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

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.

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