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

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Early Adventures of H. L. “Red” Adams in Double-O

This article was originally published in volume 20, no. 1 (March, 2006) of The OO Road, the newsletter of the NMRA American OO special interest group. It is among the few older articles I have that I wrote for The OO Road that are in a file format I can easily convert to use in the blog. In fact, one of my favorites was done on a typewriter! Looking in the back issues there are quite a few interesting articles to re-read, I will blog more on those another time.

Over Christmas break I filled in some gaps in my Model Craftsman magazine collection and in the May, 1939 issue hit pay dirt! For inside was a long article titled “Adventures in Double-O” by H. L. “Red” Adams. While significant for writing a series of articles in Model Craftsman, probably his biggest accomplishment was the design of the SP P-13 4-6-2 that was produced initially by him but later by Scale-Craft. A lumber broker by trade, his article is a fascinating look at his trials and tribulations as an OO gauger in the early years. His narrative begins back in 1934.
My adventures in OO gauge, 4 mm scale started in September, 1934 upon the sale of my O-gauge passenger train. This train had been built during the previous year, and upon its completion ran about four months on a partially completed loop. The large radius curves necessary for this O-gauge loop were the primary reason for my decision to go into the smaller scale.

At that time there was nothing on the market in OO except a few aluminum passenger cars that retailed for about $8.00 a kit [the early Nason sand cast cars]. No locomotives or parts were available for the budding enthusiast. My first step was to make 4 mm scale drawings of several different types of freight and passenger cars. At this same time I made up a drawing for a locomotive, a Southern Pacific 4-6-2, known as a P-13. This was the same type which I had built for the O-Gauge train.
Adams was an active member of the Model Builder’s Guild in the Chicago area, and another member, Raymond Willey, was also switching to OO. The annual show was only 90 days away, so they decided together to make an OO gauge display, with Willey making a die for fiber tie strips and Adams making up the wood and cardboard parts for five passenger cars. He continues,
Public interest in our exhibit was intense, so much so that we decided to go into the business of supplying the demand. Immediately upon the close of the exhibition we lined up our production facilities, advertised a small bit, and did a satisfactory volume…. All this time I was making patterns for the OO P-13 which, by the way, was the first small-gauge locomotive that had a one-piece cast bronze boiler, cab, firebox, running boards, stack and domes. Likewise the Vanderbilt tender body was a single aluminum casting. The two patterns had coreboxes and I had quite a time getting everything to come out as it should. …

The main frame of the locomotive was a solid bronze casting, drilled and tapped to mount all the other parts…. My idea was to build my OO equipment to O gauge standards of construction and with the same materials if possible.

The cylinders and valve gear (which was simplified Walschaerts), pilot and trailing trucks, tender and locomotive superstructure were finished without any unusual problems, and I was ready to install the heart of the locomotives, the motor.

After extensive search I found only one that could be used on account of the small space available. I bought one of these direct from the manufacturer and carefully installed it in my chassis, which ran freely when pushed by hand. Well, boys, that motor was the first of several great disappointments to me as far as power went, It lasted about a week; most of the time merely running the locomotive and tender around the track. Thinking perhaps that it was not quite large enough for the job, I ordered the heavy duty type, which was considerably longer, but had the same cross-section. By this time the next model show was at hand, and Willey and I decided to show the boys the wonder of the age. Ray had built up a beautiful track layout … we met the opening day full of confidence that we had the best display in town. We were running a seven-car passenger train headed by our new OO P-13 with its heavy duty motor. This train ran the first day, with stops every few minutes to cool off the motor. Every day thereafter I had to do an operation on that motor to keep it running. Finally after three days of the second week had passed it curled up and died, and our train stopped for good.
The quest for a good locomotive--we can all relate to this.
This poor motor proposition put a stop to our manufacture of locomotives as I absolutely refused to advertise that I had a better locomotive, when I knew it wouldn’t run for a week without giving dissatisfaction. There was plenty of demand for motive power, however, because several people that had seen our train running at the show came and ordered an engine regardless the poor motors. All told we sold nine locomotives in various degrees of completeness. Nobody brought one back so far, so evidently they felt they got their money’s worth.

Another type had been started prior to all the motor difficulty, a Southern Pacific Mt-5, a 4-8-2. This locomotive used the same drivers, cylinders, valve gear, pilot and trailing trucks, and tender that the P-13 used, so necessitated merely making a new main frame and superstructure patterns. This boiler was the same style as on the P-13 and had all the major parts cast integral. The locomotive was finished in March of 1936, but we never sold any of this type…. Friend Willey meantime had several printed sides for reefer cars made to order, along with wood parts and trucks giving us a freight line. He had a P-13, I had two and the Mt-5, and none of them would run longer than five minutes….

In the middle of 1936 I got disgusted with the whole thing and sold out the locomotive and passenger car patterns and drawings to a prominent model railroad manufacturer [Scale-Craft], and decided that I should have had some sense and stayed in O gauge….

However, things and motors come to those who wait. By the fall of 1937, I was able to get an OO-gauge motor that really would operate for long periods without overheating, and all my interest in OO gauge was revived. At this same time, the manufacturer to whom I had sold my original patterns came out with a complete line of OO gauge, making this track size even more attractive than before.
The article continues with an extended description of his layout and models as of that time (1939) and includes photos of the locomotives described and the layout. He had recently switched from outside third rail to two rail, and from the photos of the locomotives looks to have put Scale-Craft trucks on the tenders of his P-13 and Mt-5 models. Trains on his layout were normally up to ten freight or five passenger cars with timetable operation, modeling the Mojave division of the Southern Pacific on a good-sized double track loop. He concluded,
It is the finest enjoyment for me to sit down under one of my palm trees (under construction now) and run my OO railroad, particularly after being so disappointed a couple years back. All I have to do now is keep out of the hot sun, and watch that the Gila monsters don’t take a bite out of me.
OO is not an easy scale today but certainly is easier now than it was in the mid 1930s. In conclusion, I wonder if anyone out there owns one of the original Adams P-13 models (pre-Scale-Craft), knows if the prototype model for the Mt-5 survives (don’t you wish Scale-Craft had produced this model too?), or knows any more details of his or Willey’s other cars? I would love to hear from you.

UPDATE 2011: I added three of the photos from the article which show the layout and his models as of 1939. See also this article for a look at his layout in 1941.

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