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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

1939, the Peak Year: Part VII, People, Books, Etc.

Any thriving model railroad scale is made up of a community of people, those people especially being those who produce products for the hobby, those who write articles and books, and those who purchase and use those products. In part VI a person came up, Fred Chemidlin, a manufacturer. In this concluding article in the 1939 series we have a few more people to focus on.

The first to mention is Herbert L. “Red” Adams. Active in OO since 1934 and the original maker of the 4-6-2 model sold by Scale-Craft, his article “Adventures in Double-O” published in the May, 1939 issue of The Model Craftsman is a real treat to read, I love his vivid writing style. The subject of a prior article in this site, photos and quotations from that article may be found here. Adams wrote quite a number of articles in the following years. For another view of his layout in 1941 see this recently updated article; it is interesting to compare the two articles as he has worked more on scenery and such. This photo however is of Red himself, taken at a meeting of the Chicago Model Railroader’s Guild, published in the December, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader. He was at the time vice-president of the guild. Another photo apparently taken at the same meeting may be found in the Handbook for Model Railroaders by W. K. Walthers, on page 30, of Adams operating an O scale layout.

Another individual was Edmond Collins, Jr. He was mentioned for this prize winning model at the “Philadelphia edition of the National Model Show” in the June, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader. Also on display at the show were three different OO gauge layouts, one by Lionel, one by Scale-Craft, and “the show itself furnished another loop in that gauge.” Collins was making the rounds with this model as it and another of his models was described in The Model Builder in a June article on the Lehigh Model Railroad Show in Allentown as follows:
There was an "OO" gauge layout containing an old Mother Hubbard type engine hauling a local freight, and an old trolley. The trolley was operated by means of an over head wire and would climb unbelievably steep hills, much to the interest of those who crowded in front of the display. The display belonged to Edmund Collins, Jr.
Another individual I would mention briefly is E. H. Bessey, who would the next year become an OO manufacturer. In The Model Craftsman in July in a letter to the editor he notes that he had just
gone through every issue of the MODEL CRAFTSMAN. The reason for doing so was to list every article that could be used in the construction of a “OO” model railroad. The improvement over the first issue is large and certainly appreciated, at least by myself. Money cannot buy the complete set from me.
A look at 1939 would not be complete without mention of the New York Society of Model Engineers. In April of 1939 article on NYSME appeared in The Model Builder, a very natural topic for them as the Lionel publication could feature O and OO models. In a bonus article to this series I previously presented a look at some 1939 Lionel OO layouts in The Model Builder. The NYSME layout was not Lionel but it was OO and the NYSME had for years been very supportive of American OO. At the date of this article OO pioneer F. D. Grimke was treasurer of the Society. Grimke had also written the first series of articles on American OO that was published in The Modelmaker in 1931-32, and is considered to have been the father of American OO gauge. The NYSME had an OO layout in operation no later than early 1934 that would have been seen at their very popular annual show as well, showcasing the new scale.

As of 1939 they were building a new layout in a new location. This photo is of an OO trestle and The Model Builder relates these details on the new system:
Also contributing to the railroad as a spectacle is the manner in which the “OO” gauge line is planned. The “OO” gauge system will be a complete unit in itself which its own stations and controls. However, it is to be located at the furthest point in the general layout, at a very high level and will wind in and out among mountains in an ingenious manner to make it appear far in the distance. To the visitor, the “OO” equipment is intended to appear as just so much more of the railroad but so far off that it will look small….
The first half of the railroad now being built will also contain a great range of mountains, toward the back of which the “OO” gauge railroad will be located. There are 150 feet of track in the “OO” gauge line, each end of which contains some type of loop for return routing.
While we are in The Model Builder, a question also came in on the topic of 3 rail OO models and 2 rail track. Lionel knew there was a problem there. In short, cars and locomotives would need some modification. “There are certain hobby shops that will insulate a locomotive and tender for $12.00 and a car for approximately $1.50. The names and addresses of shops nearest you will be sent upon request.--Editor.”

Choice of scales was a big and potentially heated topic. Miniature Railroading has an article on the topic of HO or OO in their October 1939 issue, where this handy illustration may be found. They look at the history of the topic in some depth and note that
For a time, it looked as if HO gauge would sweep away OO gauge in this country, but then things began happening. New lines of OO gauge equipment appeared on the market, easy on the eye and on the pocketbook. Improved kits went on sale, and scale models, of American equipment, were produced along with tinplate ideas of mass production. OO showed a big jump along with HO, and soon both were helping to swell the rising tide of model railroading all over the land.
As they note in the article, the original question they began the article with was which was better. “To answer it we have to first brush aside the original notion that one of the two must in time supersede the other. They both have gone too far for that, and there is not the slightest reason to believe that either will outstrip its rival.” They work through a list of factors in the article (price, variety, etc.) but ultimately punt on the question of which is better. “It’s up to yourself to decide, and I’ve done my best by telling you all the things to consider.”

The Model Railroader has an item on the topic of choosing between the gauges in their November 1939 issue, which as a bit different angle on the topic. In the end they recommend that “before you cast the irrevocable vote, build a car or two from standard kits in each size that has any appeal to you.”

Books on model railroading are another new product of the time, and I have two from 1939, the Handbook for Model Railroaders by W. K. Walthers and Model Railroads in the Home by Earl Chapin May. I touched on the Walthers book early in this article; it does not feature much on OO. Turning to the May book, the “perennially persistent F. D. Grimke” is mentioned who “worked out and introduced the American OO guage.” Written in a very readable style, the book contains some nice coverage of the NYSME layout and among other photos includes this photo of the works of a Lionel Hudson.

Finally, I would mention one trend, the rise of mail order. There are advertisements in virtually every issue of every magazine that give insights as to what really was for sale and what were the leading products that were being pushed. To close I have this small ad from Gerstner in The Model Builder for December, 1939. While it was a Lionel publication that did not prevent advertising that pushed products by competitors such as this Scale-Craft 4-8-4. Also note that the same page of the magazine has scale rulers for Standard, O, and OO gauges. Again, HO was not something pushed in The Model Builder. OO was their small gauge of choice.

With that I close this look at 1939. I have some other writing projects under way so it may take a few months to ready, but as soon as I can work through my notes and work up drafts I will continue with a look at another great year for American OO, 1940.

Return to the beginning of the 1939 series

Continue to 1940 Series

Sunday, December 11, 2011

1939 Bonus: Lionel OO Layouts in The Model Builder

This past week a tip was posted on the OO Yahoo group that the full run of The Model Builder is posted in the TrainLife website. This led to a flurry of reading on my part, updates to several articles (especially parts II and III of the 1938 series), and the need develop at least one extra article related to the 1939 series (the final of which I may need to split in two to cover all the materials I am looking at).

The Model Builder was a magazine published by Lionel. Volume 1 Number 1 dates to January of 1937. Of course, Lionel introduced an OO line in 1938 and expanded it in 1939, so there are some very interesting nuggets of OO history embedded in the magazine in the timeframe of their OO production. 1939 is an especially good year for this and especially so the October issue, as the front and back covers feature photos taken of a Lionel OO display layout right when their two rail line was about to be launched, and there is yet more inside.

Looking at the big picture for a second, not surprisingly, in the run of this magazine at this time HO is rarely mentioned. The OO Hudson was regularly second prize in contests though and an OO Hudson may also be seen on the cover of the June, 1939 issue.

The present article though will focus on the October issue, where we find this first photo on the cover. I have zoomed in on it a bit here; the full image is here.

Take a look at the track. The 3-rail track is clearly Lionel but the outer loop, it does not look like Lionel 2-rail track, the base is the wrong color (very gray looking) and the base shape is suspect. I have noted in an earlier article as well the use of Scale-Craft freight cars in the 1938 catalog. Lionel did use other brand items as stand-ins for their own. In this case though, I am inclined to say it is not Scale-Craft track but rather hand laid. The look is similar to the S-C track, with the gray base, but the tie spacing looks a bit tighter. In the earlier article in American OO today there is a nice overhead view of the two types of track to compare to the second photo.

The second photo being from the rear cover advertisement. It is the same display layout but it looks a bit different as the image is reversed. Note the position of the animal pen next to the track and then the Lionel logo on the boxcar. The negative was flipped relative to the view on the front cover. Again, this image is just a portion of the page, for the full page see here.

There was also a display layout in the 1939 Lionel Catalog. It does not appear to be the same layout but looking at the photo closely (in this article) you can begin to wonder now, is the 2 rail track Lionel 2 rail track? The photo is small and a bit diffuse looking but the roadbed color does again look rather gray. I believe that it is not the standard, production 2-rail track; maybe S-C but probably hand-laid.

People were using the standard 3-rail Lionel OO track to build layouts right away. This October issue of The Model Builder also has these two photos of an “elaborate ‘OO’ gauge system” by A. L. Michaels, this image being clipped from this page of the magazine. It is easy to see the Lionel track on the long straight runs on the sides of the layout, and also a tight radius circle in the middle of the same track. How many pieces do you see? Think what that track would be worth today!

Also later in this same issue are found the results of an OO layout contest. The winning plan used, you guessed it, Lionel sectional OO track (3 rail). The plan, for a layout that looks even larger than the one in the photos above, according to the text was for Lionel OO gauge track and switches but “O-27 or regular O gauge track may be readily be substituted." The full article from which this comes may be found here. Those tight radius Lionel 3-rail curves would save a lot of space.

But again, to return to the big picture, Lionel was pushing the OO line hard in 1939, emphasizing in advertising the quality of the product, etc. And it is great also to be able to so easily be able to read these issues of The Model Builder today. Some model railroaders of 1939 clearly were taking up the scale, and when the 1939 series returns the focus will be the people that were working in the scale.

Continue to conclusion of 1939 series

Saturday, December 3, 2011

1939, the Peak Year: Part VI, Other OO Makers

Looking over magazine advertising of the year there were at least eight other firms actively serving the American OO market in 1939.

Alphabetically we start with Finco. One of the things you need to make a layout is track, and Finco of Philadelphia sold turnouts in HO and OO. The OO turnouts were in No. 6 and wye versions, “held in gauge by brass binders—easily removed.” The line advertised in The Model Railroader.

Next up is Hoffmans, who introduced their OO line in 1938. Their new items for 1939 included a PRR X29 boxcar and also an automobile box car, advertised in the April and May issues of The Model Railroader. The item to add though to my previous articles is that in a recent purchase I found one more orphan Hoffmans truck, seen in this photo. As noted in earlier articles, it was the first sprung truck offered commercially in OO. This particular example looks to be all original based on the patina and such. This particular truck does not track well at all, which may be part of why Hoffmans was soon out of the OO gauge market.

Couplers are also something you need, and an automatic coupler was something that would be especially desirable. Graceline, featured in the previous installment in this series, sold an automatic coupler in 1939 and another firm also introduced a coupler of the same general type, K&W of Cranston, RI. I have a photo of one of these on a car in this article and this advertisement is from the June, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader. The cars in the photo look to be HO models and it would seem the HO and OO couplers are identical. From what little experience I have with them they were likely a touchy design but they did get some use by OO gaugers back in that day. For a photo of one of these on a car see this article.

What layout would be complete without buildings? A steady advertiser in The Model Railroader, Little Gem Models of Dayton, OH had in their November, 1939 ad a line of “Quality buildings for fine layouts. 30 Stock Models from 15c up.” My inclination is from the ad that they must be HO-OO models (and they also sold models in O), but I welcome any further reader information on this line. I have a bit more here.

Mantua still had their line of OO track out, introduced in 1938. What was new was they added a turnout and also couplers to their OO line. These couplers were as they stated in their ad on the back cover of MR for November, 1939 “designed for the HO gauge, but will work as well on OO cars.” I have seen on a fair number of vintage OO models equipped with these hook and loop couplers and they were certainly a popular option in HO as well.

Speaking of track, next up alphabetically is a very important player in the OO track market, Midlin Models of Scotch Plains, NJ. They announced their line of “semi-assembled” OO track in the April, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader. There they note that
As with our popular HO track, this new OO gauge comes to you in three foot lengths with stained wooden ties assembled on one rail. We are using HO rail section as this is nearer scale size for OO gauge track….
Accuracy in construction is equaled by the accuracy in copying the detailed beauty of its prototype. Stained ties, oxidized rail, and real stone ballast lend much to the realism captured in this track. All how have seen our HO gauge have marveled at its true-to-life appearance.
These track kits have been featured previously in American OO Today and at least among post-war OO gaugers was widely considered to have been the best track ever produced in American OO. It is very easy to spot as it has a very distinctive rail with a fin on the bottom that fits into a groove in the ties. One thing I note in this first advertisement is that it was offered initially in 2-rail and 3-rail kits. The ad does not make it clear if it is center or outside third rail but 2-rail version quickly became the standard one.

In June they introduced OO switches and in November featured their new crossing with this nice advertisement. I have never seen these crossings either but they are on a plastic base.

In 1940 Railroad Magazine ran a short article on Midlin track with two good photos of the manufacturing process (including a photo of owner Fred Chemidlin) and text about the firm. I have featured this in a prior article but this quote is most relevant to our article today:
Fred J. Chemidlin of Scotch Plains, N.J., Grew Tired of Forcing Home Midget Track Spikes With Long-Nosed Pliers. So He Designed a New Type of Spikeless Track Assembly. Two Parallel Groves Are Cut to Gage Width in a Cross Grained Strip of Wood, and These Grooves Then Receive the Base Web of Specially Designed Rails.
To see examples of Classic OO layouts built with Midlin track see also this article on the OO Norfolk and Ohio of Carl Appel or this more recent layout by Bill Johann, one of my favorite articles in this site.

Another company with track on their mind was Pratts of Richmond Hill, NY. I believe the track gauge in this article is an example of their solid bronze track gauge advertised in The Model Craftsman in February of 1939. Primarily an O gauge maker, they called this a "2 in 1 type for lining up both running rails and third rail." It was available in HO, OO, and O gauges.

Finally we come to another big line, Skyline of Philadelphia. The first advertisement I have spotted for this Classic line of buildings is in the October, 1939 issue of The Model Railroader. They were “Made of fibre-like Tensilite” and available in two sizes, O and “HO & OO” gauges. This portion of their advertisement shows the HO/OO line as of that time. For a longer overview of this line of structures and photos and links to more see this article. UPDATE: This ad may also be seen in the October, 1939 issue of The Model Builder, which is online; the page with the complete ad is here.

UPDATE: Also I should mention the line of structure kits manufactured by Maxwell Hobby Shops of Oakland, CA. The copy of their catalog that I have is dated 1939, and the line was acquired by Scale-Craft in that year. For more see this article, with a photo of a kit and more found here.

One more installment is planned in this series on 1939, check back for that soon.

Continue in 1939 Series

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Avon Lionel OO Hudson

Back in the article on the Hallmark Lionel OO F-3 there was a comment made by a reader noting that there was also a collectible version of the OO Hudson out there. With my eyes peeled for one for a couple years, last week I came across one of these at a show.

This model is not part of the Hallmark series but instead is an Avon collectible. But it is made along the same visual lines, with a nice base. The model itself would appear to have been cast from a resin material of some sort, and except for the added metal details of the handrails and whistle it was cast in one piece. From the plaque on the base you can tell that it is actually a replica of the 1937 O scale 700E Hudson, not the 1938 OO Hudson. But due to the scale size chosen by Avon it is actually very close to the size of the OO Hudson.

The second photo gives that comparison pretty clearly. The Avon model is just a bit bigger than the OO Hudson, but really not by very much at all. The biggest difference being that raised area just ahead of the cab.

This model is in short very close to American OO. As such, this falls in the category of being a great display item for the OO collector. It is not so far as I can tell a particularly valuable collectible, but is nice looking display item and one that should live in my office for some years.

UPDATE: See comments, there is also a Hallmark collectible version as well. It has a tender, working wheels, etc.

UPDATE II: This was part of a series of Avon models, check eBay to see them. I recently purchased the F-3 as well. It is an attractive model but larger than OO, closer to S for sure -- I believe to a point they sized the models to the base they sold with them.