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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ratio trucks converted to American OO

One type of truck that I had never considered for American OO is made for British OO by Ratio. Phil R. spotted these and through him I obtained one pair built up and another in parts. They are for double truck flats and gondolas as used in the UK in earlier times (not all early British freight cars have only four wheels!). A photo of an example of the type of car that these were shipped out with may be found here.

At right are these trucks on and off a vintage American OO car made on a Picard body. The wheelbase is just slightly long and they are shipped out with wheelsets that are much larger than for American use. One of the trucks I equipped with wheelsets worked up from Athearn HO 36” wheelsets (the axle cut and placed in a brass tube similar to the slit axle design used by Scale-Craft, to get the length just right in relation to the bolster) and the other has modified Ultimate wheelsets (axles shortened by a prior owner). I don’t believe these trucks are sold as separate sale items but it is a good item that can be modified for American use pretty easily.

The original bolster set-up is a bit unusual but actually needs no real modification other than working out a way to screw the car on, as it is the right length. The main modification was adding a hole to the large bolster so that it was possible to use a screw to apply the trucks to a car. I clamped the parts very square and used liquid plastic cement to bond the non-moving parts.

The final photo is of the Ratio truck compared to a Schorr truck. The Ratio truck is a hair over scale but on a vintage car such as this these trucks look great.

Monday, June 29, 2009

PBL Sn3 trucks modified for American OO

About a month ago I had a “sneak peek” of a pair of PBL Sn3 Andrews trucks converted to OO. I have now converted two more pair and have more details on how to do the conversion which makes into great American OO trucks.

As background, due to a quirk of scales and gauges the sideframes of these 4’ 8” wheelbase Sn3 trucks work out as very close to 5’ 6” in OO standard gauge and as such they are prime material to attempt to convert to American OO. Andrews trucks were still in interchange service before 1957 so they are perfect for some of the older cars on my roster. The PBL catalog may be accessed here.

In this first photo at right is the first pair of Andrews trucks I converted and at the left is another PBL truck design. This is the type of Bettendorf truck used on “Gramps” tank cars. It is not the most common type of Bettendorf, it is somewhat “flat” looking for standard gauge, but is still a good stand-in for a cast steel truck of somewhat elderly design in OO. As such it fits this particular stock car pretty well. The Andrews truck in the photo has wheelsets converted from Athearn HO 36” wheelsets which are slightly undersized, and the Bettendorf has North Yard 11.08 mm wheels on a 26 mm axle which are perfect for this truck. Both are quite a bit better looking and rolling than a Scale-Craft truck!

So, how do you make a pair of these fine trucks? In the final two photos we have construction photos of the last PBL type that seems well suited for OO conversion, the long arch bar as used on narrow gauge UTLX tank cars. This type of truck was banned from interchange service in 1940 but was the normal, standard type before WWI. The PBL sideframes are meant to snap into place on the bolster. Instead of snapping them on what I have done is just fit them to the point before they would snap on and at that point insert a thin plastic spacer, seen in the photos. The Bettendorf worked out well with a .015 spacer but the Andrews and arch bar seem to need a slightly thinner spacer, with the .015 spacer I had to use wheelsets with a slightly longer axle. I will work this out more with future conversions. In any case, with things set up square the next step is to super-glue the parts together. Drop one drop on and capillary action will do the rest. Let it set a while, you don’t want to disturb the sideframes until the glue is completely cured. (Plastic cement won’t work.) When it is cured, put in the wheelsets and if they are the correct length you are ready to roll. [See UPDATE at end of post for improved method of assembly].

It is really not a difficult conversion. One quirk is you can’t use a “standard” OO wheelset with roughly 28 mm+ axles in these sideframes if you do this conversion this way, you can’t manufacture enough width between the sideframes. This is why the 26 mm axles were used in the Bettendorf truck and the modified Athearn wheelsets in the Andrews truck. [And, in the case of this arch bar truck, I was able to split it back apart and remove one of the spacers, it now fits the 26 mm axles perfectly.]

I have three more pair of the Andrews trucks on the way from PBL to use on three composite wood/steel boxcars that are nearing completion, and have North Yard wheelsets set aside for them.

I can see another way to work out the bolster which I may try on a future batch of conversions. This method would be to cut the existing bolster in half and take square tubing of the correct size and cut it to length, drill a hole in the middle for mounting in the new bolster, insert each half of the bolster in the tube, and super glue that at the correct length. It would look visually a lot like one of the versions of a Scale-Craft bolster, big and square, and could theoretically be set up to use virtually any handy wheelset. [See UPDATE].

In conclusion, these trucks roll great and are among the best looking trucks available to us today in American OO. I plan to set up a number of cars with these trucks.

UPDATE: My standard method now is to discard the original bolster altogether as outlined toward the end of the original post and make a new bolster from Evergreen 3/16" square styrene tube--it is exactly the right size. I just super glue it all together very square; you could pin the side frames on for extra support if desired. It is a much better way to do the job as there are no small spacers to fuss with. These trucks roll and look great.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More on North Yard Trucks

Following up on the post where I mentioned North Yard Sn3 trucks would build up into great OO trucks, I recently obtained parts for a number of pair of these trucks and extra wheelsets from Phil R. I already had one pair he built up and they are beautiful trucks.

The two types I have are the arch bar and also a type of truck similar to a Bettendorf caboose truck as used in North America. The wheelbase is just a hair under 5’ 6” feet in OO (4’ 7 1/2” in S scale) which is perfect for OO. Both types are seen in this photo. In the back we have upside down and right side up views of the arch bar and in front three views of the Bettendorf sideframe. The one in the middle has been drilled out and tapped, and the one on the right shows the parts as they come. They build up with the little bearing insert that you see. The tolerances for this work are fairly tight. Phil R. had also worked up a great jig for making and bending the bolsters to the exact size needed for OO.

So I got organized and tried to build a pair up from parts. It is when I got to trying to do that drilling and tapping that I got cold feet! I contacted Phil R. and indeed he used a drill press and that would I think really be a must to build these trucks up. He suggested to “Be careful when tapping the side frames. Be sure to use lubrication liberally on the taps.” He suggested Crisco as a lubricant and to back the tap out “every half turn or so to break the chip in the hole.”

The resulting truck he made is great but in terms of me these trucks will remain a project for another summer at some future point when I have a drill press.

UPDATE: I did build up more of the trucks, which took a drill press to do. More here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

More on tuning up Scale-Craft trucks

Yesterday I had some time and ended up spending a good while working on many pair of Scale-Craft trucks, some that were on cars already that did not seem to run well and others that I just wanted to upgrade as they were cars I especially like. I did the things described in this previous post to improve the trucks, including trimming the bolster tabs and especially also putting in the spacers at the end of the bolsters to square them up better. I had to replace several bolsters with others from the parts box. Still, after all the work, while they all rolled great several pair seemed to be shorting out running on the layout and it just made no sense.

The insulation on the wheelsets was fine for sure; all of them that caused trouble in fact were types of wheelset that have a metal rim to the wheel, a plastic center, and solid metal axels. Or, stated another way, all the offending trucks had very nice replacement wheelsets, either by Schorr, Ultimate, or North Yard, which made the whole thing even more curious. They all rolled great, two pair of the freight trucks with Schorr wheelsets had been modified by a prior owner with brass bearing surfaces even, but they seemed to cause intermittent electrical shorts.

When you work on many pair of Scale-Craft trucks you realize that there are subtle (and not so subtle) variations of bolsters especially, the size/shape of the plastic part and also the size of the pins on the ends, and some have “aged” to a degree. What I discovered after some effort was that some bolsters no matter how hard you try to work it out still allow too much play in the truck, and a wheelset with a solid axle may short out intermittently due to the "play" built into the truck design. In some situations you are best to just convert them back to Scale-Craft wheelsets with the split axle. They are completely reliable in any S-C truck.

With enough effort most S-C freight trucks can be worked out to run well with upgraded wheelsets. It is a matter of finding the best sideframe/bolster combination and working out the play as much as possible. The bad news is for Scale-Craft four wheel passenger trucks it is extremely difficult to work out this issue to the point of being nearly impossible. The long wheelbase allows too much play in the truck. The designers at Scale-Craft certainly knew this, which was why they used the split axle wheelsets to begin with, they eliminate the problem. For me however, I had obtained a quantity of North Yard 36” (12 mm) wheelsets on 28 mm axles, and while the 4 wheel S-C passenger trucks I put them in looked and rolled great they were in fact unusable on my two rail layout due truck flex and to the shorting problem. Would be great on three rail, however.... [See UPDATE]

I worked on some other trucks today and will have news about new trucks for OO soon. Not RTR like you would have in any other scale but close!

UPDATE: Working through the parts supply is like a giant puzzle. I did note that I had one pair of S-C 6 wheel passenger trucks that work well on Ultimate wheelsets--with no shorting issue--so I decided to try the North Yard wheelsets that I have plenty of in a couple pair of those. In the 6 wheel trucks they will work, as there is less "flex" to the truck with the twin bolsters and especially with the span bolster in place. Over time I will switch out a couple more pair of these to free up S-C wheelsets for the 4 wheel passenger trucks that I have sideframes for but not enough wheelsets.

UPDATE II: Phil R. had one other suggestion I had not thought of, it would be possible to paint the backs of the truck sideframes with 3M liquid electrical tape in order to insulate the area that the wheel rims touch.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More on early Scale-Craft boxes

As noted a few posts ago, Scale-Craft shipped out kits in two types of boxes, a pre-war style and a post-war style (see that article for more on the later boxes, they must have printed a large run of these in 1946, as they were still being used in late kits with instructions printed with the Round Lake address). However, S-C used up their remaining stock of the pre-war boxes right after WWII based on the kit numbers and lettering on existing kits. The few kits I own in the pre-war boxes all have post-war numbers.

Digging further, I found two empty boxes with the pre-war numbers. This first photo is of the ends of the two kits (boxcar and Pullman) with the "X" numbers plus also the box for the pre-war drive for a gas-electric and a post-war car number hopper. The pencil notation about the pre-war box car being built up is interesting; I don’t know however if that originated at the factory or later. I am pretty sure this box came to me empty.

The larger box is very interesting from the side, with the 4-6-4 design clearly visible. It is in construction very similar to post-war boxes, but printed differently. Also note the words on the side, "A complete set of parts scaled with precision."

Dick G. also came through with a photo of another pre-war box. He reports that it contained a coach-baggage gas-electric car with the 1941 drive (seen in the photo), the number on the end of the box being K-2324-P. This is exactly as it should be for a model of this type.

The final photo compares the straight pre-war box with the pre-war boxes as sold just after WWII. Note the modifications made with rubber stamps to modify the corporate details (they are no longer Scale Models Incorporated of Chicago) and their address. Click on the photo to see this more clearly.

One final thought, it is interesting marketing that the main thing you see if you just glance at an early S-C kit are the words "train models." This must reflect something of the novelty of model train kits back in 1937 compared to the toy trains of that day.

UPDATE: Dick Gresham had this further note. "There is a picture of a S-C O gauge Hudson (5275) on each side of the box top. The same picture is in their 1940 catalog on p. 24. I have three prewar boxes that are 3 1/2" wide -- the same width as the large yellow/dark blue postwar boxes. I have one prewar box that is 3" wide -- the same width as the small yellow/dark blue postwar boxes. I think Scale-Craft may have used the same prewar boxes for their O gauge kits. It doesn't make much sense to me to put a picture of a Hudson on their OO gauge box tops when they are competing with Lionel's OO Hudson." This makes total sense to me as well, as clearly the larger OO boxes would easily hold an O gauge freight car kit.

Monday, June 22, 2009

More on Carl Appel

About a year ago I posted about the Norfolk and Ohio layout of Carl Appel, perhaps the greatest American OO gauge layout ever built.

Since then I have come into possession a copy of his obituary that was published in Model Railroader. I was hoping with this post to be able to say what issue it was from exactly, as it came to me as a clipping. However, this issue falls in a period when I did not subscribe to the magazine and I don’t have access to the issue. My guess is probably September of 1997 [See UPDATE]. If you were curious to see Mr. Appel, this photo is from the article by Jim Hediger. He wrote,
Carl Appel, one of the hobby’s pioneers, died on June 24, 1997. He was 94….

Appel’s extensive OO scale Norfolk & Ohio RR was featured in the August 1948 and November 1958 issues of MODEL RAILROADER. It was one of the first home layouts to realistically reproduce a specific prototype location (the Norfolk & Western terminal at Lynchburg, Va.). Appel was an expert scratchbuilder, completing nearly a dozen N&W steam locomotives which featured sprung drivers and tiny ball bearings on the axles and in the gearboxes. Longtime MR editor Linn Westcott described these models as "exceptional."
They also note that “Carl Appel was the fourth-generation owner of Appel Jewelers, Allentown, Pa.’s, oldest family business which was founded in 1847.” Periodically a model or two from his layout comes up on eBay, always items to keep your eye peeled for.

UPDATE: The piece quoted above on Carl Appel was published in the October, 1997 issue of Model Railroader on page 22. The photo is a scan of the photo published in MR.

Giving more detail, his local newspaper obituary is found online here. He attended Lehigh University and had a degree in electrical engineering, taking over the family jewelry business when his father retired in 1930. From that article,
Employee Robert Bungerz, who has been with the store for 14 years, remembered Appel as dedicated to his father's business and
" ... an absolutely phenomenal employer and a big jokester," But Bungerz noted "His (Appel's) true love was his model railroading."
He did have one other strong hobby interest though, and that was big game hunting.
A member of the African Safari Club, Philadelphia, Appel had a great interest in big game hunting. He and his wife went on a number of Africa and Indian safaris in the 1950s and 60s, including Tanganyika and East Africa. In his later years he became a leading advocate for game conservation and for the elimination of the use of ivory.
He had an outstanding collection of big game trophies, which included animals from Africa, India and Canada. 
Returning to the models he made, from the level of detail in the scratch built steam engines in particular it makes total sense he was a jeweler with an engineering degree! It is to be hoped that those models are still out there somewhere, a legacy of his love of American OO.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A visit to the Colorado Railroad Museum and more

Early this summer I was on the road twice, one trip to Illinois for a symposium and later a family trip to southern California. Trains were a part of both trips.

For the first trip on my return leg I was able to stop for a leisurely afternoon at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden. I had a couple purposes here, but the main one was just to see it for a fourth time. I had visited here first back when I was in junior high, with my parents, right when I first became interested in trains and model railroading, and I later visited in high school and again in graduate school. This area in the first photo was totally new to me, I recall staying at the motel that used to be in the general location of this roundhouse. Click on any photo for a larger view.

The silver rail cars in the photo above are “galloping geese” which were unique to the narrow gauge Rio Grande Southern. Sticking with the RGS, this second photo is of a type of narrow gauge caboose that on looking at a Sn3 model of a similar car in a case in the basement of the museum I think could be a model I try to convert to American OO.

This third photo is of a narrow gauge tank car. This is on a type of cast steel truck that I also have the PBL Sn3 version of waiting to be converted soon to American OO. For sure it will look better than a Scale-Craft OO freight truck; more on this conversion soon.

This next photo is of a narrow gauge coach. I am going to keep my eye peeled for any good deal on one of these in Sn3 as I think it also might make a good conversion to American OO without too much work, as would the longer type of Sn3 stock car sold by PBL.

The museum is not all narrow gauge. This beautifully restored RPO at the right has me itching to work on a similar car in American OO, which won’t be easy as so few makers produced an RPO in OO.

Also we have this observation. It is ATSF, and just behind it is a UP smooth side streamline car. I am also itching to get some streamline cars running on my layout. This itch was made only stronger on the second trip I mentioned at the beginning of the post, where I was able to visit the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Which is also a great place that I want to visit again. They feature big layouts in N, HO, O scale, and O tinplate at the museum, plus a few more displays. Very inspiring for any model railroader!

This final photo is back at the Colorado RR museum, of standard gauge equipment pulling into their museum main building. In the basement of this building they also have a model railroad (in HO) and various other historic model train displays. In terms of OO the unsurprising news is that neither museum so far as I could tell had any piece of American OO gauge equipment. Not one. In fact the San Diego museum had examples of equipment in every scale other than American OO in one case, where they had G, O, S, HO, TT, N, and Z gauge models of PFE reefers. I have three OO scale models of the same car in good running shape on my layout.

So American OO did not make it into either museum. Are we that far out in left field? I sure hope not but the reality is maybe. I know this summer I will be working to reorganize and improve my personal "museum" to American OO gauge, and with this site I hope to keep building up awareness of this little used but classic model railroad scale.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pre-war and post-war Scale-Craft boxes and numbers

Scale-Craft was the most prolific manufacturer of American OO. Their OO gauge kits were produced from 1937-54 and were sold with two distinctly different sets of numbers and types of boxes. Pre-war they were in yellow boxes with K numbers and post-war they were in slightly larger blue boxes with a longer prefix code, for example OOF for OO freight cars.

Thanks to John Blackburn I have a series of photos of the two styles of boxes. First, we have the boxes I think of as being pre-war boxes, this example being the reefer.

This kit is marked with the number OOF 609, which means it is actually post-war. I did not realize until working on this post that Scale-Craft still sold kits in boxes that I would think to be "pre-war" after WWII. At some point not long after WWII there was a big change in packaging, as seen in this series of photos of the OOP-615 baggage car. For a larger view of any of these photos click on the photo.

Unassembled kits with post-war markings seem to be more common to find, which makes some sense as during the war many existing kits were built and after the war OO was in rapid decline. The packing material in late kits can be quite interesting as well, I have seen for example what must have been a misprinted run of Baby Ruth wrappers that was shredded and used in S-C kits as packing material.

UPDATE: See here for more info on the early boxes. Also note that so far as I can tell even though they had two business locations/addresses after they left Libertyville in 1946, I know of no boxes marked with the Hollywood or Round Lake addresses printed on them. My guess is they must have had quite a large run of boxes printed in 1946! The late kits with instructions with the Round Lake address were shipped out in Libertyville boxes. I updated the article on early boxes with this info as well.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Included with a recent purchase I was very interested to find two issues of Scalefour News and also their Digest, which is a compilation of various standards for Scalefour.

To completely explain Scalefour would take a long post. It is a British fine scale modeling group in 1/76 using a track gauge of 18.83 mm; it is also known as P4 or Protofour. American OO uses different (NMRA) track standards and 19 mm gauge track, but in all cases the scale is 4 mm = 1 foot. For the full story on P4 you should check out the website of the Scalefour Society, but the following excerpt from their site will serve as an introduction.
The Scalefour Society caters for the needs of railway modellers working to the scale of 4mm to the foot (1:76.2), the most popular of the British model railway scales. It promotes and encourages the use of efficient modelling techniques and fine scale standards among all 4mm railway modellers but with particular emphasis on the use of scale wheels and track….

Protofour was developed in the late 1960s and set out track and wheel standards as close in accuracy as possible to a true scale reproduction of the UK standard gauge prototype track. It was a concept developed and introduced by the Model Railway Study Group (MRSG) who started the 'Protofour Society' to assist in its promotion. The MRSG arranged for components to be marketed under the trade name Studiolith, trying to keep close control on production to ensure that the concept did not suffer from supply of poor quality parts. This policy backfired somewhat as demand increased and Studiolith could not keep pace. The Scalefour Society evolved in 1975 as a breakaway from these constraints, whilst retaining the basic dimensional principles and concept. Eventually the two Societies were reconciled and merged under the Scalefour name.

The Scalefour Society remains as the primary custodian and promoter of the original P4 standards, these being basically the use of accurate scale wheels on a track gauge of 18.83mm for UK standard gauge, and 21mm for the Irish 5'3" gauge. P4 principles are also applied to other prototype track gauges modelled at 4mm scale. The Scalefour Society also encompasses the overall concept of finescale modelling - models built as closely to true scale dimensions as is practical, and operated as authentically as possible.
It seems like a very active group. Their website has a number of photos of beautiful models in Scalefour, such as on this page (scroll down). In the United States I know of no fine scale models in American OO; those interested in American OO tend to be more into the collecting side of things, but a big salute to our British cousins! Beautiful models in a great scale.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Great S-C OO Gauge Flat with a New Deck

While I was on the road a set of three nice photos of a Scale-Craft flat built by Ed Havens came my way.

I have several similar cars with new decks. This kit built up well but as shipped out it had a very thick deck, as in very unrealistically thick. Introduced in 1939, this model was available until the end of Scale-Craft production with that same deck. The frame is die cast and the sides are brass. I think it is actually one of the best looking of the cars in their line (with a new deck, that is) as the somewhat toy like trucks are partially obscured by the way the car goes together. Ed noted that this specific car

… has individually stained planks for the flooring. I recall looking at the kit-supplied, scribed floor and thought it probably wouldn't give me a prototypical look. I experimented with staining but didn't like the results so I bought Northeastern strip basswood, cut the planks and stained them individually. The photos show the results. I also added a weight (a cut section of bar solder) to the underbody to improve tracking. The Scale-Craft flatcar now weighs 6.0 oz. By comparison, a Scale-Craft, kit-built, as-supplied tank car weighs 6.6 oz. And a Lionel boxcar weighs 10.4 oz.

There were no decals with the S.C. flatcar kit so I used HO decals, probably Champion or Walthers. I added a red keystone just because I liked the look. Flatcars of PRR didn't have keystone logos.
Adding the extra weight to this model is a good idea. A couple of the older cars I have purchased have had loads, which is another tactic to not only make the cars look different but to also help them track better.