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Friday, October 17, 2008

Frederick D. Grimke: "The Father of American OO?"

This was originally published in the August, 2000 issue of The OO Road and was also posted previously in the "files" section of the Yahoo American OO discussion group.

Some of you may know that there is a new, searchable database of model railroad magazine articles in the Model Railroader web site on the internet. Recently I was looking in my magazine collection for the articles that came up on OO from a search of that database, and found that I actually had very few of them. I did however find an article by Hugh Richard Nason (the founder of Nason) in the June 1935 issue of Model Craftsman that I had not previously noted on scratch building an OO gauge 12 section Pullman.

I have [or had at the date of the writing of this article, in 2000] only one other issue of Model Craftsman from 1935, the April issue, and soon I turned to it. In it I quickly found myself looking at the face of a real OO pioneer, Fred Grimke (p. 9). At that time he was chairman of the New York Society of Model Engineers; the article is a report on their annual show. Only three divisions of railroad models are noted in 1935; OO, O, and #1 or larger models. No HO! [The "good old days"].

Why is Grimke significant to American OO? According to an article by Linn H. Westcott in the January, 1949 issue of Model Railroader Grimke "introduced OO gauge into this country" (p. 17). He was certainly one of the very first people interested in the new scale; by early 1931 he had launched with Harry Thuillez the first American OO gauge manufacturer, Thuillgrim Models. The March, 1931 issue of The Modelmaker notes that at the third annual exhibition of the NYSME "Thuillgrim's two 'OO' Gauge locomotives certainly attracted the most attention" (p. 43).

The cover of this issue of The Modelmaker illustrated two Thuillgrim OO models; a B&A Berkshire and a NYC Hudson. The printing makes the photos grainy, but they look good! [The cover is described further in this article; click on the photo for a better view]. The Hudson model was constructed by Edwin Schwoebli, who later was involved with Nason. Advertisements show that Thuillgrim also planned to produce locomotives including the following: 0-8-0, 2-8-2, 2-10-4, 4-4-0, 4-4-2, 4-6-2, 4-8-2, and "electric type locomotives of latest design." These models are thought to have never been produced, but it is thought that they did produce limited amounts of couplers, freight car truck side frames, and body hardware for freight and passenger cars. Also, the partner of Grimke, Harry Thuillez, advertised blueprints for the PRR D76B dining car back in 1930; this was actually the very first advertisement mentioning American OO, in the July, 1930 issue of The Modelmaker.

Thuillgrim seems to have produced very few models. But Fred Grimke nevertheless certainly made a mark in American OO early on and may actually be, if Linn Westcott was correct, the person to crown as "The Father of American OO."

[Thanks especially to Ed Morlok for his assistance in the research that led to this article].

UPDATE: A review of the 1931-32 series on OO by Grimke begins here. The caption with the photo above is "Mr. Grimke, Chairman, N. Y. Society presenting Merritt MacKnight with the Craftsman Special Award." Howard Winther won first award in OO for his 0-4-0 freelance switcher (also displaying 4-4-2, and 4-8-2 locomotive models) and his P.R.R. caboose won first award for freight equipment. The 0-4-0 and caboose as they appear today may be seen in this post.

Back to Thuillgrim, as I note in the 1931-32 series where the models are described in more detail, they advertised the line for nearly two years and it is possible an example or two still exists out there, unrecognized for the significant model it is. And, as I conclude there,
Frederic Drayton Grimke was ahead of the curve and ahead of his time but would be heard from again in the pages of The Modelmaker as an author and in other publications in relation to his being a longtime officer in the New York Society of Model Engineers. I will have more on those another day but in conclusion I would add that on reading this series of articles in The Modelmaker it is clear that Grimke truly was the father of American OO. He in this early series set all our major standards and laid the foundation for all that was to come from the firms that followed Thuillgrim, especially Nason, Scale-Craft, and Lionel.

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