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

Sunday, May 3, 2020

3 brands of OO Switch kits

One topic I have not written about extensively is that of vintage track products in American OO. Track was an obvious concern of OO gaugers of the past, and they built many a layout with the products available to them.

Three brands of switch kits came up in some recent digging, Famoco, Tru-Scale, and UMPCO, which serve to illustrate the great, the good, and the bad of these products.

First I’ll mention that all of them are built with traditional OO rail. The height is that of modern Code 125 rail, but the profile is fatter. I have read that this type of rail was originally developed as O scale third rail, it is substantial stuff! It was widely used back in the day in steel and in brass (although I use modern Code 100 rail on my layout, and notably Mantua and Midlin produced track lines in OO in Code 100 rail, which is a more correct size). These kits all have brass rail.

The best of the three brands featured today is new to this site! So I’m happy to present to you UMPCO (Universal Model Products Co.), a post-war line. The box says they are located in Philadelphia, and the line is listed in the catalog of E&H Stores, also of Philadelphia. There we see listings for:

  • Turnout, brass, #6
  • Fibre tie strip
  • Spikes, off-set head

The instruction sheet indicates that they also sell WYE, #4, and #8 turnouts – but it is a generic instruction sheet, those may have been available in other scales or by special order. The box highlights that they sell precision and quality parts, and for sure this top strapped turnout kit is very usable today.

Also selling a good, solid product was Tru-Scale (overview here). This is their SK-8 switch kit which is set up to use with their roadbed. Why I rate it good only is the points have come unsoldered, broken at the little joint at the end near the frog, really a function of using too many small parts. It could be fixed certainly, but the UMPCO switch by comparison is more solidly put together. Also you have to manage all the gauging a bit more, as it is not strapped for installation.

The bad switch of the three is that produced by Famoco (overview here). Of all the parts in the box, I think really only the stock rails and maybe the tie strip are usable today -- and probably even when the product was brand new! It was a nice idea they had, the points and frog are die cast (!) in zinc (!!) or similar casting material. The castings look nice, anyway, but the big issue to my mind is that this material does not conduct electricity very well. The guard rails are also castings, but this time in brass or bronze, they could still be used but seem to my eye to be of an unusual design. On the whole, Famoco must have thought it to be an upgrade on the standard switch kits of other makers, it was different! But really this is not a great product.

The whole topic is a niche topic to be sure. I’ve written on two other brands of standard rail OO turnouts before, Scale-Craft and Trackmaster, more on those below:

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