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Monday, January 18, 2010

What is a Vintage Model Railroad Car?

With traffic still up after the Morlok auction (yesterday was one of the peak days ever) it seems like a good time to address a topic on my mind for a while, the topic of what is a vintage car?

Most OO gauge equipment you will see on the market is in fact vintage. Some of the last OOld-timers active in the scale did make a fair number of more modern models which I find interesting too, but I think you would be hard pressed to call the scratchbuilt OO Railbox car by Bill Johann in this post vintage. Then again, I think you would call the reefer in the front in the photo in this post vintage even though it was built about the same year by the same builder as were both of these scratchbuilt and not-vintage pulpwood flats. So what is Vintage?

In short it should be old--built years ago usually, at least started “back in the day”--and it should be in good shape. A vintage car should have the original decals--maybe yellowed a bit--or printed paper sides. It might have dummy couplers or could have Kadee. It should have vintage trucks, and for older models they could be mounted too far in, a bit toy-like but original to the car. If appropriate I like to see the same brand of trucks on the car as the car itself. Finally, the model could possibly be lightly restored (especially paint chips filled in) but should not have been upgraded significantly with modern parts beyond couplers.

I guess what I am getting at is for me the word vintage conveys not only that it is old but also that it is in good shape and display/operation worthy. Junkers of common models badly in need of a repaint or with damaged paper sides are just that, junkers that need rebuilding. I have included in this post a photo of two models as an example of this. Both are vintage Scale-Craft, one a great vintage item to my mind and the other interesting but a little borderline for value due to condition issues.

The model in the front I have had for many years, it was in fact among the first cars I purchased. It is an early version of the reefer with the sand cast doors and hatches. This car I did touch up the paint a little, especially the roof ribs as they were damaged slightly in storage at some point. The car was originally painted with Floquil paint I believe, as modern Floquil matched perfectly. The trucks are mounted in the original location back too far from the ends as well, giving it even more of that vintage look. I put Kadee couplers on it but otherwise it is as stock as stock can be. I run this car on the layout fairly often.

The back model is an early production example of the die cast box car that left the Scale-Craft factory about the same year. It also has the original version of the frame with the trucks mounted in too far. On the plus side it has an interesting paint scheme that was executed pretty well, but on the negative it shows water damage. The steel parts on the trucks have actually rusted, the decals are starting to lift, and the paint job has started going south with the water damage and plain old fading. It still is an interesting car I plan to hold on to but I don’t know if it has layout running in its future again, it is no simple restoration.

Part of where this post is coming from is I know there are people right now getting started in American OO because it is vintage, old, and unusual, and really the prices are not that high compared to other trains you could collect. Personally I totally agree with you on all those points, I applaud your interest. To go a little further, I would much rather put the $$ into OO trains than say electronic items, those will all be junk in ten years and with the OO you still have something of value, probably more value every year and still cool and unusual.

One final related topic to note would be something I have seen in several recent listings on eBay. Sometimes items are listed in the HO section rather than OO or are listed as HO/OO. While some building kits were in fact marketed as HO/OO, so far as I know no equipment ever was. Some HO models are overscale for HO and saw some use in OO which adds a bit to the confusion. The main group of American OO conversions from HO you will ever see were converted by OOld-timers in their later years and are mostly modern (1970s and forward) cars and locomotives.

I have a few of these models. On one hand I really like the ones that the builder went to a bit of effort to convert to scale out for OO and the ones I have all operate great on the layout. But on the other hand if it is just a straight, stock HO plastic model that is not overscale for HO to some degree that has simply been mounted on OO trucks, while it may be a good car to run when you have young children visiting the layout (which is when I run cars of this type) that car does not appeal to me much and probably does not appeal to any vintage collector either. Will these old HO conversions someday be considered vintage? Yet another question to ponder.

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