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

Sunday, May 4, 2014

1953, OO Making a Comeback, Part I: New Products, Old Products

To start off with an impressive new product, the Kemtron GP-7 was introduced in 1953 and is first mentioned in print in the Model Railroader Trade Topics column in September. The item is about their large group of new products from Kemtron in O, OO, HO, and TT gauges, and begins as follows:
Rare is the case, indeed, that a manufacturer hides his light under a bushel basket; nevertheless we did come across such a case recently. After some persuasion, Mr. Levon Kemalyan of Kemtron arrived with a suitcase full of his company’s products. Some items have been in production for quite awhile, others are still in the planning stage. 
After several long looks at the products, it was decided to depart somewhat from the usual Trade Topics procedure by giving readers and over-all description of some of the products to be followed by itemized reviews of individual products in the standard Trade Topics style.
This scan is a portion of a larger picture and shows our main item of interest, the Kemtron GP-7. In the article the item on it reads “second row right: OO gauge (that’s right, OO) Electro-Motive GP-7 road-switcher.” Earlier they had noted “All models and parts are made from lost-wax brass castings with the exception of the diesel and tender bodies, which are made from photoengraved brass.” More on this great model may be found here.

Fred Schorr was out in front as a supplier trying to sell these kits. The F-3 instructions I have reflect his sales of the GP-7 model, which was first specifically mentioned in his ad the same month in RMC. However, actually he had been marketing the model already within his network of OO gauge connections and it was not a new item in September! In my files I found this highly interesting item. It is a combination of a printed item that must have been developed by Kemtron which was over stamped with more from Schorr. The original delivery date of this model was to be in February of 1953, and the photo here is of the pilot model under construction. It seems that a number of people already had the model on order with deposit through Fred Schorr, with delivery “on or about” February 1. So for sure this model was rolling on a number of OO layouts in 1953 and was known to be on the way I bet in late 1952! It was really a cutting edge model at the time, with a detail level far ahead of pretty much anything ever offered in OO previously.

While so far as I can tell not advertised in the hobby press, the Johann 2-8-2 was also introduced in 1953. The original sales flyer was dated October 20, 1953 and is quite interesting to look back on today. He starts,
Fellow OO Gauger:
This flyer is the first public announcement of a new OO loco. DON’T PASS OUT. For some months a light Mike, very similar to the World War I USRA type, has been in development, and the first section will be ready soon. This loco will not be one of the “one evening screwdriver” types. An ability to drill, tap, solder, rivet, and to use your head somewhat, will be in order. Accurate drilling (side rods) and milling (mainframe axle slots) has been done for you.
As most of us in OO know, mass production in our gauge is not feasible due to the high tooling costs as against low volume (in relation to the total number of model railroaders) of sales. This is unfortunate, but only too true. In working up this engine, my principles have been to purchase as many parts as possible, to use French sand castings in place of stampings (art bronze), and to eliminate as many expensive tools as proper design would allow. This makes limited, or job, production possible without getting into customizing, and thereby making the final price exorbitant.
It was to be sold in four sections. The first three sections built up the locomotive, and section 4 was a tender. Fifty of these locomotives were produced. A letter dated Jan. 5, 1954 from Johann states that the first section is “ready for immediate delivery and the 2nd section is almost ready,” so probably none of these were done and ready yet in 1953 but they were coming and another positive piece of OO gauge news. I have the complete blueprints; section one is dated 10-13-53 and the remaining sections have dates in January, July, and November of 1954. In the letter he notes “…the construction drawing is in progress. I spend quite a while on the drawing as I am building my own two (the original desire for two Mikes for myself started this whole affair) from the drawing and the resultant checking back and forth takes a while.” A built up example of this great model may be seen in this article.

A final new product to mention were the passenger car diaphragms by MHP. MHP (Monroe Hobby Products) had this product out in other scales in 1952 (HO, O, S) and appears to have added OO to the line in 1953. To quote the wording in their 1953 advertising, these were available in "all popular sizes." For more on this great product see this article.

Finally, Scale-Craft was still available, direct and through suppliers, but was advertised minimally by the latter. The OO market was small. Some of the ads mentioning S-C show hugely reduced prices.

The supplier most likely to mention Scale-Craft in their ads was E&H (Electronic & Hobbycraft) Stores. In MR in December they mention that their new catalog has “the most complete listing that we have yet seen” of OO. This is a scan of a Xerox of that one page of OO listings from their 1954 catalog, and as they say at the top of the page, “Yes – We still try to stock it.” A number of their most standard models were available, including the 4-8-4, the 4-6-0, and the 0-6-0 models. Noting also that they list other products as well, including the new Kemtron GP-7 and MHP diaphragms.

I mentioned that Johann had out a new product but no advertising. How did he actually market it to the OO gauge community? And how did that Kemtron item from Schorr seen above get circulated around months before anything appeared about the model in print? The answer to that and a look at some of the layout coverage in the hobby press when the series returns.

Continue reading in 1953 series

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