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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blow-Smoke, Part VII: The International Brotherhood of Scale-Craft Engineers

Continuing this series, the next to last issue published of The Scale-Craft Blow-Smoke newsletter was Volume 2, Number 3 for the summer of 1940. The main, featured item in this issue was the International Brotherhood of Scale-Craft Engineers, which they had conceived to promote model railroads in general and Scale-Craft products specifically. President Elliott Donnelley worked his interests in trains and fishing into his editorial when he wrote,
About nine months ago the International Brotherhood of Scale-Craft Engineers was conceived…. Since the first inaugural ceremonies which consisted of presenting a membership card, button and cap to Mr. Jim Leary, one of the veteran pilots of the Santa Fe “Chief,” and losing about two dozen caps and buttons to various members of the crew and travelers who were departing on the train …, we have had a great many comments pro and con. Some have thought the idea of the caps was childish, others have thought it marvelous, neither knowing exactly why. The real purpose of the Brotherhood is simply to bind together all the model railroaders who are enjoying the hobby through Scale-Craft kits and parts, and help them get the greatest possible amount of fun from it. The cap idea was presented first because we thought it would lend atmosphere, just like when you go fishing you use the oldest hat you can find and fill up the hatband with hooks and flies.
The main OO news was they had some specials related to freight cars that could land you also a free membership in the International Brotherhood of Scale-Craft Engineers and a button and an engineer’s cap! The cars on sale were the tank, hopper, and stock cars either in pairs for only $6.30 or one of each kit for only $9.45. This was a good savings over not only list price (a savings of $1.20) but also an especially good savings over the comparable O gauge deal which was only $16.70 for three cars.

I have never been much of an engineer’s cap or button person but the membership card is an intriguing item. Any copies out there? Many must have been printed up with this promotion for 1940. Maybe it is time for our own society, the International Brotherhood of American OO Enthusiasts perhaps?

The other OO item from this issue is on how you can convert a standard caboose into a bank, as seen here. I wonder how many were ever made? The process involved cutting a slot in the roof under the roof walk.

As this article is one of the shorter ones in the series I would also use this space to note that my general sense of this Blow-Smoke newsletter project for Scale-Craft was for these to be distributed in two ways. One was certainly on the counters of hobby shops. I now have, between originals and Xerox versions, multiple copies of all issues and there were different versions printed with differing back pages to suit I believe larger hobby shops. The other way this was used must have related as their business model changed toward mail order that they would be put in with any outgoing order to drum up more interest and sales. Scale-Craft seems to have viewed this to be a better use of resources than print advertising in this time frame, as advertising is frankly a rarity for them around the time this issue came out, 1940.

Next time we return to the Blow-Smoke newsletter we will conclude the series with news from the final issue. [Updated 2012].

Continue Blow-Smoke series

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Zuhr OO Gauge RPO

As noted in a prior post, Zuhr introduced their line of OO scale aluminum streamlined passenger cars in 1950. Especially if painted they build up into nice cars, such as the car below.

This one came to me from Pierre Bourassa and is a gem, a Zuhr RPO. In the previous two posts I focused in on this car as it was upgraded with MHP diaphragms and rides on Kemtron trucks. Now we turn to the car itself.

From the side view we can see he added vents to the roof and also cut off the side skirts to reveal underbody details. There were no underbody details actually supplied with the kits so Pierre had to come up with some of his own.

What he used to craft an underbody, seen in the bottom view, are mostly Nason parts. The frame is Nason as are most of the other parts. It is still I believe somewhat representational in nature but certainly much better than the original, plain underside of the car.

Also visible clearly in this bottom view are the Kemtron tucks described in the post below. Zuhr actually sold these cars with trucks that were made with HO Varney F-3 truck parts; an example may be seen in this post. I recently won an eBay auction of one of these cars with the original trucks and noted that the wheelsets were insulated on both sides, I believe to avoid shorting with all the metal parts (including metal frame) on these cars. The HO Diesel trucks were good enough for that day I guess but these cars certainly look much better to the modern eye on Kemtron or Schorr trucks.

The upgrades done to this car by Pierre certainly enhance the look of the model and show what can be done in American OO with a bit of effort.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Modern OO Passenger Trucks by Kemtron

On the car seen also in the previous post are found a pair of trucks of I type I have not yet blogged on; they are by Kemtron.

Kemtron Products Co. was active in the OO market from the 1950's-60's, (see this overview for more). Their TK-465 Commonwealth passenger trucks I first see listed in their first master catalog published in 1955. They are made of excellent lost wax brass castings and when set up well are nearly as free rolling as the comparable Schorr trucks. The box is the original with the original label and price of $3.25 a pair. [UPDATE: See the post above for another view.]

Besides this truck and the GP diesel truck I have also seen reference to two types of arch bar trucks by Kemtron, a no. 4 long and a no. 5 short. They are not listed in the Kemtron master catalogs though and I have never actually seen either of these either. I would welcome further information on these if readers have seen them. If they exist they should I would think have lost wax sideframes and not be sprung like the comparable Schorr arch bar design (my hunch being they are actually On3 trucks with OO size wheels).

Saturday, April 17, 2010

MHP Passenger Car Diaphragms

One item that was a very popular one with post-war OO gaugers was MHP diaphragms. Most anyone with a good collection of OO passenger cars today will have seen these and perhaps wondered what they are.

Monroe Hobby Products (MHP) was active in the OO market out of Rochester, NY, from 1953/54 until at least 1959, with the line available in other scales by 1952 (initial offerings were HO and O gauge; these were also produced in S gauge). In the first photo may be seen two of these folded rubber diaphragms, one mounted on a streamliner and the other loose. The strike plate is aluminum and has the patent number, and the interior divisions are cardboard.

These seem to have held up very well in spite of their age of being made around 60 years ago, and a good pair enhances the value of any OO passenger car.

The second photo shows an example of the box that these were shipped out in. The instructions inside contain these important notes:
M-H-P Diaphragms are designed to compensate for the variable distance between cars. They provide an unbroken connection between coupled cars during any and all train operations providing the cars are run on not less than the recommended NMRA minimum radius of track for their gauge.
The example in the first photo mounted on the car has the "tabs" bent in; ideally MHP wanted those to be out which was part of how they connected from car to car.

Myself, with my smaller radius curves, I find they work the best with the tabs bent in, and most of them that came to me mounted on cars were also shortened by one fold before they came to my possession.

Finally, I should note these were produced, to quote the wording in their 1953 advertising, in "all popular sizes," and there was specific advertising on the (new?) OO version in Model Railroader starting in 1954, seen here. Also, it is worth noting that the instructions give specific tips on modifying the product for use on S and O gauge toy trains.

Updated 2014

Ed Morlok, a reflection a year later

I was reminded by a friend today that Ed Morlok passed away a year ago on April 18. He would have been 69 this year.

As noted in my post a year ago, we wrote the two part TCA series on OO together (published in the October, 1986 and April, 1987 issues of The Train Collectors Quarterly) and we corresponded for many years.

What is interesting, however, is actually I think his name is probably better known now in the OO community that is coming up than maybe ever thanks to the auction of his collection and subsequent sales on eBay. That it was a Morlok item is a selling point, it says to buyers that this is an interesting item worth a look.

OO buyers are from my impression a mixture of people who were already into OO and those new to the scale, and many I know must check this site regularly. It is especially great to see the interest of some new people; Ed would have liked that a lot. Many of those have collected various kinds of model trains and have stumbled into OO for a variety of reasons.

Thinking about that it made me ask myself, how did Ed get into OO? The OOldtimers all got in when it was in production back in the day, but Ed was a bit too young to be in that group. I honestly don’t know; I don’t remember asking him specifically. My impression is he was interested in model trains and collecting and found in OO to be a scale with a unique size and history that spoke to him. That those same models are of interest to others coming in is certainly a great thing. We miss Ed in the OO community but certainly still think of him today and his model collection does live on.

UPDATE 2014. Looking for something else (of course) I found the above photo of Ed. It was taken in 1986 or 87 the one time I visited him, down in his basement. His workbench is over on the left and you can see the boxes of storage. I wish I could get a better view of that locomotive, and really wish I could go back but you can't go back in time. Clearly we had a great visit then, and he enjoyed his American OO models and friends.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pittman: Maker of late Nason Motors, the DC-70, and More

Another document that came my way recently was a letter dated November 6, 1950 from Charles A. Pittman, Jr., to Myron Park Davis. M.P. Davis was trying to develop a line of OO locomotives at the time which I have described in prior posts, with this one linking to an article in the Train Collectors Quarterly on his products.

Locomotives need motors! Davis wrote to Pittman trying to track down a specific type of Nason motor. Davis is rumored to have been a silent partner in Nason and knew that Pittman had made the motor he was looking for which seems to have had a long shaft. Pittman replied,
Dear Sir:

In reply to your letter of November 1, the last record we have of producing motors for power trucks for Nason Railways was prior to the war, our type AC-21; tools for which have been destroyed. It is possible that you purchased some standard motors at a later date from our Distributor Sales Division at Kutztown, Pa. and, if so, these could still be supplied. Delivery on standard motors at this time would be fifteen to twenty weeks.

We are enclosing copy of our latest catalog. If you will indicate the type which you have used we can better tell you whether the motor can be furnished with a longer shaft.
After WWII motor styles did change. The classic Pittman motor I think of is the DC-70 and similar models, such as this one. It is a permanent magnet style and at 12 volts DC put out plenty of power. A lot of vintage OO models were upgraded to this and similar motors back in the day for better operation. This photo is a portion of a scanned image of a sales flyer on this motor from the HOSeeker website. For the full flyer this image is from click here.

UPDATE: As this article sees some traffic from people searching for background on vintage Pittman motors, see also this photo and bio of Charles A. Pittman, Jr., as published in the 1950 Model Railroad Equipment Corp. catalog. It is interesting that his personal interest was in trolley cars, while his motors would see the most use in locomotives first and then, in the 1960s, slot cars, where their high quality and powerful product dominated the market for a number of years.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Hawk OO Tank Car

One car I had wondered about and had seen reference to is the tank car made by Hawk. I have yet to see one but a correspondent supplied this instruction sheet. Click on it for a better view.

I think personally the most interesting thing about this instruction sheet, besides this being evidence that this car exists (!) is the date it was introduced. Their 40’ boxcar instructions for example (which show a photo of most the other cars in the line [the 50’ steel boxcar, the 40’ outside braced boxcar, the gondola, and the steel caboose]) is dated Dec. 19, 1940. This instruction sheet however is dated April 20, 1942. This all wood kit was in production and indeed introduced in the middle of WWII.

If anyone has a photo of a built up car I would be happy to add it to this post. This is certainly a car that is quite uncommon.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Blue Die

Besides the Nelson Gray dies in the previous post there is one other actual die, of sorts, in the Nieter collection. It is a die for the late, stamped metal Scale-Craft boxcar end.

I am skeptical it is actually the die used to make this part however. It is made of a material that seems to me to be similar to epoxy, and while it could be used to press thin metal or paper into a boxcar end, reality is it is I think a die made from one of those ends from a resin material. The actual stamping dies should have been made of metal.

You can actually press very thin metal or paper in this die but in reality it is not that useful; it would work best with paper cut exactly to size first.

I doubt that Nieter made this die. It was with his molds but he was meticulous about labeling things and this has no label and the materials used are totally different than anything else in the collection. Mainly it remains just an interesting item.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Dies by Nelson Gray

Ever wonder what a die looks like? Among the Nieter molds were four original dies for OO parts. These were made by Nelson Gray in the mid-1930s.

How exactly Temple Nieter came to own these dies I don’t know but I do know that he in several letters to the editor of Model Railroader wrote that he was looking for old OO dies, wondering what happened to them. Presumably Gray gave or sold these to Temple. I do recall from a letter from Nieter that Gray made these in high school and they are dated by Nieter to 1934.

Technically these are incomplete dies. They are made of aluminum and are for two types of freight truck, a “generic” cast design and a rather heavy looking arch bar, a rather nice 6 wheel passenger truck, and a “square” coupler incompatible with any standard brand. (Plus the die with bolsters for the trucks). These items were never put into production in the classic era, they were never used for actual die casting, but were produced in limited quantities by Nieter, by recasting them in silicone rubber.

Those with really broad knowledge of the history of scale model railroading may recognize the name of Nelson Gray as actually he was an early manufacturer of American prototype Nn3 and Z scale models. We learn from the American Z scale website the following.
Inspired to enter this new market, which at the time was populated exclusively by European products, Nelson Gray of upstate New York began tooling up some American-based Z scale models in his garage. (He had also developed a line of Nn3 products as well.) Around 1982 he sold all of his tooling to Kadee of Oregon, who added it to their N scale Micro-Trains Line and introduced it in 1984.
Gray started out in OO though, tooling up his first dies seen here. I hope to do something with these dies at some point, especially the passenger truck which is a nice item. Six wheel trucks are in short supply generally; nothing looks worse than a full length heavyweight car on four wheel trucks.