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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

American OO in 1951-52, part I: Sunset for Scale-Craft

Regular readers of this series know by now that Elliott Donnelley clearly loved his Scale-Craft model trains. The time had come though to move on; their product line did not fit with the hobby trends of the time, and his career had gone in other directions.

Exhibit “A” being this letter from Elliott Donnelley. Dated February 28, 1951, the letter is to Lewis English (who ten years later would become the owner of Bowser). If you click on the image you can view a larger scan, and from that you can see several details. Note that the letterhead is rubber stamped with a Chicago “corporate office” address. As to the Scale-Craft product line, “ …we have just sold our entire “O” gauge line of model railroad equipment; the car line to the Thomas industries of Wenonah, N. J., and the locomotives to the Central Locomotive Works….” But the OO line was still available through a Mr. Gunnard Stark of Lake Forest, IL.

Later copies of the Scale-Craft Round Lake catalog have a rubber stamp on the cover reading “ONLY “OO” EQUIPMENT AVAILABLE” and that same new address on a second rubber stamp in Lake Forest, IL. When I look up 849 N. Summit Ave. in Google street view it shows it is a residential neighborhood across from a park, a pretty middle class looking area. My guess is it was at that time the home address of Stark, who was evidently the caretaker of the Scale-Craft OO line for owner Elliott Donnelley, with the Scale-Craft inventory and toolings likely stored elsewhere.

An article on Scale-Craft by Glenn Guerra in The O Scale Resource for Jan/Feb 2014 has a slightly different theory on the Summit Ave. address, which may be absolutely correct as to why this specific street address was used.
When I was visiting Art Miller [emeritus archivist of special collections] to look at the catalogues and other information at Lake Forest College [there is a special Donnelley collection there; he was at one time a trustee in addition to being mayor of Lake Forest], we went to see the Summit Avenue location. Summit Avenue is a two block long street with houses on one side of the street and a park on the other. Across the park from Summit Avenue is the Donnelley estate. Art told me that quite a few of the estate owners in Lake Forest owned homes for their help to live in. We suspect that this was the case with Scale Craft, and that whoever was in charge of production, was now living in the house at 849 Summit Avenue.
The Scale-Craft ad run in MR and RMC ends with the sale of the O gauge line, but two more advertisements for the OO line later ran in Model Railroader.  First up is this from September, 1951. In it we learn that Scale-Craft “is back and going strong.” The fine print is encouraging, as they were now shipping the following items:

  • 4-8-4
  • 4-6-0
  • Gas Electric (coach/baggage)
  • Hopper
  • Flat
  • Reefer
  • Stock car
  • Caboose
  • Coach
  • Baggage
  • Pullman
  • Diner
  • Observation
  • Power unit for Gas Electric or MU cars
  • Fibre tie strip
  • Midlin track kits

That last item is interesting as Midlin had quit advertising their OO track products several years earlier; most likely this was old stock that Stark or Donnelley had obtained to fill out the OO line.

Following that ad, so far as I can tell the final Scale-Craft ad is this one, from the January 1952 issue of MR. Note that it plugs the MU cars as new. This car was featured in the look at the 1950 Round Lake catalog (where it is illustrated), but it is possible that it did not finally get produced until 1952, which is why it is so rare. And, as the ad says, “watch for many other new items in the near future.”

Related to that MU car, I have an updated link. There is a type of passenger truck sideframe that is very rarely seen among Scale-Craft items. This article has much more on these plain bearing truck sideframes, and if you scroll to the end of the article I have added a photo of a variation of this with a different truck mounting. Perhaps the odd mounting seen on this sideframe relates to the very late MU car production?

To close (and jump ahead slightly in our story), Kemtron ultimately purchased the residual of Scale-Craft OO by 1954. More on that may be found in this article.

When this series continues the topic is that of “what happened.”

Continue in 1951-52 series

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