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Friday, August 15, 2008

Graceline Model Railroads OO Gauge 101

Another major maker of American OO gauge models from 1939-1945 was Graceline Model Railroads, which was run by John Devore of Minneapolis, MN. Graceline was one of the few manufacturers to maintain production during WW II (but apparently with a production gap, late 1943-early 1944). They produced a well designed line of passenger and freight cars, but the metal parts were cast in metal of varying quality (likely due to wartime restrictions) and some have deteriorated badly.

Some years back I was fortunate in a lot purchase to obtain quite a number of Graceline cars. I have a warm spot for the line and also have I believe a complete set of catalogs.

Passenger cars

Their passenger cars featured card sides similar to J-C models but not identical (the doors are separate castings), a wood roof and floor, and cast details. These models were introduced just before WW II except for the wood sheathed cars (1939) and the baggage and troop sleeper (mid-WW II); the latter two were offered as "comprestic kits" only. All of the passenger cars were offered as comprestic kits lacking wood and metal parts and decals late in WW II. They made unique trucks for these cars; the 4-wheel trucks are equalized only and the 6-wheel trucks are sprung (see the 6-wheel trucks here). The passenger line included:
  • 171 Coach, old time, wood sheathed
  • 172 Combination, old time, wood sheathed
  • 173 Mail car
  • 174 Combination
  • 175 Diner
  • 176 Pullman; choice of names--Aberdeen, Tonka, Loring, Palm Springs, Topaz, White Bear Lake, Lounge, Observation, Parlor, Tourist
  • 176-A Coach
  • 177 Solarium
  • Baggage
  • Troop Sleeper
Choice of decals for numbers 171-77 from early WW II: Burlington, Milwaukee, Rock Island, C&NW, Baltimore & Ohio, Illinois Central, So. Pacific Lines, Pennsylvania, NYC, Great Northern, NP, Santa Fe; No. 171 and 172 also offered hand-lettered for any prototype in 1939. The cars in the photo above are the Mail car (RPO) and the diner. The RPO has S-C trucks on it but the diner the original Graceline trucks.

Freight cars

The freight car line is extensive and evolved over the years of production in a number of ways. Most of the boxcars and reefers have card sides (but the early production of some cars is stamped brass), a wood body, and cast details (early production of some cars, stamped brass ends and doors). All early production cars were available with hand lettered sides (which sometimes incorporate gummed paper heralds), as noted below. Cars offered with decals date to early WW II. Some cars were offered only as "comprestic kits" lacking wood and metal parts and decals late in WW II, and others were available in this form only, as noted.

Before getting to the long list of models I should also note that these cars roll on three different designs of freight trucks each in multiple versions. Early period trucks are equalized Bettendorf trucks (very similar to S-C, at a glance, but with a slightly longer wheelbase) and arch bar designs (an example see here); middle period trucks are more finely detailed equalized Bettendorf, Andrews, and arch bar designs (an example seen here); later period trucks are sprung Bettendorf, Andrews, and arch bar designs (an example seen here). Early production models were also offered custom lettering "for your own road." Cars with uncataloged lettering schemes in my collection which appear to be factory applied hand lettering include 40' wood sheathed boxcar, A&WP #1830, AT&N #2103, CB&Q #69820; 40' box car, C&EI #64150 and #64458; 40' reefer, Armor #16096; 50' express reefer, PFE #730, NC&StL #714; wood caboose C&EI #101 and #138.
  • Utility flat, 40' [bulkhead car]--decals for B&O; also comprestic
  • 53 Quad hopper--decals for GN, SP, NYC, Rock Island, CB&Q, PRR, Milwaukee, C&NW, Santa Fe
  • 57 Gondola, 40'--decals, same as 53; also comprestic
  • 60 Flat car--decals for CB&Q, PRR, Milwaukee, C&NW, Santa Fe, GN, SP, NYC, Rock Island
  • Depressed center flat car, cast sides--hand lettered sides for C&NW, CM&StP
  • 110 Wood sheathed box car, 40'--hand lettered side for C&NW, GN, NP, SP #36478, NYC; decals for GN, SP, NP, NYC, B&O, Milwaukee, C&NW, PRR, Rock Island, Burlington, Santa Fe; also comprestic
  • 117 Box car, 40', stamped brass--decals, same as 110; also comprestic
  • 50' Box car, comprestic kit only
  • 50' Horizontal rib box car, comprestic kit only
  • 124 50' auto car--decals for Milwaukee, C&NW, Santa Fe, B&O, Rock Island, GN, SP, NP, Burlington, NYC, PRR; also comprestic
  • 139 Outside braced box car, 40'--decals, same as 110
  • 141 Wagon top box car, 40', stamped brass--hand lettered sides for B&O; decals, same as 110
  • 143 Wood sheathed reefer, 40'--hand lettered sides for Armor's Star, Wilsons #7554, Swift's, Rath's #204, Morrell's Pride #6220, Cudahy Puritan Ham #4226, Kraft #1172, Baby Ruth, Carnation Milk #6402, Old Dutch #1564, Bordens, Orange Growers #404; also comprestic
  • Reefer, 40'--hand lettered sides for Northern #3099, Western, Union, Burlington, MDT, Northwestern, PFE, UP, GN, Santa Fe; decals for MDT, Rock Island, Santa Fe, NP, Burlington, PFE, Milwaukee, C&NW, Western; also comprestic
  • Express Reefer, 50', wood sheathed--hand lettered sides for NP, GN, Santa Fe, NYC, SP; decals for GN, NP, NYC, SP, Santa Fe, C&NW, Rock Island, Milwaukee, Burlington, Illinois Central, B&O, PRR.
  • Caboose, wood sheathed--hand lettered sides available; decals for PRR, C&NW, Milwaukee, Burlington, NYC, Santa Fe, GN, SP; note: either this caboose or the following also available as a comprestic kit
  • Caboose, steel--decals for Rock Island, B&O, Milwaukee, PRR
Car numbers above reflect the numbers on cars in my collection.

The wood caboose in the photo (more here) looks to be a custom variation of the Graceline caboose, very nicely built up with hand lettering that matches the other cars. The C&EI boxcar has brass sides and ends with hand painted lettering and early trucks; the New Haven boxcar is the later version with decals and middle period trucks; and the reefer has also the hand lettered sides. Click on the photo to see more details. And I would mention a mystery die-cast flat that seems to have Graceline parts may be seen in this article.

I find the refrigerator sides particularly interesting as the early models all feature the factory painted hand lettering, no printing or decal process was involved. Each side of each car is slightly different! See this article for views of a couple more examples, showing both sides of the same car. A lot of work, and there are variations beyond what were listed in the catalog that appear to be factory models, such as this one. On the negative side, however, most of these cars I own are not "layout" cars for me. The hand-painted sides are cool in a collection but really stick out on a layout. Cars with decals, such as the New Haven boxcar in a photo earlier in this article, fit in much better. For a bit more on billboard refrigerators in general see this article.

By early 1943 Graceline was out of production, but not out of ideas. While Graceline started out in OO, in 1944 they added a line of O gauge freight car kits and retooled production of the OO line. By January of 1945 the price list makes clear they only offered what they called "comprestic" kits in either scale, which came packaged as seen in this last photo. Comprestic was their name for the material the sides, ends, and roof were pressed from. This was good idea as a wartime product, as it used no critical materials.  Their troop sleeper is the most notable model produced in this style of packaging and material.

Transportation Models

Graceline continued in business but dropped their OO line entirely after the war, instead producing a line of O gauge kits. In the post war period their OO line was produced with yet another truck design in modified form by Transportation Models. Their freight car kits are reasonably commonly seen (the line of passenger cars listed on the boxes, however, may never have been produced), and from the markings on the pressed cardboard parts clearly they used the same dies that had been used to make the same Graceline parts -- or perhaps simply recycled the parts from unsold inventory in their "new" kits.

For even more notes on Graceline production by year see these articles from the OO history series:
Updated 2013

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