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

Friday, November 26, 2010

American OO in 1935 I: A Battle of Gauges, a Club Layout, and More Products on the Market

A first headline for 1935 is interest is rising in small scale model trains. I don’t quite have a complete view of the year in publications (I have only half of the issues of The Model Railroader) but I do have enough to paint the general picture of things pretty clearly.

The January issue of The Model Railroader is one that really helps set the context of the time. The opening editorial is on the topic of "Smaller Gauges Gaining in Popularity." There we read,
The smaller gauges, OO and HO, are rapidly growing in popularity, and nearly half the letters we receive concern them. Material on construction for these gauges has been sadly lacking, and we are trying to fill this lack, while at the same time not neglecting the more established gauges.
The possibility which OO and HO offer of realistic railroading in one-fourth the space it would require to do the same thing in O gauge is the chief advantage. But most model railroaders are discouraged before they start by what would seem to be difficulties of building to such small scales....
Difficulty is encountered, if we are to judge by the questions asked us, in choosing between HO and OO....
The difference between the two gauges and scales in this country seems, so far, to be not only in size but in methods. We can't see any reason why the same methods should not be applicable to both. The HO gaugers use largely those easily workable materials, cardboard and balsa wood, and build up their stock. O gauge methods have been transplanted to OO with nearly the same variety of parts and kits available.
For OO the standard series wound motors of the Mantua Co., Woodbury Heights, N. J., are the favorite. They can be used on A.C. or D.C., 6 volt, and control is left nearly the same as the standard O gauge practice. Most HO gaugers are using English drive units, which have permanent magnet fields and run only on D.C.
The editorial continues with names of manufacturers and such but the the central text on the topic starts a few pages later in the article "OO or HO Gauge -- Which?" The case for OO is made by a name familiar to American OO enthusiasts today, H. T. Nieter, which he summarized at the conclusion of his section as follows:
In recapitulation, then, OO is presented as superior to HO in convenience of dimensioning, in accuracy of scaling, and for ready availability of parts and materials. Notwithstanding the excellent results individuals have attained, on the whole HO has not the characteristics of convenience which are basic with OO. These considerations were influential in my own choice when both gauges were up for inspection some years ago; OO won, and I present the case for it just as it was built up then.
The response on the side of HO was by James F. Dechert. From his response I would draw these bullets:
  • OO requires 1/7 more space
  • HO is very popular in England and has many more suppliers
  • HO is much less expensive, OO manufacturers "continue to insist on building in metal and the HO world uses lighter materials"
  • DC operation
Overall price was for sure part of what made HO hit a wider market in those lean years. Later in this issue I note two references to the NYSME having an OO gauge layout, and the issue also has a small ad for Nason Railways.The February issue of The Model Railroader featured an article on track by Eric LaNal showing how HO track could be laid more inexpensively than OO track.

Turning to The Model Craftsman, their February issue has a feature article plugging the upcoming Seventh Annual Show of the New York Society of Model Engineers. The second paragraph reads,
Starting with the smallest track, the center table in the main room will have a complete 00-gauge system and this rolling stock will be in continuous operation during the Show. This almost microscopic scale has made great strides in the last few years. Both the locomotives and cars are now fully equal in performance to those in the larger scales.
This illustration is given of the room and paints the clear picture that if you go to their popular annual show you will see OO gauge on display. Click on it for a better view.

Moving on to the March and April issues of The Model Craftsman, in March we find a small Nason ad focusing on rail. April has a classified advertisement from the OO Gauge Model Co. and also advertisements are to be found from Nason for their (sand cast) passenger car kits—Pullman, Coach, Coach Baggage, and Diner—priced between $5 and $6.50 and Fixen for their line of 16 figures for “H0 and 00.”

The April 1935 issue of The Model Railroader has more for us. On page 104 we see a slightly larger ad from Nason on their “New … Built up Type Passenger car Kits” and also an ad from another individual I had never heard of before looking at this issue, Melvin Fenberg. My guess is he was a custom builder but note the location of Los Angeles and also what is offered (freight cars—box, reefer, caboose, and hopper) and the prices (high--$7.50-$8.75).

A few pages later we also see this advertisement by Raymond Willey of Chicago, which was in the February issue. I profiled him briefly in a prior article; he worked closely with H. L. “Red” Adams and also obviously had some plans for OO production at that time. The bigger picture being that OO activity was spreading across the country, it was not as centered on a few individuals in the New York City area.

Inside the back cover of this issue finally we get this photo which is a gem, of as it says there “A passenger train pulled by a OO gauge Atlantic” by Howard Winther. Looks like a sharp model (a side view may be seen in this article) and you can also get a sense of his layout as well; it looks like there is an upper level with a reefer on the tracks above the baggage car. Click on the photo for a larger image view.

When this series returns the topic will be the start of a series of articles by one of the most central figures to the development of American OO, Hugh Nason.

[Updated 2011]

Continue to Part II


Ted said...

I've got a few photos of some of Howard Winther's models, including the 0-4-0 Tank Engine, a very early B-B diesel, and an old photo of the PRR M-1. Not sure how I should send them to you. Let me know. My dad had a relationship with trains that began with Ives, Lionel when he was 5. He graduated from Stevens Institute of Tech in NJ in 1930. His first job was with PRR in Altoona, PA where he was Asst Gang Foreman in the Mechanical Shop. You get the picture ! In the thirties he worked for a guy by the name of Fred Ickes who was a professional model maker and he built O scale equipment for the 1939 World's Fair layout. One of his box cars remains. He went to work for Nathan Eng. in NYC where he designed lubricators for USRA locos. Then to Symington-Wayne where he designed trucks and couplers and equipment for BART in SF. He has a number of patents from 1942 to 1961. Car accident in 1964 permanently disabled him - died in 1971. He was also an avid photographer - Kodak 110 format. My brother and I are trying to locate his many B&W photos of PRR and Erie rail.

John Ericson said...

Great information! So glad that these models are still out there. Would love to see these photos. I am pretty easy to contact, use my school address at Arizona State.