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

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!

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