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

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


Steve Neubaum said...

When you mention "Blueprint" instructions, do you mean plan and elevation type drawings on a standard white (now yellowed somewhat) large sheet of paper, or are you specifically referring to true "blue" blueprints? I have a Scale-Craft instruction sheet that shows plan and elevation drawings of the completed car. Would have to dig it out to give specific details. If I find it, I will be happy to try to scan it for you for your site. Thanks.

John Ericson said...

Yes, true "blue" blueprints, I have not seen these in person. In the photos from the movie the instructions are not line drawings printed on plain (white) paper, they are reverse images on dark paper. All I have ever seen or owned are printed on white (now yellowed) paper.