to fit S-C and Lionel side frames. The difference being that the Lionel ones had a slightly smaller axle, but in reality the S-C ones will work in Lionel trucks as well.  In the photo the pair on the left are tender wheel sets and the pair on the right are for freight cars. Passenger car wheelsets were also produced of the same design.

Besides the wheel sets, the most notable item produced was his already noted version of the Schorr F-3A and B (this model is fairly commonly seen today). He is also thought to have produced limited runs of castings for the Nason P-5A and BB electric, and of the Davis E-7A and B in either sand cast bronze or aluminum. I have not however seen these marked as Ultimate.

I should also note with this post that Bud Spice obtained the residue of several OO manufacturers including especially M.P. Davis and Guild of the Iron Horse, and dealt in used OO and un-built kits. I purchased my Schorr F-3s and a hybrid S-C/Nason 4-6-0 from him back in the late 1970s, along with some S-C kits.

Returning to wheel sets, working on many projects the past few weeks I have also made a lot of use of this handy tool, the NMRA OO/On3 standards gauge, which was introduced in 1981. [Update: It seems to be off the market now, but is totally worth tracking down if you are working to run American OO models.]

There is just no way to get your layout running well without this gauge. While the Ultimate wheel sets were great, they can go out of gauge as the rim can get out of place on the plastic center. And just in general many OO wheel sets are not well in gauge and it will pay off to check them. In the photo I have included an example, a Nason tender truck. This particular one was very free rolling until I tried to correct the too narrow gauge of the wheel sets. When I had them out to gauge the truck would not roll! The solution involves adding a washer between the bolster mounting and a side frame. Problems of this type are common on classic OO models.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Casting my own parts and memories of Temple Nieter

My first correspondence in OO was with H. Temple Nieter, who must have written a large number of letters to many OO gaugers in those days before E-mail and blogs. As noted in a previous post, he wrote one of the first articles on OO, published in the February, 1934 issue of Model Railroader. I first found his name in the Railway Post Office section, he had written a letter in to MR to advocate for OO gauge, something he did a number of times—I found the original letter in the May, 1977 issue, pages 19-20. I actually found his address in the November, 1966 issue of Model Railroader, an issue I had purchased at a garage sale, where he had another letter on page 28. This was all shortly after I had purchased an Eastern OO boxcar kit, also mentioned in a previous post.

In both of those letters to Model Railroader Nieter was looking to find original dies from OO manufacturers. One specific project he encouraged me a great deal with was that of casting my own parts, something that ended up being written up in Model Railroader in the youth column they had at the time, Student Fare, in the June, 1978 issue (pages 117-118). I had not read this article in many years; it was in one of a number of bags of magazines that my dad packed up when I was in grad school. Reading it now blows me away. At the time Temple wrote,
Here’s a fine piece of teen news! Because of built models since 1932, a letter from John Ericson in Emporia, Kans. really struck home. John is 15 and trying to cast his own small parts. My kink in the August 1976 MR Clinic about using tube-packed silicone bathtub caulk for molds … got him going.
[Actually, it looks like my first issue of MR purchased was the September, 1976 issue; I think he described the method to me in a letter. I still have all his letters where he outlined OO history, ideas for projects, etc.].

After details about my early casting methods he concluded,
All in all, John Ericson is a true model-maker. He is producing his own parts as all of us had to do in the early days of model railroading. Little equipment is needed; much satisfaction is gained. Learning by doing is worth much praise.
Wow. And yes, I really was 15 then.

Digging through a parts box a few days ago I found that for reasons I can’t recall I mounted some of my first casting experiments for posterity in July of 1978, as in this photo. An early gravity mold is at the top in the photo, of a door which was actually the second story door on an AHM signal tower (still on the layout and not quite completed yet [!], photographed in the layout tour in the staging area). This is the second style of mold that I made. The original door, oversized for HO and perfect for OO, is mounted on the left. Next is a pretty good copy made from an alloy I got from my father, a chemistry professor, that he called “Woods Metal.” Next we have a door cast in linotype metal, which was sent me by Temple Nieter and is what he used but it did not work out well. Finally there is a door cast in Walthers “Temp-Low” metal, which became my standard.

I cast several pair of trucks and a number of detail parts in that same period but the plain fact is even though I still have the molds I have not made a casting in one in many years as I have plenty of parts in the scrap box to keep me going. But if a project came up where I really needed to cast a part, I know I could get back up to speed and do it.

Looking for the 1978 article I found another write up by Temple in the same column in the March, 1980 issue on page 120, an article I had completely forgotten. In this he says
Young John Ericson … is so busy with being his high school first chair French horn, and sketching hypothetical Kansas railroads for his Emporia hoped-for OO road, that he is not building enough, despite odds and ends I have sent him.
Ouch! Then again, have things changed? When ASU is in session I really can’t work on the layout or models much. Right now, with school out and me seriously needing a break, progress is happening.

Temple was the dean of the OOldtimers. If you ever find a model lettered for the Lake Lines it is from his layout which was started in 1932. Besides selling reproduction parts on a limited basis (they are cast in linotype metal and are often marked “tn”) and some models very early on, among his contributions was a pair of lists that he compiled of people active in OO gauge. In 1974 he listed 74 people active in OO, and just five years later he was down to 57. In contrast William Johann and Fred Schorr put together a mailing list in 1953 with over 300 people interested in American OO in the United States and Canada. What are the numbers today? They can’t be large, but this blog proves that we are out here.

UPDATE: Within a couple days of posting this article I was looking at the sad state of several structures that were on or needed to be on the layout and realized that in a matter of just a few hours work I could solve a number of problems. There was just one thing I needed: OO doors. Where to get them? I could make them of course in the mold I just had out.

So I got out the crucible, mold, and metal and with my torch and after six attempts today knocked out four very usable doors. The first one, in the photo, was remelted as it had a flaw. The photos show the basic final process for these gravity castings, click on them for a larger view.

Need doors? Contact me, my E-mail address is in my Blogger profile. And yes, that old AHM interlocking tower kit is finally done, it only took me 30 years.

UPDATE 2: And now I own all of the remaining Nieter molds! More on those here. 

UPDATE 3: And see this article for a photo and bio of Temple Nieter, with links to yet more on him.

The OO Scale Saint Anne

The first major layout that I saw in OO, a big influence on me at the time, was featured in the May, 1979 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, “The OO scale Saint Anne” of Ed Costello. I have had this issue packed away for years but getting it out again now, it seems like only a little while ago I was looking at the photos, they feel extremely familiar.

First, the cover shot: a pair of scratchbuilt diesels, an Alco RS-3 and a Baldwin AS-16 running on the layout. WOW. Turning inside to pages 68-73, it is a large layout. There are a number of scratchbuilt diesels on the roster including an Alco RS-11, a GE U33C, and a C628 Alco. In the photos they look great, like brass models, very well detailed and to scale. Quite a number of scratchbuilt cars are featured in the photos as well, with glimpses of some old standards such as an S-C 4-6-0. He reports that the layout had a mainline run of about 350 feet. The track was handlaid on cardboard ties with code 100 rail; it looks quite good in the photos. The outside third rail is very striking in the yard areas. Costello must have been quite a craftsman, mentioning in the text that many models had new drives, etc.

The text is very interesting to read today. This section answers the perennial question “why three rail?” and also gives details of how he got started in OO.
Three-rail operation was normal in the early days of the hobby. The insulated tires used at that time had a bad habit of loosening and then falling apart. I began to rebuild them by pinning them for permanence and adding the pick-up for outside third rail. Since this is no longer a problem, the thought of changing to two-rail often pops up in my mind. It leaves my mind just as fast—the job would be too big and too time consuming. I am content to leave this aspect as it is.

The Saint-Anne was started in 1936 with the purchase of a Scale-Craft 4-6-0 kit from a friend who had won it as a prize but had no real use for it. It cost me $15, was a pleasure to build and is still on the active roster. It was converted to outside third rail pick-up for the reasons mentioned above.
He might not have remembered the year correctly, the S-C 4-6-0 was introduced in 1937, but certainly Costello qualifies as an OOldtimer, he was there very early on in the history of OO and stuck with it for a lifetime. He concluded the text noting,
I remained in OO scale because I enjoyed scratchbuilding. To this end, I have added working scale crossing gates, lighting systems and other details to the layout. There are a number of things that I know I could do to change the Saint Anne, but I am pleased with the railroad. No matter what the scale, the sight and sound of a moving train will always be intriguing. This explains why the Saint Anne was built in the 1930s and why it has endured. My enjoyment of scratchbuilding offsets the lack of commercial products in 4mm scale, which explains why the Saint Anne continues to thrive as an operating reminder of a scale that is almost unknown in the hobby today.
A number of pieces of equipment from his layout were in the Morlok collection and are divided between several collections in the east. May they be long enjoyed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Three American OO Tank Cars

In the layout tour post the last two cars in the train were never clearly shown, these tank cars.

These two cars have been putting mileage in on the layout for years. The one on the left I converted to OO when I was in high school, it is an Athearn tank car with the dome raised and the frame enlarged. On the right is a Scale-Craft tank car. This I built from a vintage kit when I was between my graduate degrees, one of the few on the layout that I did not rebuild in some manner from a junker vintage model or vintage parts.

The Athearn car for some years ran on reproduction trucks I made, originally Famoco and then Graceline copies, but now has Lionel trucks with Spice/Ultimate wheel sets. The S-C car has S-C trucks, also with Spice wheel sets. Click on the photo to see a larger version.

For comparison I have also included a Lionel tank car body. It is similar in size to the S-C model but can be easily distinguished by the rivet pattern and banding on the tank, the different mounting system for the ladder and handrails, and also by the fact that it is marked on the ends “Built by Lionel.”

The Greenbrook Lines

I was looking for something today on the Internet and was checking the index of model railroad magazines online. Searched for a few things then searched for OO generally. One article I found was in the June, 1955 issue of Railroad Model Crafstman, "Greenbrook Lines--David Sacks' Fine OO Gauge Pike." I recently purchased RMC for 1955 from an estate, I had to find the article.

Back a few posts I mentioned that my first steamer, a S-C 4-6-0, had been purchased from David Sacks who by then lived in California. I purchased that engine and four or five more cars (one of them is the S-C reefer seen in the layout photos in the previous post--completely rebuilt). I also know I purchased a copy of the Scale-Craft Round Lake catalog from him, their last catalog.

In the earlier post I mentioned that Sacks had been active in the New Jersey OO group. It was known as the North Jersey Midland Model Railroad Association, a group of at that time 14 OO gaugers that had layouts and met on a round robin basis. The best known of the group was probably Bill Johann, who was later editor of The OO Road and also produced a kit for a 2-8-2 (which I will post more on soon). It sounds like it was a fun group.

According to the article Sacks started working in OO in 1940; I purchased my models from him in the late 70s. The article itself has seven photos (including this one with a can of lite beer by a depot--oops) and also the cover photo is of the engine house. Sacks is not however in the cover photo. The cover caption reads “Engine house holster Neil Van Duyk, youngest member of the North Jersey Midland Club, keeps plenty busy during club night on the large Greenbrook Lines of David Sacks.”

It was a large layout with 42 turnouts and 525 feet of mainline. Lots of Scale-Craft is evident as is a Kemtron GP-7, several Nason items, and at least one SC 4-6-0 very similar to the one I purchased (but not the same one, I think, or perhaps before some later rebuilding). The best part though is the photo of David Sacks himself with a Johann 2-8-2 and his drill press. Click on any photo for a better view.

As time allows I will post on other "OOdtimers," they do give a window into OO history.

UPDATE: For more see also:

Newspaper articles on his layout, 1954-61 --

His later layout in California --

Passenger cars --

Diesel locomotives --

Hoppers and a caboose --

For even more, there was a second feature article on his layout, published in Model Railroader in August, 1961, and also this great photo of Sacks with the final iteration of his layout may be found in the November, 1984 issue of Model Railroader. The caption there reads,
David Sacks, in OO since 1939, built two OO railroads in New Jersey, then two more in California. As many as six trains can be run on any of the Green Brook lines, if six engineers can be found. The railroad occupies a special 12x30-foot building at his house.
And note what is on the layout just to his right--another beer can!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Layout Tour [2008]

In response to a request to see more of the layout, this morning I put together a quick tour. We will follow a typical train around the layout, led by a Scale-Craft 4-6-0 with a Nason tender, two Schorr gondolas, a Schorr covered hopper, a Scale-Craft reefer (early version), a scratch built outside braced boxcar, a Scale-Craft tank car, a tank car rebuilt from an Athearn HO tank car, and a Lionel caboose.

Our first stop is an overall view of the corner with the farm. A short train is in the passing siding, rebuilt from HO models (SW-1—AHM, flat and tank car—Tyco, caboose—Mantua).

Next we have another overall view. This shows the “bridge” which crosses the open end of this C shaped layout. It has two turnouts on it, one that leads from the passing siding and the other that leads to a staging track. Also you can see the display area. The models on the bottom three shelves are all usable on the layout, those higher up are interesting models from the collection.

This is a close up of the staging area. It will hold five cars; right now the S-C doodlebug is waiting to make a run. The mainline behind the hill also functions as a staging area, I can juggle as many as three trains around the layout at one time.

The yard area is not done. This is actually the oldest part of the layout, the central part of this view was originally a 2’X4’ module, and ties here were laid back in 1978. The layout took its present shape in 1980 in my parent’s basement. The passing siding was added after the layout arrived in Arizona.

Finally we get over to the town area which is also not done. I really would like to get this scenery in shape sometime soon, perhaps later this summer.

UPDATE: As this remains a popular post, keep in mind that the photos in this article are from 2008, and the layout has moved closer to complete scenery. To see the finished corner see this article, and see a more recent video here.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Why the Orient? Why in American OO Scale?

By now readers must have noted that many of my models are lettered for the Orient. What is that?

I became interested in model railroads in late junior high and read all the books I could find on trains in the public library of my home town of Emporia, KS. One I found was Destination Topolobampo by John Leeds Kerr and Frank Donavan, a book on the history of the Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient Railway. Promoted by Arthur Edward Stilwell, who had built the Kansas City Southern, the Orient was intended to be the shortest route from Kansas City to the Pacific. To quote the jacket of the book,
The idea of building the railroad had its inception within eight days following the loss of his control over the Kansas City Southern in 1900. Stilwell was a brilliant, but eccentric financier, and ... projected and built 642 miles of railroad in the United States and 237 miles in Mexico.
Within the United States the line ran from Wichita, KS to the Mexican border in Texas. The line ran through few population centers, struggled financially, and eventually became part of the Santa Fe in 1928. While profitable in Texas (and not long ago still in operation, as the South Orient), a big problem the line faced was that while portions of the line between Kansas City and Wichita were graded (the original ground breaking ceremony was in Emporia, which is part of why it caught my attention) this line was not built. The line lacked eastern connections and bridge traffic. The Wikipedia article on the KCM&O gives another brief overview and a map of a proposed, expanded system. The image in this post is a scan of the builders photo of one of their five Baldwin light Decapod locomotives.

In my world however the line did build out to Kansas City and survived into at least the 1980s, and my layout is a portion of the line between Kansas City and Wichita. This basic framework allows me to run almost any OO gauge model that would be suited to say the MKT on my OO Orient, such as this Scale-Craft 4-4-2. And my diesel paint scheme does reflect especially an influence of MKT practices as well.

There is a related question, why build it in American OO? In short there was a chain of events in late high school and I got interested in this scale. I still look back and can't really say why I became so interested in it, but I was encouraged by several "OOldtimers" in the gauge (especially Temple Nieter, who had an article on OO, "Oh, Oh! Here's OO" way back in the February, 1934 issue of Model Railroader and produced some early OO gauge models--photos of one of his models may be found here), the size and history of the scale appealed to me, and I stuck with it. It is a unique size with an interesting history that I have enjoyed bringing online in American OO Today.

UPDATE: A few more thoughts on The Orient and proto-freelancing may be found in this article.