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

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.

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