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

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

American OO for 1945: Part I, January-May

As noted at the end of the 1944 series, WWII was thankfully drawing to a close. The Germans surrendered in May and the Japanese in August. With those dates in mind, this look at American OO in 1945 will be in three parts geared around those dates. First up is a look at the year to the end of May.

One item hinted at in the 1944 series is I have a copy of the catalog “effective January 1, 1945” from Graceline Model Railroads. It lists their products in O and OO gauge, all being either “comprestic kits” or die castings. We learn that “Comprestic is an embossed covering …. impregnated to insure against warping.” It looks like all of the car sides and major cast parts of the entire line (more here) was still available. The truck kits “include everything except wheels and axles.” But on the cover of the catalog is this hand written note: “poor service lead castings.” Graceline was on their last legs, but this ad from the January issue of Model Railroader puts a good face on their final production, with a nice review of the line to be found in Trade Topics in the same issue.

Moving on, in the February issue of The Model Craftsman we find this nice photo from part II of a series on building model locomotives by H. L. “Red” Adams. This part of the article focuses on motors and transmissions, and in particular this discussion of motors is of interest. From previous articles we have already seen that Adams was a fan of the original Scale-Craft 24 volt DC motor.
Personally, I have always favored a permag motor for my own OO gauge locomotives, mainly due to the fact that it has a great reserve of power to handle any train that the locomotive will start. Permag motors are also favored because of the remote reversing feature and the fact that they do not require any reverse switch or its attendant wires. Of course, I don’t mean to infer that a GOOD series-wound motor that operates on AC and DC isn’t good, if it has the capacity to handle your trains. But unless you add a rectifier or relay (or hand reverse switch) they can’t be reversed remotely. Then, too, my experience has been that these AC-DC motors appear to make more noise than permags. Now don’t get me wrong. I have seen some very good operation with these motors; in fact, most of our O gauge boys use this type of motor and it is very satisfactory.
I am thinking from that he was not a fan of the later Scale-Craft AC-DC universal motor. Certainly the strong trend in the hobby was to permag  motors at 12 volts in this time frame.

Turning to March, in MR in their Along the Division column they have an item on a club we will hear a lot from in the post war period.
The North Jersey Model Railroad Club, … Plainfield, N. J., claims to be the largest OO organization in America and is willing to defend that statement by taking on all comers. The roster includes 80 locomotives of every conceivable type and some 180 freight and passenger cars. The active membership list boasts of 16, with room for more. All prospective members are carefully examined to make certain they carry bona fide coal dust behind their ears and are real scale model railroaders.
For more on the North Jersey club see this article.

In the April issue of The Model Craftsman Red Adams is back, telling how to build a double deck sleeper! Curiously, there is no photo of a finished model, but the article has the plans in OO scale and his description follows how he would construct one. With this article and others that follow from Adams I get the sense that to a point his assignment was to fill space in the magazine. A similar article in June (on cement hoppers) is also of this more generic style, there is no indication that he really built the models, it just says how to based on his experience.

Things seem to have been slow in the hobby generally and it was clearly a tough time in the hobby industry. For more on this I would suggest following the long series of Walthers advertisements in Model Railroader, where they lay out a lot of the challenges they faced pretty clearly. Thankfully, the war was ending soon.

To close this installment, in April and May we have a couple of the most curious advertisements ever run in the model railroad press. I first noticed these two ads years ago and found them puzzling. They are certainly worthy of a closer look and ran in MR and MC. This scan is of the April ad in MR (the May ad is of another scene), which is a little large for the bed of my scanner but you get the gist certainly. Varney is in short trying to drum up support for taller rail in HO, what would have been in modern terms Code 120 instead of Code 100, which would solve the perceived problem of spike heads working up and causing derailments. The ad copy is visible if you click on the scan. What is really puzzling is the models are Scale-Craft OO gauge models, not HO! These are photos on the OO Birmingham & Glencoe layout of Sid Wells, who in a prior article was described as an “artist, ad-man, executive” by Temple Nieter. The same bridge is in the second photo in that article, and also is seen in this article as well! What possessed Varney to use OO models in their advertising I have no idea, but perhaps he was friends with Wells.  The idea to use larger rail in HO was not well received. Spike heads working loose is an extremely small problem, and HO rail was overscale enough already. What the public wanted was better track products.

Speaking of track, when we return to this series we have a huge OO gauge layout to visit on a military base and more.

Continue in 1945 Series

Monday, January 21, 2013

Two Baldwin Diesel Switchers that are Overscale for HO

Up today are two models that have long been known among OO enthusiasts to be overscale for HO, the Baldwin diesel switcher models produced by Fleischmann and by Garco. Both of the overscale models are based on the Baldwin VO 1000 model, of which over 1,000 prototype examples were produced between 1939 and 1946. For clarity, four small comparison photos are below (the HO model is an Athearn S-12, dimensionally the same—as always click on the photos for a better view), with further comments to follow.

Both of the vintage models, although marketed as HO, were and are overscale. The Garco model dates to 1947 is described further in this article. My conclusion there is that this model is clearly larger than HO in every dimension and is probably around 1/80 scale. Visually it looks good with OO scale models.

Then we get to the Fleischman model, seen here with the S-12. The Fleischman body is metal and the number 1340 is cast into the side of the cab. The hood height and width (cross section) is HO but the overall length is actually correct for OO so the model seems visually elongated. The front end shape is rather round and that step in front of the cab is a big problem, it is well oversize compared to the prototype. I am guessing that this was done to accommodate the mechanism. The cab itself is about the same size as the Garco cab, somewhere around 1/80 scale. Maybe you could call this model 1/80 scale as sort of an average of what is there, but in reality it is a mixture scales or perhaps better described as semi-scale.

The Fleischmann Alco FA conversions I recently finished up look great on the layout operating as OO models, but their Baldwin switcher I am not so sure about compared to the Garco model. At the same time, I can see how the Fleischmann model would be collectible as is, it is visually very unique and some of the factory paint schemes are rare. Also the model has sort of an artistic quality not seen in current production models. Mint-in-box these switchers can command very good money today, although this particular paint scheme I am told is the most commonly seen of those sold in the USA. And this particular model is missing a few parts and shows some rust and other damage, so it would not command a high collector price.

Of the two models here I think the Garco engine will be finished fairly soon and the Fleischmann model I will ponder and enjoy as it is. I hope to follow up with a more definitive article on the Fleishcmann Baldwin soon as well, but until then both models are well worth keeping your eyes peeled for.

UPDATE: I did convert one of the Fleischmann models to operation in American OO, as seen in this article. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Getting the Track in Shape

At New Years, driving back from Kansas, we saw far fewer trains than normal due to track work underway. Perhaps that was inspiration, but I had been meaning to rework a troublesome area of my layout.

Actually that area worked fine with diesels but with anything bigger than a 4-4-2 this area was a problem. There were two different issues to fix. One issue was the radius of the curve. It was supposed to be 28 inch but in reality it went down to 26 inch or so at two places. The second issue was a sag in the roadbed on the straight section just beyond the curve.

Why both of these issues occurred has to do with the age of the layout and my age when I laid the track. The second photo shows this same trackwork when it was being laid in August of 1981. I was a sophomore in college. There is an old joke along the lines of if I knew I would live so long I would have taken better care of myself. If I knew I will still be using this layout more than 30 years later I would have laid the track better.

The dimensions of the layout were enforced by the space available at my parent’s house. Essentially I expanded what was originally a 2 foot by 4 foot module out to 2’ 6” by 6 foot module and added modules with curves on both ends, making a "C" shaped layout with a bridge across the open side. This article shows the overall layout a few years ago. 

On the right end of the original module the added roadbed was a short piece of ¼ inch plywood. And also that curve was the very first curve I ever hand laid. I laid it out with a string on a center pivot but must have strayed from the lines when I put down the ties. So what I did this time was use pieces of Tru-Scale 26 and 28 inch radius roadbed as guides and relaid the inside rail of the curve as smoothly as possible (with no regard to how it looked on the ties in terms of centering – this is essentially hidden trackage) and carefully gauged the other rail to that rail. And as to the low spot, I shimmed the rail up with styrene strips and used a steel straight edge to be sure it was as flat as possible. This area is also relatively hidden on the layout as of now.

The reward of all this work is that basically all of my engines will run through this section smoothly. Some large steam locomotives still have intermittent shorts in two different turnouts, so there is more work to do, but certainly the curve is the best it has ever been at this point and hopefully is good for another 30 years. The diesels in particular are running especially well since the track work on the entire layout.

I still find it hard to believe that I have gotten more than 30 years of service out of this track! Sometimes I wish for a larger layout, but then I realize that this is still almost a perfect test track and having not had to rebuild the layout has saved me time to work on projects and on OO history. If I had more space I would probably build something similar with 36” radius curves, but the choices I made back in the early 80s on the whole have worked out well.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Page Model Company, a “Who Done It?” Story

A few years back Picard made it into the “Who Done It?” series in the Train Collectors Quarterly, and in the present issue (January, 2013) OO is featured, in the form of two kits by the Page Model Company of Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. Those very familiar with American OO actually would have recognized the kits right away, as they have been seen on eBay and there has been an article on Page Scale Models right here in American OO Today since 2008, updated in 2011. I have been meaning to update that article further, and there is no time like the present!

Page is in a sense still a company of mystery, but a number of details are clear. First though, as background, it has to be noted that Nason Railways produced a type of kit they called (in various spellings, depending on the year) an Eazy-Bilt kit. Their Eazy-Bilt boxcar and reefer was on the market by late 1935. As I noted in the 1935 series, “The very first advertisement I have located for the Nason “Easy – Built” freight cars (box car and reefer) is found in the November 1935 issue of The Model Craftsman… Their December ad lists ten different versions of the car being available.” My main introductory article to Nason is here.

Jump ahead now to 1938 and this advertisement, also presented in the 1938 series. As I note there,
Our final new line of note this year is Page Model Co. of Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. This is a firm I have long been curious about and it took literally years to finally track down an advertisement. The line is referenced in other advertising in the October issue of MC and in December they ran this ad; click on it to see all the details of the new line. So far as I can tell these box cars and reefers are outwardly the same as the Nason Easy-Built cars (with the same sides) but have a solid block body. My guess at this time is it was an attempt to put out a lower cost version of the Nason line and perhaps also to attempt to give an impression of things really picking up in OO, with a "new" line of OO entering the market.
As noted in my earlier article on Page, the sides in particular are exactly the same as the sides sold with Nason Eazy-Bilt kits (before, during, and after the timeframe of the 1938 Page advertsing!), but they have some unique features and would only set you back 80 cents (with the cars in the TCA article clearly marked down to 50 cents).

With the TCA item out it is a good time to look a bit closer at the model. Sitting on top of the instructions seen in my earlier article (identical to in the Quarterly) is the box end and all the non-paper parts in the example I own. I believe this kit dates to the time frame that Nason was selling off the Page residual, as it has Nason cast boxcar doors with it and the Page Model Company information is pasted over on the box end (there were no instructions with my kit). The roof was pre-painted at the factory.

Stepping back a second, undoubtedly 20 years ago there were people alive who knew exactly what the situation was with Page and Nason and the duplication of some parts. The built up cars are essentially indistinguishable from each other, the main distinguishing feature being the solid block body. I don't think they fooled the OO market of the time.

Moving on to the paper parts in the second photo, the top item is the one that is marked Page, the “box car parts.” These parts could be used instead of castings. Right below that is an interesting item. According to the instructions this thin card piece was supplied to cut into strips to make the roof ribs and end walk supports. Then we get to the familiar, standard printed Nason sides and ends.

In the final photo below is another item that I believe is Page as well. It is from the parts supply (source unknown) but the printing matches the box car parts sheet. It is for reefer cars, and from the ad Page clearly also sold reefers.

This is an item from exactly that time frame when American OO was hitting the market but coming up against HO. OO gauge models were generally made along similar lines to the O gauge models of the time, but HO was cheaper and more lightly made. The solid block body would give these cars a solid feel and more weight but simplified construction and presumably cost to match HO. So far as I can tell the only other firm to sell OO scale models with a solid block body was Hawk.

As I noted in an update to the other article, the information on Page Scale Models OO is not right up at the top of Google, but an image search would have taken readers right to my article. But still, I am glad they did not find the info too easily, as then an OO item would not have been featured this month in the Quarterly in the venerable “Who Done It?” series. Great to see OO in the collector press, hopefully there will be more interesting OO gauge models featured in the future.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Gerstner Water Tower in OO

One topic I don’t post on often is that of vintage OO structure kits. I don’t have many, but I know there is a collector market for these and some are quite rare.

Up today is an interesting rarity from the collection of John S. The box is stamped "A. W. Gerstner Company, 634 Eighth Avenue, New York City" and he notes “the kit is a real craftsman style.... all wood except some wire to make the hoops around the tank.”

This scan is of the instruction sheet. Note that it is dated 1938 and is for an "OO gage" model, not HO-OO. Gerstner was definitely a dealer; an ad of theirs from 1939 (featuring an S-C 4-8-4) may be seen in this article (scroll down). But they also could have manufactured this item to go along with the OO items they sold.

John. S. notes that the notes on the edges of the instructions are not from him. I am thinking it looks very much like the handwriting of Ed Morlok (who was very interested in vintage structure kits), and this did hit eBay after his auction. If it is by Gerstener or if they were just the retailer for another early maker is not clear, but it is a nice example of the type of item out there if you keep your eyes peeled.

See this article for more vintage OO and HO/OO structure kits.