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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

American OO for 1948: Part I, An Overview, and a Layout Story

Considered to have been the best American OO layout ever constructed, the August 1948 issue of Model Railroader contains the first feature story on the Norfolk and Ohio of Carl Appel. The July issue introduced it with this great teaser,
Next Month Boomer Pete is back again. This time he writes about a OO gauge line in Allentown, Pa. Boomer calls it the best pike he’s ever seen. Large, beautiful photos accompany the story.
Back in 2008 I posted a brief overview on the line which included a quote from the 1948 article. That article has now been updated with two additional photos and more text. I would point you there for more, but to that I would add this photo, of the pre-war version of the Scale-Craft 4-8-4, showing what could be done with this model. To see one of those 50 car trains roll today!

With that context given, that there were some very serious OO gaugers out there, this look at 1948 and American OO turns to a bit more of an overview of the timeframe. The hobby of model railroading was booming after the war and big changes were seen in the layout of both the major magazines.  Model Railroader had a huge format change, moving from the small format used since the 1930s into a full size magazine format often with 100 pages an issue! Model Craftsman was not as big and did not have as much advertising but was after March of 1948 "100% Model Railroading." No longer would they run content or advertising related to model race cars and such. That the hobby industry could support two magazines is another good sign that this was a great year for model railroad enthusiasts.

However, it was not such a great year in American OO. Coverage is spotty; it was a minority scale and clearly did not generate much advertising revenue for either magazine. Advertising that was specific to the OO market was in rapid decline.

Turning to January and Model Railroader, we see this photo of an impressive, big kitbashed 4-6-6-4 model. Collectors seeing this today will probably wince, but back then modelers thought nothing of tearing into what now would be considered rather valuable, collectable engines. It was a different time.

Over in Model Craftsman in June they had this entertaining letter to the editor on OO.
Your new railroad Editorial decision puts you back on the list. Let’s hope it’s good! With plenty of plans to build from. Now how about concentrating on OO gauge, I don’t see why more of the boys and manufacturers don’t realize the vast potentialities of this gauge – With HO, S, O, and all the others, you don’t have to be a Craftsman, to me the other gauges are kid stuff, although I will admit they are popular. Bob Murphy, Jersey City, N.J.
The July issue of MR has report on their annual poll; one bottom line was that S gauge had passed OO in popularity. TT and S both had quite a bit more advertising for products than had OO.

In the August issue of MC we find another letter to the editor from an OO gauger, Dean Wilson of Rockford, Ill. He wrote in part,
What the country used to need was a good 5c cigar. Now we need a good Model Railroad magazine and I feel that you are providing just that and doing a swell job of it. I never did believe in monopolies and still don’t. I am modeling in “OO” so naturally more articles and pictures on OO would be welcome. Keep up your fine work.
In the September issue of MR we find this tiny OO locomotive by George Jones, described as a “GE oil-electric.” A photo of this model under construction may be found in the June issue. Note the scratchbuilt hoppers seen with the model. According to the caption this brass model weighs 1 ¼ pounds and “Ten box cars are an easy load.”

To close this overview, reading/skimming over the year there are a few “gem” articles that are not related to OO. One that I particularly enjoyed (rarely do articles in model railroad magazines make me laugh out loud) was by Bill McClanahan in the October issue of Model Railroader, and fortunately he mentions OO. The article itself was second prize winner in the “How I Built My Layout” contest, but what makes it great reading today is his very colorful writing style.  I will leave it to readers to seek it out further (worth the trouble!) but he does offer this context on his choice of HO scale over OO.
When the shooting finally all ended, I was all squared away to start building. [Harry] Garrett had advised me to buy one kit from each gauge, decide which I like best, and then concentrate on that.
I’m an O gauger at heart, but lack of space stopped me there. OO gauge appealed to me most, but it didn’t offer the variety (especially in locomotives) that HO did – so HO is was. My first kit was a Mantua reefer, and doubts I might have had about plunging into the hobby were washed away in a tidal wave of enthusiasm. 
Speaking of locomotives, the line with the most OO gauge locomotives in production in 1948 was Scale-Craft, and Douglass Scale-Craft will be the topic of the next installment of this series.

Continue reading in 1948 Series

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Graceline Troop Sleeper

Graceline introduced their OO gauge troop sleeper in 1944 (more here). It had long been an item I wanted to own, and another project recently completed is the below.

This example came in some items from William Gilbert. As noted in the article from when I painted the model, the roof was off. Why it was off I have no idea. I had to replace that and add the vent details, and paint it.

At that point it lacked lettering. Fortunately, in the decal supply I found enough scrap decals from HO and I think O sets to put this together nicely. The letters of "tap room" were rearranged to form the word troop, and sleeper was there in the set. "Pullman" is almost exactly the right size.

Also note the car is on Graceline or Transportation Models "troop trucks," upgraded by a prior owner with Schorr wheels. It still barely rolls, but as a shelf model this is a great car, very happy to have this sharp example of this rare model.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Two Schorr Cabooses

Up next from the late summer painting project are a pair of brass Schorr Cabooses. These models were part of a line of OO models imported from Japan in the 1950s. 

This specific pair, as noted in the earlier article, "had been built up by a prior owner and brush painted, and an owner in between had stripped off most of the paint." Spray painting was clearly a novelty back then, lots of older cars were brush painted. With the pair cleaned up and stripped painting was a pretty simple matter and the decals were simple to apply as well. And as noted in the article when I painted the model, the ATSF car has inserts added to the cupola to more closely resemble an ATSF car. It is really striking how much difference that little insert makes in the overall appearance of the Schorr model.

I like both of these cars a lot. I had been looking for years for examples of this car for sale with no luck. Then I obtained two decorated by Bill Gilbert for his Grand Island and they were in way too good shape to consider stripping or re-lettering. Then finally these came my way. They roll and look great! Both will be making many trips around the layout.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Progress Report: 4-6-4T

The Scale-Craft 4-6-4T is a model that is not often seen. The main article on this model is here, and essentially the story is the model was designed by a Scale-Craft employee and added to the line in 1938. I also like how this type of engine is described in my copy of the Model Railroader Cyclopedia (1944): "Considered good as a prototype for a model because of its neat appearance."

At some point a few years ago I was able to purchase the tank end for one of these on eBay. It sat in the parts supply, but then a locomotive came in that when I looked at it I realized the drive would work out great for this model. In a back issue of The OO Road then editor Bill Johann described how he had extended this S-C 4-6-0 into a 4-6-2. Part of that involved adding a section to the boiler (using a pill bottle!) and part of it was modifying the drive to use a Pittman motor, which extended back from the cab on a frame extension. He never completed the model; the modified boiler really did not look very good but the drive had a lot of potential. What I did was modify the frame extension to accept the vintage tank ("tender") that I had and convert it into a 4-6-4T. Oh, and it needed a replacement motor, the brush hanger was now broken on the one Johann had used.

This past weekend I got the model running and I thought the "in progress" photos might be of interest to readers. I used a boiler from the parts supply and visually it is pretty much all there now with the exception of needing to add smoke box extensions below the cab and fill in the big hole above the frame. The trailing truck I used was the S-C truck that most closely matched the trucks seen on comparable prototype engines, their post-war only plain bearing passenger truck. This truck has upgrade wheels as it needs to pick up power, and it needs a LOT of room to swing below the tender area as it extends out so far from the drivers. The truck has to be mounted on an arm that swings under the tender. Other upgrades included better wheelsets on the front truck and universals between the motor and the drivebox.

I have not yet put couplers on it but the rear coupler will for sure need a great deal of swing to allow it to pull cars on my curves. It runs well but I am a bit worried if it will run reliably with other equipment. Still, I look forward to finishing it up, it does as the Cyclopedia noted have a "neat appearance."

UPDATE: I found this photo of the frame of this model that was sent to me in a letter by Bill Johann in 1998! I had to modify it a bit more for this model, as described above. Not mentioned above was I also added Athearn universals to the connection between the new motor and gearbox in my upgrade. Glad to be able to put it to use to complete a classic model.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

On Converting to a Minority Scale or Focus

I started working in American OO gauge in the late 1970s when I was in high school. I outline part of the route to OO (and the freelanced version of the Orient) in this article, but to offer a few more key details, I started out in HO. One thing I figured out when working in HO was that I wanted to be in a different scale, HO was not really for me. But what? I actually dabbled a bit in TT scale first (more here) but then found OO and connected by mail with a few OO gaugers, with Temple Nieter really getting the ball rolling, but also William Gilbert gave me this great car as a high school graduation present for another example. The rest is history so to speak, and at this point I am pretty invested in keeping going in American OO.

For example I present these recently competed stock cars, rebuilt from vintage Scale-Craft models with great Schorr trucks. It was an interesting puzzle to put them together (a bit more on these may be found in this article) and seeing them on the layout now is a treat. But I think again it helped a lot that I converted to OO as a younger person and have at this point a good set of “OO eyes.” All other gauges feel to me to be the wrong size, with one exception. If I were to switch gauges I would probably go to Sn3, the models are actually very similar in overall size and I enjoy Colorado and narrow gauge. But with that said, I enjoy the retro-modeling aspect of working in OO so for now I will stay where I am.

I follow a variety websites, and one I stumbled across at one point was United States Military Railroads Virginia 1863. It is O scale and civil war era, neither of which is my interest, but it is a well written and interesting website I have enjoyed following. This project layout is nearly done and the builder, Bernard Kempinski, has had it on public display recently. After being on display at a major NMRA event he wrote,
This was our first event where we participated as part of a larger NMRA event. I think we were successful in showing that the Civil War era is a viable subject to model in N, HO and O scale.  In some ways it was a perfect storm as we were in Atlanta with our ACW display during the 150th Anniversary of some of the biggest events in the war, and the NMRA offered a separate Civil War track of clinics and tours.
However, I am not sure we had too many converts. The NMRA as represented in these meets is an older crowd. Most have a significant investment in their current layouts or projects so it is not unexpected that they would not be interested in converting. I saw only one person I would say was under twenty visit the room, and he was really enjoying the layout. I gave him a throttle so he could try some operation. Time will tell if we have any new interest in our subject based on this show.
This phrase particularly resonated with me – most who viewed the layout had “significant investment in their current layouts or projects” and that translated into a low interest in converting to work on Civil War era models. I think this investment factor is on one hand what kept the OOldtimers going in American OO for a lifetime, long after the scale was popular, but it is also what keeps people out today. It requires a significant investment of time and skills to work in American OO to be sure.

His O gauge civil war project is nearly complete but his next project really caught my eye, it is “a 00/009 scale layout set in WWI.” OO?!? Excellent choice of scale! I believe it will set in Europe, hence the choice of gauge and scale--the benchwork may be seen in the brief article, and the layout itself “is intended as a project layout for the book I am working on.”

As to me, I know that American OO Today has people who follow it for a variety of reasons. I know some just like checking in to see what is up in the OO history series; others have some models but they are just a small part of an overall collecting interest; many more arrive via Google but were not really looking for info on American OO. I do hope to spread the word but realize too that not that many will be converted. But no matter what I will keep on going with OO, I have a lot of history still to sort out (ultimately for a book project on OO) and modeling projects that could last me years and years to complete.