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

Friday, November 23, 2012

Two Approaches to Troop Sleepers in American OO

According to the Wikipedia, “in late 1943 the U.S. Office of Defense Transportation contracted with the Pullman Company to build 2,400 troop sleepers, and with American Car and Foundry (ACF) to build 440 troop kitchen cars.” With these distinctive cars on the wartime rails there was also a desire to own these in model form, and at two different routes were taken to model them at the time.

The first tactic was to scratchbuild the model. Frequent Model Craftsman author H. L. “Red” Adams saw a good topic and was on it with an article that was published in their May, 1944 issue. His article gives a good overview of the prototype and of how he built his model. He begins,
Well, boys, here’s about the latest piece of rolling stock to be delivered to our busy railroads. At first you may be reminded of the old song, “you ain’t a goose, you ain’t a swan, you’re nothing but a swoose.” This particular car is also a “hybrid,” part freight car and part passenger, and goes under the nom-de-plume of “troop sleeper.” Before we build the model, maybe we should give the prototype the once-over. 
This car is built by the Pullman Standard Car Mfg. Co., for the Defense Plant Corporation, so you and I and all the rest of us own a couple square inches of it, purchased with our taxes and war bonds. As we all know the present war has thrown a terrific load of passenger and freight traffic on our excellent railroad systems. Possibly the hardest hit was the passenger division ….
Therefore, it was decided to use the 50 ft. steel box-car frame and body, put in windows and side doors, toilet facilities, bunks, lights, insulation, etc., use high-speed trucks, with the end doors and diaphragms for inter-car communication….
Well now we have given the prototype the once over, suppose we try our hand at building the model. Of course I built mine in OO gauge, for use on my own Beverly Western R.R., but the method is the same for HO or O gauge. 
As in building any of our models, there are two basic methods of construction; you can buy commercial kits and remodel them to your particular type, or you can start from scratch and make everything yourself from raw materials. I usually make all my own models entirely from raw material, if at all possible, and sketches accompanying this article will show sizes to cut your wood parts. However, I must confess that this time I bought a Picard 50 ft. wood box-car kit, and remodeled it to suit the prototype, using 1/16” thick pine sides and passenger car vestibule ends….
You could build up a nice train of these cars in a short time, say a dozen or so, and use them – along with baggage cars – for a “troop” train, adding flats and box cars, etc., if they happened to be moving their equipment along with them. These “troop sleepers,” however, are also used singly and collectively in regularly scheduled passenger trains, either right behind the baggage cars, or at the end of the train, depending on how soon they will be switched off that particular train.
What his article did not say was actually there was also kit offered for this model by Graceline. Graceline was a pre-war OO manufacturer who by 1943 had pulled their line from production. However, in 1944 they retooled their line to offer simplified, war-time kits in OO and also in O, which was a new product line for them. They had their new O gauge version of this car advertised prominently in the February, 1944 issue of The Model Railroader, and later that year had out an OO gauge version. This photo is of a built up example of this kit, for which they produced “troop trucks” as well. I am not certain the origin of this photo actually, but I think it was sent to me by the late Edward Morlok. It is clearly on a good sized OO layout [UPDATE: It is I believe the layout of Tony Cavanna, found a related photo from Ed Morlok] with Tru-Scale track and must date to sometime in the 1980s. The focus is soft but this example looks to be on Scale-Craft passenger trucks. Red Adams had opted to use Scale-Craft freight trucks on his car, hoping that "the Service men riding my railroad don't object too much."

This last scan is of the Graceline O gauge model in their initial advertisement, with a good photo of the model. According to their price list dated January 1, 1945, by that date only comprestic kits were available (with no wood parts), comprestic being the name for the cardboard material the sides were produced from. I also have the instructions that came with the troop sleeper, the drafting dated 1-10-44. The instructions are scaled for the O gauge car kit with wood parts, but a hand-written note on the instructions states “Measurements apply to O ga. only.” As this came to me with other OO items my guess is this instruction sheet might have been sent out with an OO version, that no OO version of the instructions was produced. If anyone has an OO version of the instructions I would love to hear from you.

Finally, for another view of one of these Graceline OO models built up beautifully as rebuilt as an express boxcar see this article, and this article has a master pattern for a troop sleeper end that it would seem perhaps Nason considered producing. This is a distinctive model, one to keep your eyes peeled for in American OO.

UPDATE: And I now own one! Photo and description here. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

American OO on Hold in1944: Part I, What Could You Buy?

When thinking about a title for the series on 1944 the idea of a hobby on hold [**see UPDATE] came to mind. All the wartime restrictions were still in place, and while the overall national mood and outlook was better, really not much is different than in 1943 in the world of model railroading in terms of products. But it is not a year without hobby activity, and there are many specific insights into American OO in the hobby press.

Hobby supplies really were running low. An editorial by Frank Taylor in the September issue of The Model Railroader sets the tone. Under the headline “Sell Those Spare Parts” we read,
A canvas of the hobby stores indicates that many model railroad supplies are not available. In fact, most prewar stocks have been depleted for quite some time and the possibilities of restocking depend on unpredictable conditions. In other words, modelers who would like to obtain kits and parts today are almost sure to be disappointed, especially if they want electric motors, Zamac die-castings, bronze sand-castings, or any of a host of parts made of critical materials.
Confronted with the lack of materials, many find their enthusiasm for model railroading on the wane. This isn’t a healthy situation for the hobby, to be sure, for intense interest is kept aflame only by the actual modeling of railroad equipment to scale. Therefore, it is important that these interests be kept alive, somehow, till the time when the hobby stores can again carry a complete stock.
The remainder of the editorial relates selling parts and kits that we have saved, so that others may keep the hobby alive. Stepping back, how different is the situation in American OO at this time? Myself, I am going to start selling a bit more of what I have that is duplicate or I don’t imagine I will be working on. The editorial ends,
In addition to using good judgment by selling equipment we have no immediate need for, let us not lose sight of the fact that we will also be helping to keep our hobby alive. The man who has the time, and is able to buy a kit now, has no reason to feel frustrated or dejected – no reason to feel like giving up the hobby. His interest is kept alive and we, too, will benefit for the more model railroaders there are after the war, the better and cheaper the kits, parts and supplies. Don’t hoard equipment you have no immediate need for. Sell it!
Reading the magazine advertising in this context, using that editorial to “read between the lines,” the big picture is that most any pre-war product that had much demand for it had been sold already. Thus it is pretty telling that a number of dealers featured Lionel OO in their advertising. Quite a bit of it, apparently, was still sitting around unsold, and even with hardly anything else out there to buy there was little demand it seems. For example the Polks advertisements in the February Issues of MR and MC both push that they have “just 70” Lionel OO 2-rail locomotives, “the timely ‘OO’ offering of the year” at $24 each. Lionel 3-rail would seem to be a particular slow mover by this point and I note that TRYMO Hobbycraft had 3-rail Lionel locomotives for only $20 in June, along with a smoking deal on caboose kits. This scan is a portion of that advertisement in The Model Craftsman.

Another interesting item this year was a four page ad by Scale-Craft in the January issue of The Model Railroader. It is a listing of all the parts they still had available. Notable among the OO items is they still had their OO sectional track at .25 each piece, many of the parts for their long-discontinued SP P-13 4-6-2 were still available, as were most of the parts for their 4-8-4. Actually a couple different suppliers listed in their advertising a “castings set” for that 4-8-4 as being available. It was not complete but it would get you started and must have seemed to them to be a viable product to put out there on the market.

Other dealer ads leave a distinct impression that there was quite a bit of S-C, Nason, and Lionel out there, old stock that could be purchased as new. This scan is of a portion of the ad in the February, 1944 issue of The Model Railroader by the Columbus Model RR. Shop in Ohio. The track kit it is hard to say what it is exactly (it sounds a bit problematic--probably Tru-Scale with undersized HO rail) but the list of other items is pretty impressive for this point in the war. The problem was though that if you were an OO gauger you probably had most of those models already, and even if you didn't the problem for the dealer was that you could probably pretty easily buy those items used.

And most of what was listed as available in the 1943 series was still available, in particular J-C, Picard, and Tru-Scale. J-C added a line of HO cars this year, in fact, so they were expanding their line to meet the market. Tru-Scale had a new owner, August Kniff, who according to an announcement in the July issue of MR had “assisted in the business until the death of Mr. Tostado last year.”

I should also note that the Champion advertising I found this year has no reference to their OO line, only to HO and O products, so they may have dropped their OO line by now. OO was clearly in decline, but even then and with all the ongoing wartime restrictions there were actually a few new products that hit the market, the topic of the next article in this series.

**UPDATE 2013: I just learned that the idea of the hobby being on hold has been articulated by others, specifically the term is used in an installment of the "Collector Consist" series by Keith Wills that was published in the October, 1986 issue of RMC. He uses the term to refer more to all of the wartime years, but in my case I think especially in 1944 the hobby is really on hold.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

501 Articles on American OO! But More Could Be Done

Friday last week I was looking at the site stats and realized that the previous article was the 500th article in American OO Today! With this being the 501st article this is as good a point as any to reflect and look forward a bit.

Thank you for your searches

Without repeating my thoughts from the article on the third anniversary of American OO Today, there are a number of regular readers and people do follow the site, but some articles certainly are more popular than others due to how they come up in searches. So for example there are many articles that have been viewed hundreds of times individually. Searches also land on the pages that are the view of an entire month of articles, which skews the results downward for individual pages. But then last week I noticed in the stats this article from 2009, on an Scale-Craft flat car by Ed Havens. I enjoyed the article and like the model, but as of last week it had only been directly viewed three times! There are a few like this in the site, mostly from the earlier years of the website.

I am sure quite a bit of traffic to this website comes from image searches unrelated to American OO. This makes the site an initial contact with the scale/gauge for many people, which in turn has led to some recent updates to the informational sidebar.

 “Model Railroading is Fun,” but also melancholy

The first part of the heading above is the familiar quote from Model Railroader, and the second part relates to how I feel working in OO at times. Great models, I think a very interesting history and an engaging story. Fun stuff! But for sure most of the people who worked in it in the classic era have passed on. I have some of their models, and there are not too many people out here now that work in the gauge, particularly people with operating layouts. At times I feel like the last dinosaur.

Educate, and buck the trends

Part of the challenge is to keep knowledge of American OO going. My recent TCA article I believe helped the cause, and I have another underway. Too many people who are generally knowledgeable about model railroading seem to have never even heard of American OO, with obvious vintage OO items much too often showing up listed as HO or S gauge on eBay.

The trend toward HO over OO started long ago. The strong trend in HO today is toward prototypical modeling, a trend that would be extremely difficult to keep up with in OO. The vast majority of vintage American OO models out there were made in an era when most model railroaders were content with a good general representation of a train model. In my own model work I am very OK with a “good enough” modeling philosophy (I was reminded of that term last week, reading p. 135 of the November, 2012 issue of Model Railroad Hobbyist) and I also embrace the general concepts of retro-modeling and collecting.

I would like to think I am not a huge outlier to the modern world of model railroading. In the end I go back to the phrase “Model Railroading is Fun” and hope others might consider exploring the American OO end of the big tent of the model railroad world. As I note in the current sidebar quote from Louis Hertz, "Never pick a gauge because the others are doing it."

And I plan to keep on writing

500 articles is a lot, but then again, on the French horn related website I co-founded I have posted well over 1,000 articles. I think I probably have another 500 in me.

As with any good topic, the further you go in your studies the more you realize you don’t know. The OO history series is very interesting to me, as in writing every article I find things that are totally new to me.  It is what keeps me going, and I enjoy my OO models and the website a great deal.

Going forward I will focus more on the history series, with a goal being an E-Book on American OO in maybe five years. I have a lot of history to sort out still, but I have a general vision and outline of what I want to write clear. I just turned 50 so hopefully I have some time to pull the large project together.

What can you do?

One idea I have tossed about is that of having an American OO appreciation month, a month to remind people to spread the word on American OO. But what month is appropriate? I would propose that maybe March is the most notable in American OO history, as the first magazine cover story on the products of the first OO manufacturer, Thuillgrim, appeared on the March, 1931 issue of The Modelmaker. But then again, a month to promote American OO is probably a waste of time, and going back to the topic of searches, this blog is already doing more for awareness than an awareness month could ever do.

The big picture being that we do need to see some new people follow this vintage scale. Sure, OO lost the battle of the gauges, but that does not mean it is not a great scale, and it is not as hard to locate or work in as many would initially think. Spread the word.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Guild of the Iron Horse, a OO Gauge 4-4-2, and More

The Guild of the Iron Horse was a post war OO gauge manufacturer run by Jerome Bailey Foster of Winchester, Mass. I have been told that he was an architect, and in my OO Checklist draft I noted that his locomotive models were
Sheet and spun brass kits of basic parts only. These basic locomotives were probably manufactured in Japan. Few, if any, advertisements and limited production; the 4-4-2 would appear to be the most common item. Also supplied tenders for Johann. A 4-6-2, ATSF, of similar construction as Guild exists, but it is not certain to be of that origin. 
Sue McNamara, daughter of Jerome Bailey Foster, recalled in a note published in the March, 2004 issue of The OO Road that “During the early 50’s, he started manufacturing a brass locomotive kit on a small scale, [but with] the introduction of plastic, he felt the market was changing, and didn’t do much more with it.” Foster was a very active OO modeler who died in 1968. According to McNamara, the molds associated with this kit (presumably the 4-4-2) were sold at that time to a Mr. Fry in New Jersey.

I had been told that the 4-4-2 was based on the similar Star-Continental/Nason model. However, recently I was excited to obtain one of these Guild engines, and comparing them the Guild version owes nothing at all to the older model; it is completely new in every way. [UPDATE: See UPDATE III, it seems Guild sold two different versions of this!]. In the photos the most easily comparable Star/Nason parts are seen (I have complete parts for this model as well, another project) and the differences are obvious, the boiler and tender are quite different. Plus also note that the Guild engine is an accurately scaled  PRR E-6 and the Star/Nason model is in effect overscale, as it is based on the PRR K-4 and K-5 Pacific, but built as a 4-4-2.

The theory is that these Guild engines were actually made in very limited runs in Japan. Their 4-4-2 is uncommon but by far his most common model. My guess would be that the others were probably imported in runs of perhaps ten or less each. They were kits, but essentially were complete and gave a builder a good start. The box these models came in may be seen at the end of this article.

It is great to have this classic model, it is a sharp one and I believe I will have it running in not too long. There are some details to puzzle over first to be sure, and with that raised lettering engraved into the sides (similar to that done by Oscar Andresen in his pioneering pre-war models) I may never paint it, but I believe I have all the parts I need and it will be a simpler project than getting the Nason/Star engine seen in the photos running.

Looking at these models also reminds me that even though I have figured out a lot related to OO history, actually there is quite a lot I don’t know. Hopefully readers will also be inspired to puzzle over their OO models and their history, there are some really interesting items out there.

UPDATE: Reader Andrew Meyers located in his collection a letter from Jerome Foster to Major McCoid, dated March 8, 1956. In it Foster states that he picked up his first OO gauge kits in the fall of 1936 from a clearance sale in Boston, a Nason Hudson and two car kits. Inspired also by the OO models of Oscar Andresen, the letter states in regard to Nason "In 1947 I pestered Ed Kelly who had taken over the line." Quoting now Drew M. and his summary of the letter, Foster "bought the old Star Atlantic rights for $1,000 which included dies, patterns, parts and drawings. Also purchased 'New Haven' and Penn K-4 Pacific."

The above is an interesting footnote in a number of ways as, for one, Foster did not get a lot out of his $1,000 ultimately as his model is not at all based on the original Star/Nason model other than it is of the same prototype. Second, I am curious what he means by purchasing the "New Haven" and the K-4 from Nason. Models in some post-war plans Nason had worked on? Is the "New Haven" the Nason boxcab (which was later definitely produced in a limited quantity by Myron P. Davis)? Some answers but also some questions, ones I will keep looking into as I continue looking at OO history.

UPDATE II: Also note there is a 1953 MR reference to 4-4-2 dies being purchased which must be the Nason dies going to Guild, as mentioned in the 1951-52 series.

UPDATE III (2017): Thanks to new information from the collection of Jeff Barker I can now say with some certainty that actually Guild sold two different versions of the 4-4-2. The original version was based on the Nason model, with some updates; the second version was the completely different model which is seen in the photos above. In the advertising Barker provided there is also this intriguing sentence: "Frankly, this kit should retail through regular markets for $85.00 but the cooperative basis of the 'Guild' allows our modest base price for this model which we believe is 'tops' in quality, looks and operation in any gauge...." The statement explains why the "Guild" name to begin with, his idea was for it to be a cooperative venture. It all seems to have been done with direct correspondence too, no actual advertising, so hopefully other information will still turn up to explain further the line and the sales model.