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

Friday, March 29, 2013

On the Scale-Craft Factory Locations in Libertyville

One piece of information that was never revealed in Scale-Craft advertising was the physical street addresses of their factories in Libertyville, IL.  But now I have several articles to update, as both locations are now clear.

This first image is clipped from a scan of the January, 1946 Libertyville, IL phone directory. It was found by reader Harry Lewis, who worked in the second factory for many years. Note the dual listings for Scale-Craft and Scale-Models, the prior corporate name. Lewis notes that
The Scale-Craft plant designed by Skidmore Owings & Merril (the "$75,000 building" [see the photo below]) was located at 400 West Lake Street in Libertyville, Illinois.  In 1947 or so, the property was purchased by Trimm Inc., a manufacturer of radio and telecom components.  It burned in 2006.

I worked in the building from 1982 - 1991, after Trimm Inc. was acquired by Newton Instrument Company, Butner, NC.  Trimm Inc. is still in business and is also in Butner, NC.

The property is bounded to the north by the former Milwaukee Road (now Chicago RTA) commuter tracks, to the east by woods and the parking lot for the train station (off of Brainerd Ave.) There is a cemetery to the west and a row of residential lots to the south.

One can still see the parking lot in the current Google earth view, and if you click on the little clock on the toolbar and move the slider back to 8-20-2005, you can see the facility as I remember it.

The six-acre property is currently for sale.

The darker gray roof is the original SOM building, and the lighter roof to the north was added in 1960 - something by the Austin Company.  There was a similar building, no doubt by the same architect at SOM, built by the Johnson Wax Co., possibly in Racine, Wisconsin.  As to why Scale-craft occupied the building so briefly, I do not know, but Paul Bottorff, the former owner of Trimm Inc, once told me that Elliott Donnelly became discouraged when a friend's child was electrocuted by a model train set.
From the satellite view the original 804 E. Church location is more or less in the middle of another larger building now. The street also no longer extends to an 800 block location -- it looks pretty likely that the older building was torn down to build what is visible, but perhaps it was built around in some manner.

Donnelley sold Scale-Craft in late 1946 to his west coast distributor, so Trimm moving into the second factory ca. 1947 makes perfect sense. It was a new, vacant building designed for manufacturing, this image being again the design as conceived by the architects. The location given by Lewis (400 West Lake Street) is essentially the same as the one in the phone book for the construction site (404 W. Lake), with possibly the Post Office improving the address on occupation. Scale-Craft used the building for less than one year.

As to the story Lewis heard about the child, I have never been able to track down the full story on the child either, but I have seen a variation on this in print. The version recalled by Nat Polk was “When Donnelley's daughter died in an accident at home, he lost all desire to do anything, and that was when he stopped making anything else. He kind of lost heart.” I have never been able to confirm the story, but one would think there would be other sources that mention it if it was his daughter, so perhaps the child being that of a friend has more of a ring of truth.

Lewis also adds that “According to Wallace Newton, the current owner of Trimm Inc., the Libertyville plant was empty when it burned in 2006 (I am not 100% confident of the year).  He thinks some squatters built a fire that got out of control. There was no power to the building at the time.” Trimm certainly made good use of the factory, with a wide range of customers from NASA to the BBC to The Grateful Dead, and they remain in business to this day. 

The Scale-Craft factories are gone, but we can still enjoy the models, and thanks again to Harry Lewis for this firsthand information.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Transportation Models 50’ Boxcar

Working on the history series I realized I did not have any Transportation Models cars in a condition to run on the layout. Looking a bit, I found this 50’ car in need of some work, and rebuilt it in a group of cars in the past few months.

This first photo compares their model to two other classic OO 50’ boxcars and also a great, kitbashed variation. Working our way around clockwise, at the upper left is the Hawk model, described further here. Next we have the kitbashed NYC car based on Scale-Craft, described further here. Then the newly rebuilt Transportation Models car and finally a stock Scale-Craft 50’ boxcar, described a bit more in this article.

Of the four, the stock Scale-Craft car has a bit of an odd look with that strange roof especially, and it is pretty dramatic how the kitbashed variation with a new roof and double doors (Famoco/Eastern parts) looks so much better to my eye. The Hawk car is also well-proportioned but lacks some detail.

Turning to the Transportation Models car, it has pressed cardboard sides, roof, and ends mounted on a wood body. The original builder of this car had mounted the sides first then the roof but there was a big gap between the two visually. I was able though to take the sides off and remount the roof as well so the parts fit as well as they are going to. It is not visible in the photo but I was not able to get all the original decals off this car, as I could not work on them too aggressively due to the cardstock sides. From the side the car looks OK but from the end there is a problem. The car is too wide by a good bit, with the NYC car showing what would be a correct width. Also note that the ladders are simply pressed into the sides and ends, which saved parts but is not as visually pleasing.

From the bottom the kitbashed NYC car shows how neatly the S-C 50’ car frame could be built up with a few modern AB brake details and Schorr trucks, and then we get to the Transportation Models car. Pretty basic! What I put on this car is all that they would have shipped out to use with the car. I mounted the Transportation Models car on S-C trucks. The car came to me with no trucks and what I have of parts for Transportation Models trucks leaves me less than impressed (many small parts, wheelsets off standards, etc.).

It is not a terrible kit by any means, but for OO gaugers starved for new products after WWII I am not sure this is the car they were waiting for either.

Read more about Transportation Models here, they produced a large line of OO freight and (maybe also) passenger cars right after WWII based on the wartime, late Graceline "comprestic" kits.

UPDATE: For a view of another Graceline/Transportation Models 50' car see this article.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

American OO in 1946, Part II: Scale-Craft Starts the Year with Big Plans

As the year started Scale-Craft was trying to gear back up for model railroad production. Instead of issuing a new catalog their 1941-42 catalog was simply reprinted with a bit of revised text, some items marked “not available,” and a price sheet. From the text of this later printing, on page 2 we have the screaming headline “IMPORTANT NOTICE! Read this first!”
Because of the difficulties now plaguing the industrial world and the uncertainty of deliveries of materials and supplies we are unable to offer, at this time, all of the items which were available prior to the war. In order that we may give you a catalog without too much delay we have reprinted our 1941-1942 issue. Those items which have been temporarily withdrawn have been marked “not available at present”….
To simplify our inventory control we have instituted a new system of numbering all parts. To avoid confusion we are showing both old and new numbers in the price list.
I have multiple copies of the price sheet dated effective Feb. 15, 1946, which would seem to be the first one issued after the war. The catalog shows as available all the passenger cars (passenger, baggage, Pullman sleeper, observation, and diner) along with the reefer, box car, stock car, tank, flat car, hopper, and caboose. The O gauge line was stripped down even more, with no locomotives available in either scale. The sheet notes also that those items in the catalog marked as not available “are being redesigned and will appear gradually throughout 1946 in new clothes.”

 The March issue of The Model Craftsman has the same drawing that was published last year in The Model Railroader of their new plant. The text notes that this was “Probably the first modern manufacturing plant ever designed especially for the production of scale model railroad equipment.” It has “glass walls for daylight efficiency” and note in particular that “The plant covers several acres of an eight-acre plot.” This was no small operation.

UPDATE: See this article for more on this factory.

That same month MC and MR both have full page ads that feature their trucks, and looking ahead a couple months the MC back cover for May has this full page ad trumpeting their new draft gear. Looking at it now, the product is a bit of a head scratcher for me. I have several examples, but none on cars as I basically don’t use dummy couplers on the layout. The ad copy says this was a “major improvement for the development of model railroading” but I am more inclined to think was this a product people were really waiting for? I am not sure many would have thought it worth the extra $1 to gain a little slack action.

What people were really waiting for was locomotives, and certainly during the first half of the year no Scale-Craft locomotives shipped out in OO or O gauges.

Scale-Craft has BIG news later in 1946, but before this series covers that we have several other makers to look at, in particular Nason Railways, which will be the topic of the next installment.

Continue in 1946 Series

Friday, March 15, 2013

American OO in 1946, Part I: Lionel Stays Out of the OO Market

To begin this overview of 1946 and American OO gauge, while supplies and manpower were short, the smaller companies that had still been producing OO in 1945 were still perking along. J-C Models, Tru-Scale, Picard, and Selley were all still on the market. And the Transportation models kits that were introduced in late 1945 certainly were hitting the shelves in some quantity as well and will be the focus of an article later in this series, as will Scale-Craft, Nason, and several new lines for 1946.

The OO gauge line that was conspicuously absent in 1946 was Lionel. They had left the OO gauge market in 1942 and the line never resumed production.

It is not that their OO scale models were not around and in wide use. For example this nicely detailed Lionel tank car is seen in the February issue of The Model Railroader. Another car by the same builder, a hopper, was also featured in their July issue, seen a bit later in the present article. It was a simpler time to be sure -- I don’t think any publication today would feature a nicely modified kit in quite this way. As always, click on the photo for a better view.

Plenty of used Lionel was available of course. The classified ads in MR show many Lionel items for sale at great prices. It was difficult to decide which issue to scan an example from, and I initially chose this list from the October issue for the interesting custom-built streamlined train (and plenty of used Lionel). Most issues in 1946 also have long lists of OO gauge items for sale, and it is an interesting puzzle to look them over and figure out what is for sale. As you might guess though in general Lionel, Scale-Craft, and Nason models dominate the listings. And then scan down to that last listing this month. Someone named William Johann is selling out a batch of Midlin track--the very same William Johann that was later an OO manufacturer (see an example of his 2-8-2 here), active in the North Jersey group, and much later editor of The OO Road! Some views of his layout in the 1980s are found in this article and you guessed it, the track is all Midlin. But that jumps ahead quite a few years in the history of American OO.

Back to Lionel and 1946, I think one of the more telling facts is that in spite of being out of production for four years several mail order places still listed new Lionel OO cabooses for sale. For example Polks was still listing the Lionel caboose in this ad the June issue of The Model Railroader, along with the new Transportation Models kits and Scale-Craft. The problem for Polks and the rest was by now not many people needed to buy a new Lionel caboose. The market was shrinking and long saturated. And Scale-Craft was also producing kits for essentially the same car (that sold for $1.45 more!) in 1946, so their sales of cabooses must have suffered too. HO was where the action was in the market.

For a bit of context on that point, a layout feature in the August, 1946 issue of MR was on an HO gauge railroad that had “replaced pikes in two other gauges.” The builder started out in OO with Scale-Craft models--a ten-wheeler and “a number of freight and passenger cars.” But then the builder “got the itch to trade my stuff for an O gauge two-rail layout,” which he “did through and ad in The Model Railroader.” But O gauge proved too big for his space. “So, early in the spring of 1939, I decided to trade again. After a trip to the Kalamazoo Hobby Shop, I was sold on the possibilities of HO, and it wasn't long before I made the exchange.” Certainly there were many variations on this story, but the general outline must have been a common one.

When the series continues the topic is Scale-Craft OO in early 1946.

Continue reading in 1946 Series

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wiring the Scale-Craft Universal Motor to a Modern Rectifier

One thing I have found that I have had to do as an American OO enthusiast is from time to time recreate lost knowledge. In particular I have found the Scale-Craft Universal motor to be intimidating (more on S-C motors in general here). I had only seen a model running with one of these on DC power one time, years ago on the layout of Bill Chapin. He had wired the model to use a new rectifier he had purchased at Radio Shack. I had not figured out how to do it, and was only able to bench test the this motor well from an AC transformer (more on bench testing here). But I run DC on the layout.

Fast forward to a recent purchase. Oreland No. 8 is a Scale-Craft 4-6-0 with a Nason 2-8-0 tender. It was clearly set up by the builder to run well on DC and has a few nice extra details (the ash pan detail just visible in the photo for example). Bench testing with DC power showed it should run, but the wiring used in the tender was brittle and shorting out.

Yesterday I rewired the tender, as seen in the photo. The result is I was very impressed how smoothly the engine runs! No wonder Scale-Craft stuck with this motor for so many years. it is a smooth and powerful motor.

This is a drawing of the wiring as seen on Oreland 8.  (Click on it for a better view). Note the original Scale-Craft pins used to connect the wiring between locomotive and tender, connecting to the four wires from the motor brushes and winding.

There are a few other notes to glean from Oreland 8. First note that all power pick-up is from the tender. I have seen this arrangement before and it works really much better than I thought it would. This model has Nason trucks on the tender (the two-rail type with the square, insulated bolster) but the builder had equipped them with more reliable Scale-Craft wheelsets. The bronze sideframes allow not only for better electrical contact than would S-C sideframes but also allow for soldering the pick up wires directly to the sideframes. This requires in turn very flexible wires or the locomotive won't track well. In my case, initial testing says the red wires seen above are a little heavy, so my next step before reassembly is to replace those wires.

It should not be too hard to find a similar rectifier to duplicate the installation, and I will update this article with further information as I work out other models.

UPDATE: This rectifier looks similar and would seem to be in a rating range to work.

UPDATE II: And it works fine. It still took some trial and puzzling on my end. It pays off to briefly bench test the motor on AC power (make sure the motor works first!), but the critical thing seems to be that in the diagram R is "+" and B is "-" on the new rectifier. Plus and minus both are connected to the coil on the motor and one of the ~ wires goes to a brush. The other brush wire and the remaining wire from the rectifier are what connects to the rails. Connected in this manner these motors will give good service with a DC power supply of sufficient capacity.

Also note that most likely this engine was built by Newton Guerin, an active member of the North Jersey group. A photo of his layout mentioning Oreland junction may be seen here.

UPDATE III: See another description of a model now running with a modern rectifier, a Scale-Craft 0-6-0. And note this photo! These four frames with trucks and rectifiers mounted were all in the same recent eBay lot. Someone was working on a big installation of these rectifiers in vintage Scale-Craft engines -- the original S-C banana plugs are wired in and also note the trucks. All four frames have Nason trucks on them, mostly the "square bolster" type, which are the way to go for pickup, the bronze does better than the metal used by S-C.

UPDATE IV: I used the one above with the green wires in a rebuilding project as it is. This type of installation works really well too. Compared to the drawing, R is +, B is minus, the leg closest to the + is Green and the remaining leg is yellow.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Look at the Early Years of Scale-Craft Working Models, 1933-34

While their OO line was not introduced until 1937, Scale-Craft had been a leader in the scale model railroad industry for some time even by then. On the occasion of the third change of ownership of the firm, an article in the December, 1946 issue of The Model Railroader gives this great overview of the early years of Scale-Craft.
The Scale-Craft firm was originally organized in 1933 by Clifford Smith. The plant was located on the north side of Chicago, and here were designed the first mass-produced model railroad items, including a Pennsylvania K-4 Pacific locomotive and freight and passenger cars in O gauge. Mail order sales methods were used to acquaint the public with the hobby and in fact this original Scale-Craft firm had a large part in the early beginnings of The Model Railroader magazine when its mailing list was loaned for Model Railroader circulation promotion and resulted in the first subscription list of more than 1000. 
In spite of the fact that he built his firm up to the largest in the model railroad manufacturing field (and that wasn’t very big in 1936) Clifford Smith was forced to sell his business for reasons curiously similar to those which have caused the current change in ownership of Scale-Craft. Clifford Smith’s father runs a large correspondence school business in Chicago and wanted his son back in the business with him, so with reluctance enthusiastic model railroader Smith sold his business to enthusiastic model railroader [Elliott] Donnelley. 
With that introduction, this article will primarily look at their 1934 catalog for more on model railroading in general and on Scale-Craft in particular, with all the photos seen in this article drawn from this 24-page catalog. The first image is the logo from the back cover. It was used with variations for many years in Scale-Craft advertising. Scale-Craft had for many years a “branding” problem. The official name of the firm originally was American Model Engineers, Inc., but they always made it clear that they were “manufacturers of Scale-Craft model railroad equipment.” After the purchase by Elliott Donnelley in 1936 it was known as Scale-Models, Inc., and then later as Scale-Craft in several variations of corporate title (Scale-Craft & Co., etc).

In light of the Model Railroader article from 1946 it is curious to me that Clifford Smith is listed as being vice president and general manager of the firm. The 1934 catalog does not actually list a president at all – perhaps the president was a silent partner? It would surely have taken a lot of capital start the firm in those hard times, and this first catalog was itself a pretty impressive undertaking. The photo and short profile offers a bit more information on Smith, and a two-page spread by Smith was devoted to “A Message to all Model Railroad Enthusiasts.” He begins,
This “SCALE-CRAFT MODEL BOOK” is presented to acquaint you with the SCALE-CRAFT line of models and model railroad equipment, and the men and methods behind them. But, before getting into the actual description of these fine models, I would like to shake hands, if possible, through this page, with every model railroad enthusiast in America, and the thousands of men who contemplate making this, the greatest of all hobbies, their hobby, too.
My Greetings to all of you….
We model railroaders believe there is no other hobby so full of sheer enjoyment and satisfaction. If you have never built or operated a model railroad, take our word for it, and join the ever increasing group of model railroad enthusiasts. You’ll have more fun than you ever had before in your life. 
Every piece of SCALE-CRAFT model railroad equipment described in this book has been designed especially for use on an operating model railroad system….
Before we could announce a single SCALE-CRAFT model, there were many decisions that had to be made. First, we had to decide what size our models would be. Though we realize that there are many who favor other scales, we selected ¼” scale (“O” gauge) because our investigations provided that fully 75% of all American model railroad enthusiasts preferred that gauge and scale over all others….
The selection of the models to offer was another problem….
In selecting the railroads whose equipment we would offer, we were guided entirely by information from model enthusiasts all over the country. Without question, more miniature railroads have been copied after the Pennsylvania system than any other. That railroad, therefore, had to be the first for which SCALE-CRAFT models were made available. Next in popularity is the New York Central, and there equipment was selected for the second group of SCALE-CRAFT models….
The first thought in the design of every SCALE-CRAFT model is to produce that model at a reasonable price, without in any way sacrificing realism, accuracy, or quality. Our second thought is to make the model simple in construction, so that the average man may build it easily in his own home, if he so desires. 
In an inset on the same pages it is noted that model railroading should not be confused with “toy railroading.” In many respects Smith is laying out not only the goals of his firm but also a new hobby market. Among the many photos in the catalog are views of the factory. The location was 2130 Lawrence Avenue, Chicago. While a similar building looks to be on the same site based on the Google street view, I don’t believe it is the same building as in 1934.

In light of the OO line this inset under the title “A Few Words about the Scale of Model Railroads” is of interest.
We are often asked why SCALE-CRAFT models are built only in ¼” scale, and why we don’t build models for “OO” or “Standard” gauge track.
Many model builders prefer “OO” or “HO” gauge to the more common “O” gauge. While recognizing the fact that both of these small gauges offer the advantage of requiring less space, and of permitting elaborate scenic installations, it is never-the-less very difficult to build a small model locomotive of this kind that will have enough power to pull a string of cars. In our opinion, these small gauges are impractical for an operating railroad. 
Ouch! That opinion would change soon.

Turning to the O gauge line of 1934, only parts of it are illustrated in the catalog, I suspect as much was in development at that date. The K4s Pacific, seen in this photo, was clearly the flagship model of the line and they had lines of passenger and freight cars, “see SCALE-CRAFT car data sheets for specifications of cars now available.” Items were available sold in three different “levels,” either “professional,” “hobby,” or “assembly.” More of the difficult machine work and drilling had been done on the hobby kits, and yet more on the assembly version of the locomotive. As they note on this page describing the kits, “Many men consider that half of the pleasure in model railroading comes from the building of their own models.”

Finally, they also sold a line of working signals and other electrical and power supply equipment and of course track and track equipment. Pretty much everything you might need to build an outside third rail O scale model railroad.

As already noted, Elliott Donnelley purchased Scale-Craft in 1936. Of the staff with photos and bios in the 1934 catalog the one who shows up in later, Donnelley-era catalogs is K. M. Boyd, such as in a photo seen in this article on their 1941 catalog. He was listed as advertising manager in 1941 and was certainly active in the firm when the OO line was developed.

This brings us around to why put together for an OO website this view of the early history of what was then still an O gauge manufacturer. With Donnelley onboard they were able to keep expanding their line, and as part of that expansion used the skills and manpower developed with the O gauge line to produce very similar models in American OO. In the pre-war period it was definitely cutting-edge what Scale-Craft was doing, and with the O line especially they were initially a dominate force in what was a dominant scale. In the post-war era they were still selling quality items but it hurt them that mainly they were pre-war products and in minority scales. But certainly we interested in American OO today owe something to Clifford Smith and his vision back in 1933, he got the ball rolling in a big way in a new hobby in hard times.

See this article for an overview of Scale-Craft OO production and history.

UPDATE: And I was recently pointed to the fact that this catalog was also discussed by Keith Wills in his "Collector Consist" article in the March, 1986 issue of RMC.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Two Boxcars with Scale-Rail Industries Sides

One project this year has been completing a pair of ATSF boxcars with fresh, vintage Scale-Rail Industries sides. The overview article on Scale-Rail Industries is here, but in short this line of excellent sides in HO and OO was introduced in 1941 and ceased production not long into WWII. The full run of their OO sides may be seen in this article. 

These two cars are both built on bodies that were in a lot purchased from the Morlok auction, kits that had been started by a prior owner but not finished. The plain ATSF car is an Eastern body to which I added Famoco ends, and the Scout car is pure Famoco. The body parts of the two models are identical, the way to tell them apart (besides the boxes they were packed in) being the frames are different and Famoco cars usually (but not always) have the cast ends. More on Eastern here and on Famoco here.

Turning to the sides as applied to these two cars, note that the color is slightly different. The Scout car is very close to Floquil boxcar red and I came up with a Floquil mix that got me close on the plain car. In either case while not easy to match the Scale-Rail sides are easier to match (in terms of sheen) than are Famoco/Eastern sides, and I like the “dips” on the bottom of the sides very much, this detail is lacking on every other brand of boxcar or boxcar side ever sold in American OO.

In terms of big picture details I am happy how they came out and they roll and look great on their Schorr trucks. As always, click on the photo for a closer view. I look forward to doing a few more of these cars in the future; I feel that steel boxcars of this general type built well are a weakness in my operating roster.