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

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.

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