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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

1939, the Peak Year: Part III, Scale-Craft

1939 was such a big year for the OO line of Scale-Models, Inc. of Chicago (marketed as Scale-Craft) that it is almost hard to know where to start. But as with previous article in this series, on Nason, their catalog is a good place to begin.

This catalog is the one I would call their 1939 catalog as, inside the cover, it states that it is copyright 1939. That said, based on other advertisements I am thinking this catalog came out at roughly mid-year and certainly later than the Nason catalog. And it is much more substantial, 75 pages in a magazine format covering their O and OO gauge products.

On page one the catalog opens with an editorial on “The Fascinating New Hobby.” 1939 was a time frame where our hobby was truly new. The editorial is unsigned but would seem to be by owner Elliott Donnelley, who wrote that
…over fifty thousand men have learned the secret of enjoying their spare time and adding to the pleasure of living. They have accomplished this through the medium of America’s fastest growing hobby – Model Railroading. They can now lay aside the cares and worries at the end of the day and enter another life in a world of their own making.
Right up at the front of the catalog it has a long section devoted to the hobby of model railroading and the choice between O and OO gauges. These two photos show the comparative sizes of the two scales and over a number of pages you can glean various notes on topics including--
  • Cost: “An average ‘OO’ gauge layout is about one-half the cost of an ‘O’ gauge.”
  • Tools: “…the ‘OO’ Scale-Craft locomotives and cars, for the most part, have been constructed in such a way that there is practically no drilling or soldering to do, and it really is a matter of assembly work and painting, which the exception of the refrigerator and stock cars, and one or two of the locomotives.”
  • Why OO: “Two years ago we selected the ‘OO’ gauge as our standard small gauge…. This selection was the result of intense study and experiment with trial systems built in the ‘HO’ and ‘OO’ gauges. We found that … the slight increase in size afforded by the ‘OO’ scale allowed us to use 7-pole armature motors three times more efficient than the best ‘HO’ motor….”
  • Who OO is for: “The ‘OO’ gauge equipment is ideal for the man with limited space and time.”
  • How long to assemble: “Our ‘OO’ gauge locomotives require from 15 to 20 hours for assembly…. [Car] kits require from 3 to 6 hours to assemble.”
  • Power pickup: “The 2-rail system has been perfected for the ‘OO’ gauge … all our kits and parts in this size are made for 2-rail operation.”
  • Minimum radius: 26”
The full OO line as of the date of the catalog included (in order featured in catalog)
The links above take you to more information on those models, most of which have been featured multiple times in American OO Today. Scale-Craft also had a newsletter, Blow-Smoke. It had two issues in 1939; this link will take you to notes on the first one and read on to the next issue from there. The fall issue has news on their new line of structure kits, which would tend to date the catalog as being in print prior to that date.

Finally, we turn to magazine coverage of Scale-Craft. Their advertising was inconsistent and may reflect on uncertainties of marketing and sales overall. My favorite ad from the year is this full page ad from the October, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader, and it brings up a few final items to note on the year for S-C.

The first thing is the 4-8-4, new for 1939, clearly out does anything that any other maker had out. It was a big, impressive model and as they note, at that time it was “…truly, the finest engine model ever built.” After describing the model pretty fully they note that the “New 12-volt AC motor is standard equipment along with two-rail insulation.” But when they note the price of $39.50 they also note that the kit is “complete for three or two-rail operation.” So they recognized the three rail market and also that their original 24 volt DC motor was a bit out of step with that market. But you could still get the DC motor in any model according to the catalog, for $2 extra.

In short though Scale-Craft was going strong and putting a lot of product out on the market including in particular five different locomotive models. When we return to this series on 1939 the topic will be the other big OO manufacturer, Lionel.

Continue to Part IV of the 1939 Series

Friday, October 28, 2011

Three Winther Heavyweights

As a model built by Howard Winther was featured in the previous article, and also I have been very much enjoying running heavyweight passenger cars lately, it seems a good time to feature two more models built by this OO pioneer.

First up we have this RPO. Not very many RPO models were commercially produced in OO gauge, and this does not appear to be one of them. When I first looked at this photo my guess was that Winther took what would have originally been OO scale baggage car sides (likely J-C or Graceline) and skillfully reworked them as RPO sides. On second look it is even more impressive work; the car is based on a Scale-Craft die cast baggage car! The trucks look like they are Graceline trucks, seen also in this article. No RPO baggage car of this type was ever commercially marketed in OO, and seeing it only makes me wish S-C had produced this model themselves. This is a great model that took much skill to pull off on the part of Winther.

This second car has a similar history I believe. It is a very nicely made coach (note the full interior). As on the RPO, the end closest to the camera looks to have been shortened. This time, based on the photo, I believe the car is based on J-C or perhaps the identical Famoco sides. The trucks are I believe Nason.

In both cases we have an oddity, such nicely built cars, nearly done, but never lettered for any road. Why? Were they late projects that were not quite completed? The RPO does not have couplers visible and may have never have seen layout service.

Our final car is this similar model, a shortened Pullman, with no trucks at all, seemingly part of the same passenger car project. I would again guess it to be based on J-C or Famoco sides and other parts. As always, click on any photo for a better view.

It would have been a handsome train but seems to have not been completed. OO has many little mysteries such as this. It keeps it interesting for sure for the few people active in the scale, and I always hope that some more readers out there will get the bug and get interested in working more with these great vintage models.

Monday, October 24, 2011

1939, the Peak Year: Part II, Nason

Continuing with 1939, while Nason was pretty invisible in The Model Railroader, showing up only in the advertisements of dealers, they were regular advertisers in The Model Craftsman and Miniature Railroading. Starting with Miniature Railroading, their advertisement in the January, 1939 issue trumpeted their new, 5th anniversary catalog. The text there modesty notes that they have the “Largest OO line available.” So to start we should take a brief look at that catalog.

The format of the catalog is 5.5 by 8.5 inches and the text opens as follows.
In compiling this Fifth Anniversary Edition Catalogue we take rightful pride in the rapid strides made in Model Railroading since our advent, as well as our own improvement. Interest, new confidence, and your continued patronage will forge the permanence of 00 gauge in its proper position in the Hobby of all Hobbies. Its position of “correctness in size, economy in cost, and the excellence in detail which 00 is capable of having” keep us forever alert to furnish a Quality job, for the average man’s pocketbook with the average space available for his system’s construction. Be sure to ask for our product by Name, and you will not be disappointed.
The line as 1939 began included (in the order listed in the catalog):
Most of these models have been featured at some point in American OO Today; check the links above for more information on these models.

Their advertising though the year in The Model Craftsman highlighted a number of new items in their line, often with full page advertisements.

For example in March they highlighted the new 00 easybilt (this was spelled a number of ways, depending on the year) track and switches. This was actually featured in the 1939 catalog as well. These were precision cut from “Nasonboard” with built-up switches available. The tie strip includes every 8th tie lengthened for an outside third rail. In April the news is they have lowered the prices of their freight car body kits to 75 cents and also that they had added the former Star-Continental 4-4-2 model to their line. In May the featured item is their Gas-Electric. By August the caboose kit is out as it is featured in the advertisement, and in November we get to another very new model, this “diesel electric locomotive,” seen in this first photo as presented in the advertisement.

For comparison, I have been waiting to post this photo of a very handsome Nason box cab diesel electric, this model having been built by the OO pioneer Howard Winther. It is interesting to compare it to the one featured in the full page ad in November (seen, again, in the first photo) as it is the "custom built" version of this model, “Completely painted and ready to place on your model rails for full time service. No construction is necessary.” As I noted in a longer article on this model, it is sort of an odd model in a way as while always marketed as a diesel, actually it is a model of a New Haven electric locomotive but built up without pantographs. Note in particular the slightly different roof details. The body of the model itself is “of the finest government bronze” and oh, the built up version was offered for only $48.00. “We pay postage.”

Nason was very New York in outlook and focused their line on that market. The line was to be on display at the National Model Show in New York and as also noted in that November ad they were proud to be “The oldest and most complete line of OO equipment in the country.” But they had some stiff competition. When this series returns the focus will be on Scale-Craft in 1939.

Continue to Part III of 1939 Series

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Two Modified Scale-Craft Passenger Cars for the Orient

Today we have two recently completed projects, this shorty Scale-Craft OO scale diner and a RPO-Baggage. Both were created by prior owners by modifying stock S-C equipment, and both needed at a minimum stripping and new paint/decals to be layout ready.

First, the diner; it is a fairly straightforward modification of their stock diner, with one end essentially just cut off. I reworked it a bit further but with the main goal being just a nice clean car to run on the layout.

The RPO-baggage is a bit more heavily modified. The basic model was originally a Gas Electric RPO-baggage. What the prior owner (in this case Pierre Bourassa) did essentially was use most of the existing sides but assemble the rest of the car from parts. The ends are for example Nason and I suspect the floor and roof to be J-C models parts. The main baggage doors are salvaged out of J-C sides.

Both caught my eye in the collection though to rebuild as the RPO-baggage would make the perfect trailer for either of my Gas-Electric cars and the shorty diner will operate well in passenger trains on my tight curves. As such, both cars will see good service on the layout in the coming years, and I have been enjoying running a long heavyweight passenger train this past week.

Friday, October 14, 2011

1939, the Peak Year: Part I, Statistics and a Movie

To open, we have a few cold, hard statistics. The below are actually copied from a post I found at, which summarize the relative popularity of HO and OO gauges in the surveys done by Model Railroader magazine. 1939 was the peak year in terms of their statistics, and was a great year in terms of OO gauge products as well.

1936 HO - 36%, OO - 2.1%
1937 HO - 33.9%, OO - 10.3%
1938 HO - 36.5, OO - 10.6%
1939 HO - 39.3%, OO - 16.9%
1940 HO - 46.3%, OO - 13.6%
1941 HO - 45.6%, OO - 14.8%
1942 HO - 53.5%, OO - 13.6%
1943 HO - 48.9%, OO - 12%
1944 - no poll
1945 - no poll
1946 - no poll
1947 HO - 54.9%, OO - 8.5%
1948 HO - 62%, OO - 6.5%
1949 HO - 69.3%, OO - 2.1%

OO was basically always a minority scale, but 1939 was a big year and they were almost 17% of the market, nothing to sneeze at. As I started with the survey in Model Railroader, the complete results for 1939 were published in their June issue. There are a variety of stats to mull over, but I would highlight these two:

  • 2 rail OO was more common than 3 rail. This would indicate that the new S-C line was really impacting the market as they were the firm that pushed the 2 rail market into the forefront.
  • The New York Central, Pennsylvania, and Southern Pacific were the three most popular prototype lines. Which was clearly reflected in the products of the day.

They also published quotes from the replies that they received. I would highlight this one, which was a common complaint of the day “Wish OO manufacturers would standardize on couplers and motors.”

As it was highlighted in the January issue of Model Railroader I would also like to highlight in this first part of the 1939 series a four reel movie. To quote MR,
The delights of model railroading as a hobby are well displayed in a four-reel 16 mm. motion picture, which has been completed by Lloyd Combs, an Oakland, Calif., professional motion picture photographer. The film is well arranged and cleverly photographed.

Object of the film is to sell the hobby to the uninitiated.
The reel that would be most fascinating to see would be reel one, which “is devoted to HO and OO gauges.” In the article however nine stills from the movie are included, which are spread out over this article. The caption for the stills reads:
The portion of reel one showing the construction of a complete OO gauge railroad from Scale-Craft kits was filmed over a period of several months. However, the various takes have been so cleverly spliced together and edited that the entire railroad project, from purchase of original kit to test runs before admiring family, seems to take but 15 minutes.
Note that the first photo shows a boxed Scale-Craft train set kit—perhaps the Holy Grail of all OO collecting—and the blueprint version of the instructions. I have never seen these printed as blueprints, but if you have them in this form they must be very early production. It must have been quite the family project!

As always, click on any photo for a better view. When I return to this series it will proceed initially from manufacturer to manufacturer, starting in with Nason. There is a lot of ground to cover, so this will take a while. The peak year!

Continue to Part II of 1939 Series

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Improving the Scale-Craft Cast Boxcar

This handsome pair of pre-war Scale Craft OO scale boxcars were built by Bill Gilbert, builder of a number of cars in recent posts. When they arrived neither of these cars was operational due to truck problems. While getting those in shape (all four bolsters had to be replaced, and most of the wheelsets as well) I noted several key upgrades he had done to improve these cars.

This car was sold with two different under frames. These cars have the later style under frame with the trucks closer to the ends. To those he added brake wheels, big HO parts, and to one car he added HO AB brake details. (And I added similar brake details to the second car).

The really notable change though is to the roof walks, specifically the short walks at the end of each car. These are cast into the body casting and as produced are noticeably too narrow. What he did was grind them off and add new walks of wood that matched and were the correct width. That one change helps this model a great deal. The body casting is still a bit oddly scaled but this will become a standard change I make to this car as well, and I have several in progress.

The other thing that would help would be to shorten the casting slightly. This would be more involved but is what Lionel did back in 1938 in their catalog photos, where they used S-C freight cars instead of their own. It may be worth trying on one car at least.

Back to the Gilbert cars, they are nicely finished and lettered, and with freshly rebuilt trucks they are great cars on the layout.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

An OO Scale Vinegar Car

Among the cars from Bill Gilbert was this Heinz Vinegar tank car. A model that was marketed in HO by AHM, this is just about the easiest OO conversion ever.

A scale drawing of this car may be found on page 31 the Rolling Stock Plan Book that was put out by Carstens originally way back in 1957, with my copy being of the 1971 printing. The dimensions given tell the tale of a car that is not HO at all but actually exactly scaled for OO.

Bill had equipped the car with Kadee couplers and Schorr Bettendorf trucks, which are the type of trucks seen in the scale drawing. However, the prototype photo in the Carstens book shows the car decorated the same way (but with slightly larger lettering) riding on arch bar trucks, so with a number of those on hand I switched the car over to a nice pair them, also by Schorr.

The scale drawing is of car 203, the photo is of car 204, and this model is car 208. It is unique car but one to keep your eyes peeled for at a show. It won’t be too hard to find one to equip with OO trucks and the car is dead on for American OO, 1/76.

(And, for any HO gauger finding this article on a search, unfortunately it is well over scale for HO. Why this was put out so overscale is not clear to me, perhaps it was simply to visually match more modern cars in the typical train set.).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

High and Wide Load in American OO!

Today we have another pair of cars put together by Bill Gilbert. These were described in the March, 2007 issue of The OO Road as follows.
It is a two-car bolster load high and wide shipment. The Chicago Great Western flat is a Scale Craft with a scribed wood deck. The Pennsylvania flat car is an HO car cut on the centerline, widened, and given a scribed wood deck. Both cars have Schorr trucks and Kadee No. 5 couplers. The tank load is a wood dowel 1 5/8” diameter (10’ 3” 00 scale) with overhang on curves equivalent to a 12’ load. When Bill worked for the railroad one of his duties was to clear loads like this one.
I have a few more details to offer. The PRR car is converted from a Varney car, a HO conversion that worked out very well. Both cars are very sharply made. One thing to note is that the load is the “coupler” between the cars. It is mounted on pins that come up from the supports for the load. The couplers between the cars actually have no knuckles and don’t couple, which gives the car a bit more flexibility on tight curves such as mine.

It is a distinctive car but also a great project of the sort that any reader could accomplish as well.

I will have more cars by Gilbert in a few weeks, ones not featured previously in The OO Road.

UPDATE: For another oversized load by Gilbert and also the prototypical paperwork associated with both loads see this article.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Two More Schorr Conversion Cars

At the end of the article featuring the hopper conversions in The OO Road in 1996 (as featured in the previous post) Bill Gilbert noted “I enjoy creating the variety of car types used by specific railroads without getting too nit-picky on dimensions and details. Now if someone has an extra Schorr covered hopper I would like to convert the Pullman Standard model to an ACF. The major differences are the triangle cut-outs on the sides and square hatches.”

A photo of a car that had completed that conversion may be found in the August, 2000 issue of The OO Road (before painting), and may be seen again in the June, 2007 issue. In that issue he wrote “Note change of end hat section ribs to channel, addition of a center rib, triangle cutouts, and changing the round hatches to square ones.” This photo is of the car today, with a stock version of the car for comparison.

In that same 2007 article he also has a photo of this “cut down gondola” converted to “a low side N&W style.” Here is that car today as well, with a stock Schorr gondola for comparison. A piece of brass channel stock tops the sides. Gilbert also notes that “Virgina, Southern, and Seaboard also used low side gondolas.” It is a distinctive car and with the load it has some weight and tracks well.

These are both great cars, very nicely decorated and executed, and great on the layout. I will feature more cars by Bill Glibert soon.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Three modified Schorr hopper cars

In the group of great cars recently obtained from Bill Gilbert it is hard to know where to start but his modified Schorr hopper cars are a good place to start, as they were featured or mentioned in at least three issues of The OO Road, 8/96, 2/98, and 6/07. These cars were imported from Japan in twin and triple hopper configurations.

In the 1996 article we find a very complete description of the process of the conversion, with drawings. In this article Gilbert wrote that “after studying plans of PRR H21 quad hopper and VGN H12 twin hopper I could see another conversion project….” He had done similar conversions of Scale-Craft twin hoppers to triple (more on those another day) and related that,
Surprisingly it was easier to work with the brass cars than the Scale Craft diecast. Lesson number one is don’t use a zona saw, use an abrasive disc in a Dremel tool. The brass is very thin allowing the saw to bind, plus any pressure applied will bend or distort the brass.
That is very helpful information. Basically the conversion is to cut one pocket off of two triple hoppers and put them back together as two cars. One car will be the quad hopper and the other a smaller twin hopper. Multiple cuts are involved but made clear in the drawings in the article. In the photos here you will see the quad hopper with a standard triple hopper and two of the twin hoppers with a regular twin hopper, to point out the differences between the cars visually. They are all sharp cars. At the joints between the bodies he ran “a bead of solder in the joint as a butt joint. The joint is very sturdy.” Continuing from the 1996 article,
Now for detail work to more closely resemble the prototype. Both cars trim off the rounded ends and add a brass angle for a top on the ends. The VGN car has an Ajax brakewheel and the PRR a vertical brake staff. The PRR H-21 has a unique box end with poling pockets. You can get open square brass shape and solder on a channel. I used Scale Craft brass poling pockets off their flat car. You could use a blob of solder and drill a dimple in it. The Pennsy converted H-21 to H-21a with a top stiffener on the sides from end rib to end rib. I added to this by inverting a channel over the top angle. If you are a purist, the car sides on both cars are too tall. They can be cut down with the abrasive disc and a new angle soldered on, but I didn’t.
When they arrived all were beautifully painted and the VGN cars operated great. The PRR car however was on trucks that did not roll (Nason heavy duty Andrews trucks) and it had a bit of damage to repair. I decided in the case of this car to convert a fresh pair of PBL Sn3 Andrews trucks which have much the same look and roll great.

Be watching for more of these unique Schorr car conversions soon.

UPDATE: See this article for more views of the N&W cars, with a matching caboose.