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

Sunday, October 6, 2013

1949 and American OO. Part I, Put a Fork in It?

Looking at the big picture, in terms of advertising and magazine coverage, OO might seem dead in terms of commercial viability. Kicking the year off in fact, in the January issue of Model Railroader there is an interesting interview with Irving Shull, who was “manager of the Lionel New York Service Station.” One of the questions MR posed has to do with “if Lionel would again produce its scale model OO gauge Hudson and train set, inasmuch as we had heard that all the dies for the OO equipment had been destroyed.” Shull “informed us that the company would very much like to resume manufacture of OO gauge scale model equipment, but at today’s cost of manufacture, the outfit which formerly sold at under $40 would have to retail for more than $100.” They unfortunately “could not hope to sell a sufficient quantity of them at that price” and the article concludes,
Mr. Shull said that the rumors we had heard about the discontinuance of the OO gauge equipment because the tools had been destroyed were unfounded. “On the contrary,” he wrote, “the tools have been safely set aside until the time comes when we can again place them on the market.”
That was a time that never came for Lionel. However, there was a real public out there that were established in OO gauge and would not give up so easily. They are the shaping force for all the models yet to be produced, and to set that larger context I would like to start this look at 1949 with a look at their letters.

An interesting series of letters in particular was published in MC/MRC/RMC. Under the heading “OO the Best Bet” in the March issue of Model Craftsman we hear from a reader in North Carolina that
I don’t have every back copy of The Model Craftsman, but I’ve got a lot of them, including many of your latest ones. But the old ones I like the best. I still look up those old copies and reread those car construction articles by Hugh Richard Nason. Back along then is when I started in model railroading and I’ll bet you don’t have to be told what gauge I went into. So today when I picked up your September edition from a news stand you may bet that I was reminded of those old times when I hit that article by H. R. Treat. More power to Herb and M.C. I hope there will be many more articles like it and by Herb, of course. I’m back of your magazine a hundred percent and I want to see it grown and grow and grow.
A photo from that article may be seen here in the 1948 seires, and the first photo above is another view of the OO layout of Herb Treat, published in the December 1949 issue of RMC.

Another letter also reacting positively to the models of Herb Treat may be found in the May issue of Model Railroad Craftsman. Model Railroad Craftsman? Model Craftsman had become 100% model railroading in 1948 and was changing their name to match the content. The April, May, and June issues were published under this MRC banner, but the more familiar Railroad Model Craftsman was adopted in July. A reader from Rockford, Ill wrote, “Sure would like to see more of Mr. Treat’s articles and perhaps a story, plans and pictures of his layout. I really go for his stuff…. Let’s go OO, Maybe a little boost for us, eh?”

In the June issue of MRC we find a reply illustrated with this neat little graphic from a HO gauger in Detroit. The mixture of 00 and OO gauge is original to the text, perhaps an editing glitch.
I was just going through some of my back copies of the Craftsman and came across a letter in last August’s Safety Valve about the tremendous possibilities of 00 gauge. To me this is a laugh. The writer of that letter should go into any hobby shop and take a gander at the shelves—note the absence of 00 gauge equipment. When I set out to build up a locomotive in HO gauge, it is no longer a major operation. There is a large variety of materials on the market that will fit most any prototype. In 00 gauge you are too limited unless of course you have a veritable machine shop in your basement…. I’m all wrapped up in HO gauge myself but can still see other modelers’ viewpoints – but when it comes to OO, that’s another matter!
In the following issue, the first issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, we hear again from the reader in Rockford, Ill. This time under the heading “Still Plugging 00” we read
Here I am back again, still plugging. I am one of a minority group, however small we are, but I still feel that we are the only true model railroad builders of the present day. Kits are few and manufacturers fewer in our gauge, consequently nearly every piece of rolling stock and trackside structures to gauge are homemade and home-planned. We are in this gauge because we still think it is the finest of any of our present day popular gauges. It takes a lot of work and things are pretty slow at times but we do have fun railroading knowing that we build with our own hands….
Things I would like to see some one come out with for 00 – a good power truck for both four and six wheel diesel units or even some full scale plans to work from. Some freight and passenger trucks also some streamline passenger cars.  
Those things would actually all be coming soon. Our final letter for the year is from the December issue of Model Railroader, written by a retired Major and published under the heading “OO Gauge Parts.” He wrote,
I would appreciate it if some effort could be devoted to solving the problem of securing OO gauge material and parts. 
Most of us in OO gauge hope to see, with each new issue of MR, that some manufacturer has taken up where the other manufacturers let us down. Many of us purchased heavily in the past and are still in need of plenty of parts to complete what has been under construction since the war stopped production.
OO gauge may be dead to most model railroaders in the other gauges and may not be a profitable venture for new manufacturers, but there may be enough OO gaugers left in the air to justify someone’s making enough parts to keep us going until we finish the things we started. 
It may be necessary for those of us who are left in the gauge to form a guild in order to secure parts. What do OO readers think of this idea?
Finally, the last photo in this article is from the June issue of MR, of the Miniature Railroad Club of York, PA club layout. Note the extremely interesting locomotives including in particular that scratchbuilt FT Diesel. This model predates the introduction of the Schorr F3. The fact that OO club layouts existed such as this and the letters above all reflect that there was a market for more OO models! As we will see in Part II of this series on 1949.

Continue reading 1949 series

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