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

Monday, June 4, 2012

OO Variety in 1941, Part I: Lionel

1941 was a year that had the most variety of equipment available for any pre-war year. As today they are the best known maker of pre-war American OO models, the first maker to be examined in this series on 1941 will be Lionel.

In terms of the line itself, things were pretty much as they were in 1939. The 1941 catalog lists it all clearly in a nice two page spread. As I noted in the article on their line in 1940, they hit a reality check after the initial line was launched. Initially it must have related to sales, but as time went on it related to the focus of product line of the company itself.

Clues about this are found in a January, 1941 review of a new book in their magazine, The Model Builder, which they introduce as follows:
The Handbook for Model Builders is a publication produced by the Lionel Corporation and compiled and written by the staff of the Model Builder magazine. About one-third of the contents has previously been published in the Model Builder. This book is written for boys who own and operate manufactured trains and equipment as distinguished from hand-made scale models.
According to the review the book does actually include information on OO, but it is clear that Lionel recognized the thrust of their market was not toward scale model trains. OO was barely mentioned in The Model Builder at all in 1941, with a smattering of advertisements related to products in other lines (Scale-Craft, Nason, etc) being most of what you will find.

Lionel OO models start showing up often as used items in classified advertising. One interesting ad from The Model Railroader in February, 1941 for example lists a “Lionel OO gauge Hudson converted for outside third rail, used once, $18.” Other ads over the year make it clear OO is a gauge people were getting out of.

Then we get to the ad that in working on this series I have called in my notes the epic advertisement. It first appears on the back cover of the April, 1941 issue of The Model Craftsman and was a bit out of tune with reality. The initial version is presented first in this article. Note the layout photo of an actual scale layout and the headlines and advertising copy ("rapidly becoming the first choice of enthusiasts everywhere," etc.). [UPDATE: This view is a close-up of the layout]. As always click on the photo for a better view.

This ad ran with slight text and photo variations in The Model Craftsman until the October issue, this second version in this article being the most common version from the middle of the run. After that point I don’t believe Lionel advertised the OO line again in the hobby press. For sure HO was much more visible than OO at this point in time, a fact not reflected in the ad copy. They could try to project popularity out there to the buying public, but reality was clearly not on their side.

To close, a basic mistake Lionel made was to develop a line that was incompatible with the products of other makers in the same scale. In particular they did not produce what people wanted electrically. The Model Railroader for September 1941 has a “Letter from the Editor” from A. C. Kalmbach on the topic of “Troubles of a OO Gauger,” directed toward a specific reader who had sent in a question. Note that at one point Kalmbach specifically talks about converting a Lionel Hudson to a rectifier instead of sequence reverse, and it is a good overview of some of the thinking of the time.
In general, direct current is much more suitable for model railroading than is A. C. ….

The reversing unit in Lionel locomotives is not entirely satisfactory, it being of the sequence type. It would be much better to take out the reversing unit in that engine and put in the rectifier type reverse which is … absolutely positive and satisfactory in every way. It is by far the most popular type of reverse in scale model railroading. Then you can get Scale-Craft engines with series wound motors (not permanent magnet motors) and have these equipped with rectifier reverse. They’ll run on the same track and the same power as the Lionel engine and give you perfect reversing control….

Scale-Craft & Co. have one of the most complete lines of OO gauge equipment, including series wound motors which are suitable for D. C. and A. C., wheels, cars, locomotives and kits. Motors alone are made by L. & S. Models … ; a complete line of OO gauge equipment by Nason Railways … ; some OO equipment by Mantua Metal Products Co. …. Mantua makes chassis alone for OO gauge locomotives which may be something you’d like to use. You can buy the chassis with drivers, motor and gearing all assembled to mechanical perfection and they build your own superstructure.
The perception was that A. C. with sequence reverse was for toy trains; D. C. operation with either a D. C. motor or a rectifier was where it was at with scale models. With that when the series returns the topic will be the oldest American OO firm still in business, Nason Railways.

Continue to Part II of 1941 Series

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