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

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Scale-Craft OO Motors

Looking through my photos, I found one from Dick Gresham that I had not yet posted that illustrates both types of Scale-Craft OO motors.

This illustration is from the 1940 Scale-Craft catalog, and essentially the same illustration appeared in the 1939 catalog as well.

As a first note, over the years I have not spent a lot of time thinking about S-C motors. As of now [2009--see UPDATE 3], both of the S-C locomotives that I have that I run are equipped with aftermarket, D.C. permanent magnet motors connected to the original transmission. The others that I don’t run have the universal motor, and I have probably a half dozen extra of these motors that I suspect someone saved when they converted a bunch of locomotives to aftermarket D.C. motors.

I had not noted until fairly recently that the original S-C products produced 1937-38 were shipped with the relatively rare Scale-Craft DC motor. In the 1938 catalog they state (p. 23),
All the Scale-Craft “OO” locomotives have a 7 pole armature permanent magnet motor, which assures abundant power when needed. A feature of the permanent magnet motor is that automatic reversing is accomplished by merely changing the direction of the current. The motor operates on 12 to 24 volts, direct current only.
That was pretty incompatible with Lionel and AC.

So, the 1939 catalog introduced their new motor. In the listing for the 4-6-0 they state “The new Scale-Craft 12-volt A.C. motor is standard equipment; however, the permanent magnet motor may be substituted at an additional charge of $2.00.” This points out a couple things. One, A.C. was cheaper! But also now they had a product that was potentially at least compatible with Lionel and with their older products, depending on how you set things up on your system.

This photo is of both motors side by side. They are pretty easy to recognize. Note that the transmission design was modified somewhat for use with the Universal motor.

Wiring this motor required according to instructions for the 4-6-0 dated 10-6-39 a OOX-9059 reverse switch for A.C. motor operation. Essentially this switch seems to be a D.P.D.T. center-off switch. In practice it is in the tender and requires a hole to be cut in the tender to allow it to be thrown manually. These instructions may be found in the Yahoo OO group site in the files area.

By 1941 Scale-Craft also marketed a bridge rectifier. It looks like a stack of small discs with five nibs for wires coming out. The catalog description (page 91) states
The use of the bridge rectifier for polarity reserving with direct current is the latest development in remote control practice. It is trouble proof, simple, and cheap to install. These little rectifying units are placed between the motor field and line; they preserve a constant direction of field current, regardless of line reversals. The result is, that a line reversal reverses the motor—the same as with a permanent magnet outfit. It must be remembered, however, that the bridge rectifier cannot be used with alternating current. It is made for direct current only, and will be burned out in a few moments if used with an alternating current.
A wiring diagram for the “reversing rectifier” is presented on this page of the catalog. [UPDATE: the diagram may be found in this post]. They also note on this page that they have discontinued manufacturing the permanent magnet motor and the universal motor is now available either as 12 volt or 24 volt.

Jumping ahead to the end of their OO production, in the final S-C catalog (the Round Lake catalog) they list three locomotives. The 4-8-4 has a 7 pole Universal motor that operates on 16 volts A.C. and 12 volts D.C., and the 4-6-0 and 0-6-0 models have a “Pittman per-mag motor.” So, actually, there must be a few late S-C models with factory shipped Pittman D.C. motors.

In conclusion, I came to OO from HO and direct current so for me personally the most mystifying thing just looking at the S-C Universal motor is the four wires coming out! Two extras! I don't think I am alone on this. I will be posting more on how to get these motors operational again, this is a puzzle worth solving.

UPDATE: See the follow-up post for more, How to bench test a Scale-Craft Universal motor.

UPDATE 2: The original DC motor runs great! See this article for more.

UPDATE 3: See also this article for more on running the Universal motor on DC with a rectifier. It also runs great! Scale-Craft clearly put a high priority on shipping out locomotives with a great motor.

Friday, January 30, 2009

More on E. H. Bessey

In my earlier post on E. H. Bessey I outlined their OO production. Since then I located and scanned a photo I took some years ago of a partially completed Bessey OO boxcar in the collection of Bill Chapin, with box and instructions, which is below.

The other update is to give a bit more detail on the rest of their product line. Like Picard, Bessey was actually in production during WWII as their products were all wood and used no critical war materials.

While Bessey was an OO gauger, OO was not all he manufactured. The flagship items of the line, based on the detail given in the 1947 catalog, were structural shapes and bridge kits. The only OO bridge was the Pratt Truss bridge, which was available in O, OO, and HO scales. They note it was “Made from our Famous Precision Shapes in Wood. Kits contain all necessary channels[,] angles, columns, and other materials.”

They also produced a plate girder bridge in O and HO, a single or double track Howe Truss bridges in HO, a double track O gauge semi-cantilever bridge, and also an O gauge B & O signal bridge. A wide variety of related wood shapes and ties in all three scales were marketed as well.

As to cars, they do not appear to have marketed O scale cars but they do show three different HO scale items in the 1947 catalog; a composite gondola, a Great Northern express reefer, and a HO version of the “Old time S. P. wood box car” of which the photo above is a photo of the OO version. This sold in HO for 60 cents and in OO for 75 cents. All are listed as body kits with no hardware.

Finally, I should also note HO and O novelty siding and stair stringers in HO, OO, and O scales. The stair stringers were different for HO and for OO, which was unusual for the time as a number of firms marketed structures as HO/OO, with the idea that they would be suited for both. This is a topic I will come back to in a future post.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Top ten articles on American OO Today

When I launched this site in April of 2008 I mostly knew there was just not much online about classic American OO gauge models and I had plenty of materials that could be posted. After a while though I became curious, are people looking at the site? How many? What is on the radar out there?

So in December I got the site set up with Google Analytics. With over 100 articles in the site at present I found out that I currently average toward 25 visitors a day with more than half of them coming from search engines. Many of the pages that are the highest rated certainly relate to searches that individuals are doing. Sometimes they are looking for OO information; sometimes they are related searches where this site came up high in the results.

Without further fanfare, the top ten most frequently viewed articles in the last month:

1. The number one post certainly is one that I believe is coming up due to searches unrelated to OO, “A Mantua/Tyco 4-6-0, and other Mantua OO.” People are looking for info on the HO model, but at the same time I do present new info on it being over scale and such, and I hope that readers were curious to know about Mantua OO as well.

2. At number two we have a post that must be of interest to collectors trying to actually run OO models today, “Scale-Craft and Lionel sectional track for OO gauge.” It is good to know it is the highest rated, true OO post, and it is also one of my favorite articles in the blog.

3. Next is the post “The Fleischmann FA.” For sure this is accessed frequently as a HO/Fleischmann related post, but it does document that the model is over scale for HO and gives good background information.

4. At four we have “Scale-Craft at Kemtron; the end of the line.” It must come up on Scale-Craft and Kemtron searches.

5. Number five is one of the oldest posts in the blog, “Lionel OO gauge.” It is a short post with the right title; I knew then that there were other resources on Lionel OO online and actually it is mostly a link out to one of them. But it must come up well in the search engines and it gets people to the site.

6. Six is a more recent post, “American OO train sets.” This is my main post on Lionel sets but also puts them in context with full info on Scale-Craft sets which were introduced a year before Lionel, with a bit extra on Strombecker OO.

7. Next is an interesting one. I am not sure why “Scale-Craft and Lionel box cars” is so far up the list but I do like how the cars came out that are featured, projects completed this past summer. They are on the layout now!

8. Eight was linked from another recent post but also was previously one of the only articles online anywhere on the topic of “Picard Novelty Co.”

9. “Graceline Model Railroads” is highly rated but I don’t think because there is that much specific interest in Graceline; it was directly linked from a post in the Tyco Collector’s Forum.

10. Our final article in the top ten list as of January, 2009 features a link to a YouTube video; “1938 Lionel OO set in action.” It is short but it is great to see OO gauge run. However, I must admit it is even better to see OO gauge models run on your own layout.

Finally, many thanks to those who helped with these posts and to the hundreds of recent site visitors; I am glad you are there and I will keep the articles coming.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Story Behind Picard Bodies

The January, 2009 issue of The Train Collectors Quarterly includes part 106 of the great series of articles, “Who Done It?” by John S. Newbraugh. One topic addressed in this issue is the Picard Novelty Company. The models that were brought to his attention were HO, and more information was sought.

For us who have been in OO a while Picard seems to be everywhere. It was produced from 1940-ca. 1948 and there is a lot of it around today I think. Seeing this as a topic in the series surprised me a bit until I did a quick Google search; I found that really just about the only information on Picard online is to be found in this website!

My first post on the Picard Novelty Co. covers most of the basics for OO production but this company shipped out a lot of product and made exactly the same line in HO, OO, and O gauges. This image is of a postwar price list from ca. 1947; click on it for a larger view. It lists quite clearly the entire HO, OO, and O gauge lines of wooden bodies for box cars, reefers, express reefers, hoppers, gondolas. Prices ranged from a low of 30 cents for the HO 36 to 42’ plain boxcar/reefer bodies to a max of $1.50 for the more deluxe O gauge cement hopper. The most expensive OO item was the cement hopper for $1.25.

As to what the models are like, Picard also produced a flyer (of which I have a copy) they called “The Story Behind Picard Bodies” that I believe to also be post-war. In the flyer, after noting the research that went into these products so that they would be accurate to scale, they note,
Taking into consideration the fact that every Hobbyist is not a carpenter, our aim was to produce something that even a child could assemble without the least possible chance of an error, in a very few minutes, at the same time bearing in mind that it must be accurate and solidly built. This we have done to a degree of perfection.

No instructions are needed to construct our bodies, for each part interlocks in such a manner that you cannot assemble one of our cars out of true…..

We use nothing but the finest grade of basswood, of a thickness that will not warp, and which gives the necessary weight to keep your cars on the rails.
That last paragraph is very accurate: I have dozens of Picard bodies and I don’t believe any show signs of warping! They also gave a guarantee in the flyer:
We guarantee every one of our Bodies to be a perfect fit, and the workmanship of the finest, but as we are not infallible, we stand willing, at all times, to replace any and all parts not as above, or damaged in transit.

As all of our parts are interchangeable, kindly return the damaged part only (not the entire Body) and replacement will be mailed you promptly.

Be sure the name Picard Novelty Co. is stamped on your Body to assure you of quality.
As to the models, their description of the open hoppers is rather interesting. “We have Penn. 41 footers with the 8 hoppers and Southern 33 footers with the 4 hoppers, in O Gauge, these have both inside and outside detail.” This ties in with earlier text in the flyer that refers to “obtaining blueprints and photographs from the various railroads of their cars.”

Besides the hoppers, in my opinion the most desirable models are the scribed side bodies for boxcars or reefers. These kits cost only 50 cents and included the parts in the photo at left--two sides, two ends, a roof, a floor, and an underframe. A car built up from the same parts may be seen in this post (along with a great covered hopper) and a reefer in this post. Also check out this quad hopper; the hopper cars build up into surprisingly nice cars.

The plain side boxcars and reefers were to be built using printed car sides purchased from manufacturers including Champion, Scale-Rail, and others. I also found of interest this quote in the flyer:
We manufacture a great many Bodies for others, of their own design, and would be glad to figure on anything you have in mind, in the line of wood.

Send us your samples for estimates.
I have always wondered if other companies used Picard parts, and it is something that I will keep my eyes peeled for. UPDATE: I believe they made the body parts for Champion OO kits at the least. Probably others.

Finally, as I noted in an earlier post, one thing that set the line apart besides quality was that it was available without interruption during WWII as no critical war materials were used in their production. Sales must have been pretty good during the war, but must have dried up with the return to normal production of better detailed models. A classic line in HO, OO, and O gauges.

UPDATE: Picard had the right product at the right time in WWII. This article gives more details on the history of Picard and includes a great photo of the owner, Theodore Picard.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kadee couplers for Scale-Craft cars

I have for years and years used Kadee HO couplers in OO. OO gaugers have used these pretty much since they were introduced as they automatically couple with each other and they will manually couple easily with Scale-Craft, Lionel, and most other OO dummy couplers.

On S-C freight cars these couplers work great. Kadee number 5 couplers are almost a drop in fit, with a bit of trimming and filing on the box. The top right car is a box car and the bottom right is a tank car, which show the conversion pretty clearly.

On passenger cars it is a different story. Actually, the number 5 couplers will work on these cars on wide radius curves, but not well on tighter radius curves.

Passenger cars are more sensitive to as to the geometry of the couplers and car ends as they are longer. I have mostly run freight trains over the years, but lately I have wanted to run more passenger cars. This past weekend I finally bought some longer shank Kadee couplers to try, the number 26 coupler. In the photo they are on the cast S-C passenger cars and they did the trick, they allow for a bit more swing between the cars. For those of you operating OO and wanting to run these cars on 26” radius curves these couplers are the way to go.

UPDATE: See this article for more, as E-Z Mate couplers are a drop in fit in most S-C freight cars.

UPDATE II: And now I mostly use Kadee whisker couplers on S-C cars and many other OO applications.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Amazing detail from Oscar Andresen, part 2

As already obvious from part 1, Oscar Andresen did some amazing things very early on in American OO.

His layout, the Mohawk Valley System, was briefly featured in Model Railroader in the February, 1936 issue on pages 36 and 37. The layout story does not do the models justice. The text says that other photos of the Mohawk Valley appeared in the May, 1935 issue of Model Railroader, an issue I don’t have access to.

These models were offered commercially on most likely a very limited basis. His advertisement in the February, 1936 issue of Model Railroader (page 54) read as follows:

84 Shade Street, Lexington, Mass.

I have not seen or located a Rockhaven flyer or catalog, but the models in these photos are representative, in the collection of Ed Morlok. These all show amazing detail for the period. Many items are etched with what are the names of his personal roads; Mohawk Valley, Echo Line, or Rock Haven. Also, the McKeen car in the first photo in part one is etched "The Three Musketeers." One of these built up and running would be stunning!

A complete list of models I know to exist includes:

4-C+C-4 electric, CUT T-3a, etched zinc body
Tender, etched brass

Gas-mechanical, Mckeen car
MU electric, IC, passenger-baggage

Box car, 40', steel
Cement hopper
Flat car, 40'
Ore hopper, ribbed side
Ore hopper, plain side
Stock Car

In many respects the photos speak for themselves. What can really be added?

No wonder Temple Nieter was so bitten by the OO bug with the help of Andresen back in 1931; these were stunning models in what was then a brand new scale.

Anyone out there have more examples of Andresen?

UPDATE: For more photos of early Andresen products and also photos of his layout in 1935 see this article.

Continue to Part III of Amazing Detail series

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Amazing detail from Oscar Andresen, part 1

Back in the late 70s and early 80s I corresponded with the late H. Temple Nieter, the Dean of “OOldtimers.” He got into OO very early, and in a letter I recently located dated 19 March 1982 Temple laid out in great detail his early OO work with Oscar Andresen. In part one of this series I will let Temple tell the story in his own words, completely unedited, with more to follow shortly. The photos with this post are scans of photos I took in the early 90s of Andresen models mentioned by Nieter in his text that are in the collection of Ed Morlok, with more photos to come (as always, click on the photo for a larger version). At the time of the letter from Nieter I was working on an early version of my draft of the OO checklist (still unpublished). Enjoy!


When you cite Oscar Andresen (NOTE SPELLING, Norwegian style) [Editors note: I misspelled it in my draft list] you bring me to my own start in OO. I had learned of it while still in Dartmouth, senior year, 1930/31. When I got into the Harvard Engg. School I joined the Boston Society of Model Engineers or some such name. They covered everything, live steam to ¾”, sailboats and mantel-piece historical ships, a little airplane and O-gauge. However, I met Oscar and was fixed into OO because he was making it.

He was a photoengraver in Boston, had picked OO for himself and was already making car and loco bodies of photoengraved zinc. Zinc was more available and it soldered nicely. With his teaching, I made the “art-work” or ink drawings of rivets, plated, strips of a steel car-body, using overlaid tissues as a means of having each drawing in line and registered, I had (and still have) the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western prints of their motor and trailer MU cars of 1930/31 when they electrified the suburban service out of Hoboken.

As a result, Oscar shot my drawings with the engravers’ camera, making zinc plates but not as deep an etch as for printing. Also, he made “bite” after bite from the successive negatives thus made, giving the 3-D effect, like die casting, of the car side/end. I made up a 2-motor/2-trailer MU train, late ’34, and it used some 50 hours just for pantographs (4). [Editors note: More on these models in this post].

However, Oscar sent me some other sides, as for the Cleveland Union Terminal electric 4-C+C-4 locos and for a single IC MU. I’ve found brass etched Andresen tenders, cab parts and such, in later years. His own road had a little steeple-cab electric, etched, of which I have an ancient photo [Editors note: This locomotive may be seen in the background in the photo on page 37 of the Feb., 1936 issue of Model Railroader, in the short article on his Mohawk Valley System, along with several MU cars (SEE UPDATE at end of post)]. He died about 1940/43 and his family moved from the house they had built in Lexington, MA, to Brooklyn. The last word was from his widow, then blind, who inquired about values of some HO he had made up his method. Two children are lost to sight. Oscar was a sometimes gruff but always friendly guy; I became quite fond of him for himself, as well as for his guidance in my own OOing. Sorry we have no traces, now. I did find a “Rock Haven”, one of his two rr names, combine at a now departed OOing friend’s basement ten years ago.

Oscar made, mostly, custom stuff altho basic bodies could have stripped-in road names on their negatives used for the engraving. I ran into his apprentice engraver entirely by chance once! It was on another matter but talking and bringing up OO he told me he had worked under Oscar back in those early days!!! In fact, this man (I’d have to search files for his name, in the East) send a poor color-photo of an Oga boxcar made by Andresen for him, also etched. One cab I got by accident with other OO, once, finally went to Pierre Bourassa near Montreal, it being a Canadian “all-weather” type, enclosed with door. He was delighted and used it on a new engine. Thus, even these times [1982], good old Oscar is helping OO!

[Click here to continue to part 2]

UPDATE: For a photo of his steeple cab electric and an accurate biography of Andresen see this post.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

American OO circus cars

Recently I have had a series of posts on Myron P. Davis. Besides the big, bronze locomotives, among his other Cussewago Valley post-war products in OO were several cars including two types of circus cars.

Dick G. has again supplied some great photos. Before describing them, I have a question. Why do model makers produce products to sell? On some level it has to be because they want that item, and they believe that others will want it too. Profit may not be the primary motive. Sure, they hope to not lose money, but, in the end, it is something they want.

This has to be the case with M. P. Davis on these cars. The first photo is of two of the Cussewago Valley 70' cast aluminum circus flat cars. Dick comments “I have three of these flat cars, but none of the circus items. These flat cars have Nason 3-rail trucks, and some unusual stamped brass couplers that I haven't seen before.”

Also we have these interesting photos of parts for Cussewago Valley 70' cast aluminum stock car sides and roof. Dick comments “I have two pairs of sides and two roofs, but no ends or bottoms. These aluminum castings are very crude. I could make a bottom from wood or aluminum. The ends would be a little more difficult to make.”

Davis had these cast for him in batches and there are others of these cars around but certainly they are uncommon. If you have any of these they are a find, and it is especially interesting to see the built up cars in the top photo. Thank you again Dick for sharing.

One final item, for those wondering, the below is so far as I know the complete line of Myron P. Davis/Cussewago Valley freight cars, all items to keep your eye peeled for:

Box car, 40' (Nason)
Caboose, streamline
Flat car, 70' (circus)
Stock car, 70' (circus)
Tank car, pregnant whale
Tank car, triple dome, 19,000 gallon
Wrecking crane, Brown, 250 ton

UPDATE 2015: What became the main M. P. Davis article is here. I was also recently able to purchase one of the circus flat cars, identical to the ones in the photo that begins this article but painted orange, and matching the circus stock car in this article. As it came to me it has one complete and one incomplete Nason 3-rail truck like on the cars seen in the two articles, and the same unusual couplers. Must have been built by the same builder. In Google Images it is not a hard search to find prototype photos of both of these models, the real cars did and do exist.

Pondering the rebuild of the car I have. I don't think these ever operated outside of a circus train, so that does limit the usefulness of a lone circus flat car, but I would like to get some lettering on it, painted trucks, and couplers someday.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The mystery of the plastic wheelsets, and Gracelinie OO sprung trucks

Two types of trucks with plastic wheelsets were marketed in the classic period of OO production. One type was by Scale-Craft, made of Bakelite, as described in this post, and these are fairly commonly seen (and are possibly the original type of Scale-Craft wheelset). The other type is rarer and was a mystery to me until this past week.

I first encountered this type of wheelset on one half of a pair of late production Graceline Andrews trucks that I have had for years and years (introduced in 1941), the ones that are sprung. I replaced the plastic half of wheelsets on the pair with wheelsets from the scrap box that were very similar to the other wheelsets on the other truck. At the time I thought the odd, plastic wheels to be someone’s strange homemade OO wheelset with HO wheels, as that is exactly what they look like. Then, later, I got four more examples in some parts purchased along the way—they are all in this photo. Two matched exactly the first pair and the other two are on a slightly different axle. HMMM. (Click on any of the photos for a larger version).

Graceline wheelsets are variable. Some look very much like the typical Scale-Craft wheelset (split axle) but with flanges that can be a bit off standards. I find they don’t track well; Graceline seems to have had trouble with suppliers. Then they sold I believe a solid axle wheelset, like on this late Graceline truck, which I have in the photo next to a brass Schorr truck for comparison. Then, at the end of production of trucks we seem to have this plastic wheelset.

The mystery was solved with the arrival of this recent purchase, a Graceline gondola kit likely produced just before WWII. It is an interesting kit, built around a block of wood so it must be built with a load. But note especially the wheelsets shipped with the parts, which are in the black box in the photo. They are broken down and require the builder to mount them on the supplied axles. The wheels themselves are actually HO size wheels which work out to be only about 28” diameter (they should be 33”). Which is a visual mismatch to the trucks, which are actually slightly overscale for OO (again, refer to the photo with the Schorr truck for comparison).

How do these plastic wheelsets work, as in on a layout? I doubt that I will ever use the ones I have. They are not very layout worthy with a very thin flange and look too small. I also strongly suspect that it would be very easy to break the wheels while mounting them on the axles.

I actually have a built up version of this car that I want to get layout worthy. It came to me on Schorr trucks, now mounted on a Schorr car. With the knowledge gained from the unbuilt kit I can mount the right style of Graceline trucks under this and another late Graceline car I have. In the photo it is sitting on my original pair of Graceline Andrews trucks. As the trucks are now they will not track well at all due to wheelset issues. In the photo the wheelsets are also somewhat overscale, passenger size wheelsets.

So, I will be replacing the wheelsets on this car now. But, instead of the small, plastic wheelsets I plan to use NWSL 20” On3 wheelsets. They are slightly under diameter for OO, a bit under 32” diameter or between the plastic Graceline wheelset and what would be correct for OO freight trucks (33”). But as the original wheels would also have been underscale the NWSL wheelsets are a great match for the trucks, in the spirit of making a layout worthy, restored car.

This final photo is the comparison, the Graceline wheelset with the HO size wheels, a NWSL wheelset, and a standard Scale-Craft wheelset, plus a broken down Graceline wheelset as supplied in the kit.

Incidentally, the next larger size of NWSL On3 wheelset is 24”, and this would scale out to 38” in OO, a bit over sized for passenger cars but this would also be usable in some situations for sure. These wheelsets should be kept in mind as options for use in OO today. The 20” wheelset would be a drop in fit for Lionel trucks that need to be converted either to more modern flanges or two rail for operation. I have also modified many HO 36” wheelsets for OO; these scale out to about 31.5” in OO, just a hair smaller than the On3 20” wheelsets.

One other final note would be on the Graceline instructions in the kit. They don’t suggest painting the truck castings! They suggest that the castings “be oxidized … by dipping in muriatic acid for a few seconds. Then rinse castings thoroughly with water. Polish with bristle-brush. CAUTION: Wash hands immediately after handling parts that are dipped in acid. DO NOT put hands in acid.”

Yikes! I think I will just use paint!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Ten times more efficient?

Lionel when they went into OO in 1938 was very aware of HO and the battle of the gauges. On page 28 of the 1939 Lionel catalog is a most interesting quote that caught my eye recently. The quotation is from Making and Operating Model Railroads by Raymond F. Yates (New York: Appleton & Company, 1938), where he states “Experts have found that ‘OO’ power units properly designed operate ten times more efficiently than do ‘HO’ units.”

The large motors that all but fill early locomotive superstructures by Scale-Craft and Nason were certainly more robust than the comparable, smaller motors used in HO at that time. In their 1936 catalog Nason listed two types of motors as separate sale items, the “Super Power” rated at 10 volts AC or DC and the “Light Duty” motor rated at 6 volts AC or DC. The initial Scale-Craft motor for 1937 was their 7 pole, permanent magnet motor which ran on DC current, which was soon joined by their 12 volt AC/DC universal motor, a big motor that fills the cab of any steamer it was applied to in their line. In the photo a standard Scale-Craft motor is on the right and a pre-war Varney HO motor on the left (more information on this motor here, from their 1938 assembly instructions). Ten times more efficient I don’t know, but the S-C motor is at least three times bigger!

By even the late 30s, however, small motors were getting better and there must have been some good running locomotives out in HO. Lionel was overstating the case in their catalog and actually was a part of the problem in a sense, as they used AC power and sold models for two or three rail operation instead of focusing on two rail and DC.

HO would win the “battle of the gauges” (HO vs. OO) for many reasons, one of them certainly being that HO that it got sorted out pretty quickly around the 12 volt DC motors and two rail operation.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Vintage American OO Train Sets

When people today think of American OO gauge train sets (if they think of them at all…) they think Lionel. Actually, three makers sold train sets in American OO.

The first important maker, the one that really broke ground with a new type of product, was Scale-Craft. Their sets were introduced in their 1937 catalog as follows:
We are now introducing an innovation in the model field by offering for the first time a complete scale model train [emphasis original]. The passenger car set consists of a complete locomotive kit, a baggage car kit, two passenger car kits and 16 sections of curved track (1 circle), as well as 4 sections of straight track. The locomotive and rolling stock parts are pressure die cast, insuring the super-detail so important to the model enthusiast. All the drilling has been done; only the assembling remains…. The baggage and passenger cars are super-detailed, with all of the exterior features of their prototypes. The doors on both the baggage and passenger cars are working doors; likewise the traps on the passenger car operate. The track comes assembled for two rail operation….

The SCALE-CRAFT freight train set is as complete as the passenger set. It consists of a locomotive kit, tank car kit, box car kit, hopper car kit, caboose kit, and the complete circle of track and straight sections furnished with the passenger set. As on the baggage car, the doors on the box car are operating doors, and our hopper cars constitute an innovation in that they are fully working hoppers. A full realization of what wonderful models these are can only be obtained by actually seeing one of these new kits. They are beyond doubt the finest model train kits ever offered.
While the text emphasized the kit versions, they were also available fully assembled. These sets were revolutionary compared to any toy train set of 1937 or really any other OO gauge product of 1937. This photo is from their Blow-Smoke newsletter in 1939, where another view (of the passenger version) may also be seen (follow link above). And, as the catalog noted, they could “easily be installed and operated on the top of a standard 5’ x 9’ ping-pong table.” They were priced as follows:

K15 Passenger train kit--4-6-0 locomotive, baggage, and two coaches, $48.50
X15 Assembled passenger train (lettering is unspecified: illustration shows C&NW lettering on loco and cars), $68.00
K16 Freight train kit--4-6-0 locomotive, box car, tank car, hopper, and caboose, $48.50
X16 Assembled freight train (lettering is unspecified: illustration shows Rock Island locomotive and caboose, C&NW box car, C&O hopper, and Pure Oil tank) $68.00

One mechanical detail of the new line should be noted; the original locomotives were shipped with their 7 pole, permanent magnet motor which ran on DC current. The transformer-rectifier unit they sold for OO use produced 24 volts DC.

I see no mention of these sets in the 1938 or 39 catalogs but they had not been dropped from the line as they were featured in fall, 1939 issue of their Blow-Smoke newsletter, as already noted. These photos show the set boxes and track in addition to the built up trains; no catalog numbers were given at that time but the same sets described above were available with your choice of either the 4-6-0, 4-4-2, or 4-6-4t locomotives, priced at a “Special Price” of $29.95 per set or for $41.55 “Completely Assembled.” Also of note: the locomotives were now powered by their 12 volt universal motor. As already noted, promotional photos of both of the sets in this issue of Blow-Smoke may be found in this post. Also, more photos of the freight train set, from a promotional movie, are here, and for more on the launch of the Scale-Craft OO line in 1937 see this article.

These Scale-Craft sets are extremely rare; certainly very few complete, boxed sets exist today (I don’t know of any), and I have no details to offer that would set apart factory-built models from kit-built models but they must exist--if we only knew what to look for! The track on a metal base was well designed--for information on this track and a comparison with Lionel track read this article.

These Scale-Craft sets of 1937 certainly caught the attention of Lionel in a big way, who got right on the ball and introduced their own very similar OO gauge sets in 1938. Produced 1938-42, one of these sets is almost always for sale today on eBay. The initial, 1938 sets were three-rail only, and from 1939-42 they offered two and three rail versions.

I very recently finally obtained copies of the 1938-41 Lionel catalogs; the following is how they were cataloged, which does not take into account the possibility of factory variations and items that were never produced.

I love the screaming headline on page 6 of the 1938 Lionel catalog:
One background point--Scale-Craft and Lionel were competing already in the O scale market. The Lionel O scale models were introduced in 1937, a market that Scale-Craft had pioneered back in 1933. In fact, an article in Model Railroader in 1946 (quoted in the link above) credits Scale-Craft as having "designed the first mass-produced model railroad items." Thus, the 1938 Lionel catalog text might be a bit overstated when they state
LAST YEAR, Lionel startled the whole model world by mass production of a quarter-inch-scale locomotive -- amazing in its accuracy and in its fidelity of detail. No one had ever attempted such a thing before! No one had even dreamed it possible....

BUT -- what Lionel did in 1937 was only an introduction for this year's engineering achievement!...

In the 1938 catalog the new OO gauge sets were referred to as “outfits,” of which there were two. The 0080 outfit included an 001 locomotive with 001T tender, 0014 box car, 0015 oil [tank] car, 0016 coal car [hopper], 0017 caboose, eleven sections of 0061 curved track, four sections of 0062 straight track, the 0064 curved connection track, and the 88 controller all for a price of $35.00. $39.75 would buy the similar 0080W set but with a built in whistle and whistle controller. More on the 1938 launch of this line may be found in this article.

Lionel expanded the line with two rail and super-detailed and modified cars and locomotives in 1939, where this photo of a display layout may be found. There were eight different sets offered.

The most expensive of the new sets was the 0090W at a price of $42.25, the super-detailed two-rail outfit. For your money you got the 003 locomotive with 003W tender, 0044 box car, 0045 oil car, 0046 coal car, and 0047 caboose, eleven pieces of 0031 curved track and one piece of 0034 connection track (no straight track), and a whistling controller. The same outfit without the whistling tender sold for $37.50.

The original 0080 set was still available for $35 but the components changed. This was now listed as super-detailed and included cars that were “similar to” those in the 0090W set (car numbers not specified), eleven pieces of 0051 curved track, four 0052 straight track, and one 0054 connection track. The 0080W set was still $39.75, with the whistle in the tender. One major note, not mentioned in the catalog, is that the connector between the 001 locomotive and tender was modified compared to 1938 production and the cars are decorated differently.

The other four sets for 1939 included versions of the modified engine and only three cars. The cars listed with the 0092W set were the 0074 box car, 0075 oil tank car, and the 0077 caboose. The differences are pretty minor between the modified and scale versions, lacking only a few small details (no brake cylinder, modified valve gear, etc). The 0092W outfit included the 004 locomotive and 004W tender, the three cars, and track as in the 0090 set; the 0092 set was the same but lacked the whistling tender and controller. The 0082W set included the 002 locomotive and 002W tender, three “similar” cars, and track as in the 0080 set; the 0082 set was the same but lacked the whistling tender and controller. It was the cheapest version, selling for $27.50. More on the Lionel OO line for 1939 may be found in this article.

Potential purchasers must have found the catalog listings a bit confusing, as in the 1940 catalog Lionel clarified the kit contents further. On the two rail side of things the 0090 super-detailed sets included the 0044 box car, 0045 oil car, 0046 hopper, and 0047 caboose and the modified sets included the 0074 box car, 0075 oil tank car, and the 0077 caboose. For three rail the 0080 super detailed sets included the 0014 box car, 0015 oil car, 0016 hopper car, and 0017 caboose and the modified 0082 sets included the 0024 box car, 0025 oil tank car, and 0027 caboose. All of the above sets were still available with the W option.

Now that it was all sorted out, the 1941 catalog contained exactly the same outfit listings. So essentially there are ten sets to locate to own them all, the 1938 sets and all the versions of sets sold 1939-WWII.

The Lionel sets were AC powered, like their other train products, so their OO models were not compatible with DC powered Scale-Craft, which was probably a bit of a marketing blunder. The locomotives were incompatible electrically, which is why it is not uncommon to find examples of the Lionel 4-6-4 that have been modified for DC operation with new motors and drive parts. At least Scale-Craft cars will run on any Lionel track and two-rail Lionel cars will run on Scale-Craft track. The three rail Lionel cars would only be usable on three rail as the wheel sets are not insulated.

So, how many Lionel OO outfits were sold? Certainly many more than Scale-Craft shipped out. But in spite of being fairly common, with the Lionel name and the many variations and separate sale items found in the catalogs collectors keep the market going today. There are a lot of variations to track down and sort out. To own them all now it would cost you many thousands of dollars and take many years of effort.

For photos of Lionel items they may be found on this website and on eBay, but also be sure to check the Lionel OO photos at Also note the fine article on TM's Lionel OO Studio Layout; this photo is linked from that article, of a very rare Lionel OO dealer display.

Going back to the late 30s, if those prices for Scale-Craft or Lionel outfits set you back too far there was actually one other option for an OO scale train set.

The final maker to produce train sets was the Strombek-Becker Mfg. Co. (Strombecker) of Moline, IL. These prewar sets were un-powered wood and paper kits--static models--for a freight train, but the cars could be converted for model railroad use. They were built to 5/32"=1' scale but were marketed as OO. Versions were offered that included either a 2-8-2, tender, gondola, boxcar, and caboose or a 2-8-2, tender, NYC MDT reefer, and caboose. See this article for more on Strombecker OO. Their OO products were actually the first OO "train sets" on the market as they appear to have been introduced in 1936.

One final note: Actually, the Lionel 1940 and 41 catalogs also say that their models are built to the scale of 5/32”=1’, the scale of the Strombecker models. Technically OO is 4mm to one foot, but the difference is small, and in those pre-war days it probably was better marketing to use the English measurement rather than metric.

general overview of Lionel OO production may be found in this article and a general overview of Scale-Craft OO production may be found in this article.

[Updated 2012]

Saturday, January 3, 2009

75 years of the Nason P5A

The Nason P5A, the first commercially successful OO gauge locomotive, was released in 1934. Below is the one in my collection.

Besides this year being the 75th anniversary of this important model, OO enthusiast Edward Havens forwarded a note he wrote for the Philly Traction Yahoo group, as today is also an important date in prototype P5A history, a locomotive somewhat overshadowed in modern railfan and model railroad circles by the GG-1. Ed provided this link is to a photo of the prototype in operation. With that I will turn the rest of the post over to Ed--thank you for putting together this background information.


They were the workhorses of Pennsy electrification and it's appropriate to recall them because of an historical date: Jan. 3, 1934. On that date 75 years ago, P5A boxcab motor No. 4772 was barreling across New Jersey, hauling PRR varnish, the "Spirit of Saint Louis." There were a dozen all-steel baggage, combination, passenger and sleeping cars on Train No. 31. The afternoon train was 40 miles southwest of Penn Station, approaching a crossroad with destiny. Just as PRR electrical engineers intended, the motor whined with power as it hurdled toward Deans, N.J., and a grade crossing guarded by a watchman. His waving red flag was ignored by a 1929 truck loaded with 220 baskets of apples. The crossing guard watched in horror as the driver attempted to run the crossing at 40 mph. The truck and its cargo weighed 10-1/2 tons. 100 feet away loomed Train No. 31 – with motor and passenger cars weighing 1,096 tons.

The outcome was inevitable. The highway truck was virtually vaporized. The collision with the boxcab motor killed the engineman at the head end controls. The fireman survived but only because he was at the rear of the motor, attending its train-heating boiler. Truck driver Joseph Wallad was hurled into a field and died before an ambulance dispatched from New Brunswick could arrive. The "Spirit of Saint Louis" went into emergency braking because the motor's air line broke. The P5A and the first four cars continued rolling, stopping more than ½-mile southwest of the grade crossing. The other eight cars, detached from the rest of the train, came to a halt 900 feet behind.

But that wasn't the end of mishap on the four-track line, today's Northeast Corridor [NEC]. The collision impact, which crunched the front cab of the P5A, separated one of the highway truck's tires from its rim. It came to rest on Track 1, just as a steam-powered Atlantic City to New York train approached from the south. K4s 4-6-2 Pacific No. 1984 hit the tire, which wedged itself below the steam locomotive's pilot truck, derailing it. The K4s with its six passenger cars left the rails and ground to a stop. No one aboard express train No. 1072 was injured.

The accident – and deficiencies discovered with the operation of the original design of boxcab motors -- led to redesign of the P5A class by PRR's mechanical and electrical engineers. By March 1932, PRR had 62 boxcab P5A motors in service. Another 28 had been ordered but had not yet been delivered. In December 1934, PRR's Altoona shops unveiled its modified P5A, somewhat resembling a "vest pocket" GG1:

PRR for some reason did not give the modified P5A its own sub-class on the company's locomotive roster. Railfans called them "Modified P5A" but PRR corporate records show only two official designations:
-- Streamline P5A
-- P5A built after May 1, 1934.
In comparison with the GG1 class, some PRR employees referred to the modified P5A as "puddle jumpers."

By the time the modifieds went into service, PRR main line electrification extended from New York to Paoli, via Philadelphia, and to Wilmington, Del. Catenary would not be extended from Wilmington to Washington, D.C., until February 1935, and from Paoli to Harrisburg until January 1938. In passenger service, the modified P5A had even faster acceleration from a dead stop than the first group of GG1 motors, anecdotal evidence suggests. The modified P5A design had better weight distribution than the boxcab predecessors resulting in improved high speed operation. But the GG1 proved to be a superior locomotive and so the P5A class was relegated to freight service. By 1959, 91 P5A motors -- both boxcab and streamlined -- remained on the PRR roster and the projected life of the modifieds only had been 20 years. To replace them, PRR in 1959 ordered 66 E44 motors, rated at 4,400 horsepower, from General Electric:

With the arrival of the E44 motors, PRR began to retire the aging P5A class. The modifieds were scrapped first; all were off the roster by 1963. The reason: their streamlined shells made them more costly to maintain. The final group of boxcab P5A motors were sent to the scrappers by April 1965.

But what about that boxcab displayed at National Museum of Transportation at St. Louis, Mo., you ask? Answer: it isn't a P5A. There were two other sub-classes of boxcab P5 motors. The two prototype locomotives were Nos. 7898 and 7899, later re-numbered into the 4700 series. The demonstrators built for evaluation were class P5. Altoona shops built the pair, which debuted in August 1931. Their original roster numbers lasted only one month. In September 1931, the duo became Nos. 4700 and 4791, respectively. No. 4700 was donated by PRR to the National Museum of Transportation:

The other representative of the P5 classes was No. 4702, which became a P5B. It was a unique, one-of-a-kind experiment to increase tractive effort. The other P5 classes were 2-C-2 motors, the electric locomotive version of a 4-6-4 steam locomotive wheel arrangement. The P5B had powered pilot trucks with a 375 horsepower motor mounted on each truck, creating a B-C-B wheel arrangement. Ballast also was added to improve weight distribution of No. 4702. The conversion of the P5A boxcab into class P5B only resulted in a marginal increase in locomotive performance. The cost was deemed unjustified for the resulting hauling ability so no additional P5A class motors were converted into P5B configuration:

The P5A was featured in the 1934 PRR corporate calendar in a painting by artist Grif Teller. No. 4702 was featured. The calendar art was titled, "The New Day." It was the only time a P5A was included in a PRR promotional calendar:

Material for this post was adapted from two Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society publications: the soft cover book "The Pennsy's P5 Electrics," by Frederick Westing, Mike Bezilla and Roger L. Keyser, published in 2002; and from "The Keystone" magazine, Vol. 33, No. 3, Autumn 2000, from an article titled, "A Brief History of the Pennsylvania Railroad MP54 Multiple-Unit Cars," by Charles Hulick. See this PRRT&HS page for ordering:

Thursday, January 1, 2009

More on Myron P. Davis and Big OO Steamers

I had a chance recently to look at a couple back issues of the Train Collectors Quarterly and in one hit the jackpot in terms of information on a OO manufacturer I have mentioned a few times already in this site, Myron P. Davis.

In the January 1996 issue there is a great article I had never noted by the late Donald S. Fraley titled “The Unfinished Locomotives,” which may be accessed here in full if you are a TCA member and logged in (on pages 8-11). As I am trying to do now, Dr. Fraley was trying to sort out historical details of American OO gauge production and unusual models, and these are pretty unique models.

Fraley first encountered the large, bronze locomotives of M. P. Davis in 1975, when he visited George Miller to photograph O and Standard gauge items for inclusion in Lionel Trains--Standard of the World--1900-1943. Fraley recalled that Miller told him “these locomotives were made by Myron P. Davis as pre-production samples for the Nason Company after World War II.”

Eventually the Lloyd Ralston Gallery in Fairfield, CT sold the Davis locomotives in the Miller collection at the large auction of his collection in 1991. I had seen photos of these locomotives in the book that was created for this auction, models also seen in photos in the TCA article, an AB set of E-7s, a PRR S-2 6-8-6, and five larger steamers including a UP Big Boy. This scan is of a photo in the auction book, of the UP Big Boy and a PRR S2 6-8-6. These particular models sold for $130 and $190 in the auction.

While these models were never produced by Nason (Nason went out of business not long after the end of World War II), also reproduced in the article are pages from a sales flyer dated July, 1954 put out by M. P. Davis for his own limited production and sales of these items. His firm was called Cussewago Valley Railroad “OO” Gauge Scale Models, with a street address in Yonkers, NY. On the flyer his name is given as Myron Park Davis, with the title of Chief Chemist and Metallurgist. In the flyer he states, “I have built the following locomotives and cars from the listed castings and to the best of my knowledge, no other castings for these locomotives and cars are available. They are to scale, 4mm to the foot, excellent detail--true to prototype.”

Some castings were sold for presumably all of these models. As I have stated in other posts, the E-7 castings seem to have been produced in the greatest quantity. My guess would be a run of something like 40-50 of each must have been produced of this model. I rebuilt a pair this past summer [photos here]; there are others around and operable.

Miller also had correspondence with Bud Spice from the 1970s that is quoted in the article. M. P. Davis must have been an interesting character.
Davis lived in Yonkers, N.Y. in a third floor apartment of an old gracious house on the hill. He, evidently, was the chief metallurgist for Otis Elevator for a lot of years. He had a hobby of photography in the days when the negatives were on glass plates and he had a collection of chorus girls in several cases. His widow called the room he kept his stuff his “den of iniquity” and would not go in it. He also had an extensive collection of old dolls in glass cases, plus his OO gauge material. It is difficult to put the story together…. All of the partially built up locomotives were in the “den of iniquity” above a work test track…. Besides the locomotives, I came away with a trunk full of patterns and match plate molding dies for the E7 A and B passenger diesels and the side frames for the trucks.
The late H. Temple Nieter also recalled a few more details on the early history of Nason and of Davis in a 1973 letter quoted in the article as well. Nieter got into OO very early and recalled the Nason
…P-5a electric locomotive[,] which was a 1935 purchase from [Hugh] Nason when he was living in Mt. Vernon, NY. Later, Nason and Ed Kelly joined [i.e., became business partners], but Kelly ran the train modeling. Finally, Myron Park Davis put some money and some sense into [the line] and took it over. Davis was retired when I got to know him by mail. He had been chief chemist and metallurgist for Otis Elevator Company and even though retired, he signed letter and price lists of OO as such, although without referring to Otis. He was a bit rambling in his last letter and is supposed to have been essentially senile upon death…. He died about 1960 [NOTE: According to TCA article, he passed in December of 1968]…. The “Cussewago Line” was taken, Davis wrote[,] from the river of that name at Meadville, PA, his boyhood home. It meant beautiful stream in the regional Indian language. Davis was a sort of legend in OO, even if he didn’t do a good letter writing campaign to try to save the lost cause.
One other note from the article; M. P. Davis was still selling castings for the Nason P-5a locomotive in 1954 and his flyer also included the full Kemtron OO line (the GP-7 and all the trucks), of which he also must have been a supplier.

A OO Scale Drovers Caboose

The Norfolk and Ohio of Carl Appel was a classic OO layout, probably the most impressive ever constructed in OO. Featured twice in Model Railroader back in the day, I described it further in this prior article.

Over the holidays I found a discussion of OO on the Tyco Collector's Forum and in the string of comments there is a photo of a drovers caboose on the Norfolk and Ohio and the same caboose today, now on HO gauge trucks. The discussion is here, scroll down for the photos. (But see UPDATE)

I also had the chance to visit the Kansas State Historical Society museum in Topeka during break. Inside the museum are three beautifully restored pieces of railroad equipment dating to 1880, a 2-8-0 and two passenger cars. The passenger cars are both as they would have appeared in the 1920s, when one was a business car and the other a drover’s car. It would have contained seats for about 20 drovers and bunk beds for a dozen or more. These cars are not often featured on layouts but it is a type of car I will want to add at some point with my string of cattle cars.

UPDATE 2012: The discussion is still there in the Tyco forum, but the photo is gone. I have added instead a scan highlighting the original Carl Appel model from the MR article in November of 1958 to illustrate a drovers caboose and also post another view of this great American OO layout.