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

Sunday, September 11, 2011

OO in 1938, more than Lionel: Part III, Lionel Enters the OO Market, and a Catalog Deception

You knew it was coming: the launch of the Lionel OO line. The Model Railroader for June, 1938, has the scoop, but only a very brief item in "Trade Topics" that reads as follows. “OO Gauge: Lionel follows up its O gauge Hudson with a OO Hudson and cars.” This is right after a listing of what is new in HO that is four times longer (!) and announces the entrance of Gilbert American Flyer into HO with their Hudson. The battle was on!

The Model Craftsman has much more extensive coverage in their July issue, reported by Louis Hertz in his “Along the Tinplate Track” column. He opens by describing the new Gilbert American Flyer HO Hudson, where he notes that
In the HO-gauge “Tru Model” Hudson, Gilbert has produced a neat little scaled model with twenty-to-one gear reduction and a sequence reverse. The entire system is two rail, wheels being of Bakelite. There are a number of cars and accessories available as well as all types of track sections.
Then on page 35 we arrive at Lionel, this photo being the first published photo of the new OO line. Of this Hertz wrote
Lionel has gone into OO gauge! This is the first bit of startling news on their new line! After carefully considering both HO and OO, Lionel chose American OO, ¾” gauge, and are putting out the first mass-production line ever attempted in that size track by an established tinplate manufacturer. Lionel’s OO line consists of a wonderful super detail 4mm. scale, 4-6-4 locomotive, and four die cast freight cars. The engine is a wonderful piece of craftsmanship and, without a doubt one of the finest small-gauge models ever made anywhere. It has all the detail of the big O-gauge No. 700EW but reduced in size. The model has a worm drive, built in whistle, and a sequence reverse. She operates on 12 volts AC or DC. The locomotive is also available in assembly-kit form.
There is a complete series of track and switches available in center third rail, roadbed type. Lionel chose inside third rail as the safest and surest method of supplying current to the train. Remember what we have written about the superiority of inside third rail over outside in this department? Well, Lionel, after thirty-eight years of making trains, still finds this the better method of the two after intensive research into the matter. Inside third rail, which Lionel’s president, Mr. J. L. Cowen introduced into this country years ago, still remains supreme in this firm’s opinion!
He goes on from there to describe the rest of what is new in their line in O and Standard gauges.

I don’t know enough about the marketing of toy trains in that day to know at what point that year the OO gauge line started hitting the market. My sense of the Hertz article is that if he actually held any Lionel OO in his hands before writing this first article on the line it was only the locomotive and the track, there is no real mention of the cars. Hertz does however have more to say about the new OO line in “Choice of Gauge” in his October column, where he notes
Regarding the choice between HO and OO gauges, we can see that HO is many times more popular than OO, but this fact should not deter fans who are appealed to by the features of tinplate OO from choosing that gauge. Never pick a gauge because the others are doing it. Use the gauge you like best. If you want two-rail, a larger range of equipment in domestic and foreign types, and permanent-magnet motors, then you will pick HO. If, on the other hand, remote-control whistle, inside-third-rail track for ease of operation and signaling, and other features common to present O-gauge trains appeal to you, then pick OO.
In this of course he is speaking of the new Lionel OO line, or “tinplate OO” as he calls it, not of the scale lines of Nason and Scale-Craft. And I love this line, “Never pick a gauge because the others are doing it.” Has me pegged there.

First appearing in the October issue of the magazine published by Lionel The Model Builder, in the November issues of The Model Railroader and The Model Craftsman we also see reprinted the first Lionel advertisement that features the OO line. Click on the image for a closer view but the principal quotes would be
The biggest little train ever made, 14 ½ inches of “OO” Gauge scale model perfection, duplicating every detail of its big “O” Gauge brother and ingeniously constructed so it will circle a track only 27 in. in diameter.
… driven by worm-gear motor, it’s a veritable power plant on wheels, as smooth in its performance as any engine ever made. “OO” Gauge scale model freight cars. True-to-scale, Bakelite-mounted, easily assembled “OO” track. Switches, Crossovers. In fact, everything you need to be a “OO” Gauge railroader.
Everything! You would need to send in ten cents for their new catalog to learn more, especially about the cars as they to this point have not specifically been mentioned anywhere in print. The new line is featured on pages 6 and 7 of the 1938 catalog, and it leads me to I believe a brand new theory of why we have not heard much about the freight cars to this point.

Besides the pre-production Lionel Lines schemes seen on all of the cars in the catalog, first take a close look at the trucks, for example on this boxcar. They caught my eye writing this article as they look a whole lot like Scale-Craft trucks, not Lionel trucks which were longer and more finely scaled.

Then I got looking closer and it is actually plain as day: all of the OO freight cars in the 1938 Lionel catalog are Scale-Craft freight cars!!! The rivet patterns and other details totally give this away. That is why the boxcar for example looks a bit oddly shaped; it is not a Lionel box car at all. It is early Scale-Craft decorated as Lionel Lines.

I had read that Lionel had used S-C models in pre-production display samples but I don’t believe that this issue with the 1938 catalog has been so clearly noted in any prior article on Lionel OO. But take the comparable S-C car and Lionel car and hold them up next to the photos in the 1938 catalog and compare for yourself. They are all Scale-Craft cars. It would have been very obvious to the folks at Scale-Craft back then and frankly combined with the catalog copy (“No one had ever attempted such a thing before!” etc.) this is deception of the worst sort. Taking the innovative products of another firm and using them to illustrate how you had been the innovator – a full year after they had their truly innovative OO line on the market. Sure, the tight curves and center third rail track were innovations for Lionel, and the Hudson was quite a model, but I must say this deception with the freight cars in the catalog really bothers me. But perhaps it just reflects on business attitudes of the day and their desire to get this line out quickly.

Lionel offered this photo of a close up of the hopper in the 1938 catalog, enlarged here for clarity, and my challenge to any reader again is take a Scale-Craft hopper and a Lionel hopper and hold them at this same angle. The hopper in the catalog photo is clearly on Scale-Craft trucks and has a Scale-Craft body, only slightly modified with an upright brake staff and different ladders. The two other close up photos in the 1938 catalog tell the same tale for the boxcar and tank car. I am not aware of this being noted in print previously and this may ultimately be why Lionel delayed on showcasing the freight cars earlier in the year; they were not ready to display or ship any product.

Certainly by the holiday season of 1938 they got the bugs out of their freight car production and got outfits on the shelves to fit their new “OO tinplate” niche. This last image is from the back cover of the November/December 1938 issue of The Model Builder and shows again the asking price of the new OO models. More information on their initial train set offerings may be found in this article. There was a demand for OO trains and other makers were working to meet that demand; those will be the focus of our next installment in this series.

UPDATE: Part V of this series on 1938 has more on the Lionel launch; in short, Scale-Craft had to get lawyers involved.

Continue in 1938 Series


Anonymous said...

Nope, I don't recall reading anything about Scale-Craft appearing in the Lionel catalog. Like you, I've read Donnelley having seen his models in a store window being passed off as Lionel samples.

Brian O.

John Ericson said...

The way it was put in the 1993 article in Classic Toy Trains was "Note how the freight cars illustrated there differ from those actually produced." I had taken it that these were just painted differently in the catalog, when actually they were not even Lionel cars.