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

Sunday, August 17, 2008

E. H. Bessey, Maker of OO and More

One manufacturer that took the idea of printed car sides to a new level was E. H. Bessey of Sunnyvale and later Delhi, California. Active from 1940-ca. 1948, Bessey was an OO gauger. The first published mention I have noted of Bessey [but see UPDATE at end] may be found in the January, 1940 issue of Model Railroader. At that time they had a column, “Along the Division,” that featured news from model railroaders around the country. On page 50 I note,
Mr. and Mrs. E. H. Bessey … are building an OO gauge branch line of the SP, known as the Rough & Tumble RR. Equipment consists of an SP Atlantic, six freight cars and a crummy, and three passenger train cars. Two new locos and 11 freight carriers are on order.
Then the very next month the first advertisement appeared in Model Railroader for his line of products. It reads,
AT LAST! Precision shapes in wood at prices you can pay. Stamp for list. Ties in all gauges. Old time S. P. Boxcar Car, “OO,” Wood body kit 55c—others coming. E. H. Bessey 183 Sunnyvale Ave. Sunnyvale, Calif.
His line of wood body kits for OO gauge lacked hardware but were pre-painted and lettered. The paint and lettering were directly on the wood sides of the cars, these are not the printed car sides that you might guess the cars had. I don’t have the boxcar in my collection [UPDATE: I do now; see this article for photos and more on the boxcar] but I have seen one and I do have a set of the reefers, depicted here. The full line of OO gauge cars produced included:
1 Reefer, wood, 36', Swift Premium Ham #18431
2 Reefer, wood, 36', Swift Premium Bacon #18211
3 Reefer, wood, 36', Swift Brookfield #18101
4 Reefer, wood, 36', Swift Silverleaf #18321
5 Boxcar, old time, SP #34521
Advertisements in Model Railroader in 1940 indicate that they also produced an express reefer and a stock car in OO, but I have not seen examples of these. Bessey did however produce other freight cars in HO, an extensive line of wood shapes made from California Sugar Pine, and also bridge kits in HO, OO, and O.

Recently I was able to purchase on eBay a copy of the “Catalog and instruction manual of E. H. Bessey” dated April 1, 1947. Of the line of OO cars only the SP boxcar is still listed. According to the text their shop was located “on Highway 99, two miles South of Delhi. Shop in rear of Cramptons Indian Trading Post.” He also notes that “this catalog climaxes seven years of progressive work in the production of specialized materials for model building,” which confirms that he started production in 1940.

Back to my set of the reefers in the photo, even though they lack door hardware the look is quite good. This was a well made product. Trucks were not provided; my cars are riding now [UPDATED] on four pair of S-C trucks, which was how the builder set up these cars and was what they were on when they came to me. In the photo they are on a pair of Schorr trucks and also three pair of (oops!) Kemtron On3 trucks.

UPDATE: For a note on a 1939 letter to the editor by Bessey also see this article.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found a wooden box car in a box labeled Scale-craft Model railroads
model: Milk tank car
catalog # op-11
price 7.95
can anyone help me, I cant find it anywhere, although I think my grandfather never totally finished it. It is not painted and the only thing I can find is a date stamp of 1947 on the bottom metal frame that it attatched to the train.