Model Railroading in the 50s and 60s.

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NP2626

Active Member
#1
Model Railroading from the 50s onward.

Along with my posts about: How many articles John Allen wrote in Model Railroader, Did you build a layout when you were a kid, Sentimental Journey: DC power Packs, Upgrading old freight Equipment, etc... I think I have shown that I enjoy taking looks back to what was available, how things where done and who was doing them, when I started in this hobby. This thread will be simple observations about the hobby back in those times, from the use of Model Railroader's Digital Archives. I am looking through all the issues published since April of 1950, the year and month I was born. As of today's date, January 28th, 2017, I am through March of 1959. It is slow going, as I'm finding so much interesting stuff. I'm doing this, not because I feel that these where better times than today; but, because doing so is giving me a deeper sense of the history of the hobby! It is very enjoyable to me, to see things as they came about, who were the big players back when, what was available and mostly just appreciating the fact that people would simply make things that were not available at the time!

By all means if you have comments to make, chime right in!

First of all, the hobby of HO model Railroading wasn't dominated by companies such as Athearn and Roundhouse yet; however, Roundhouse's 0-6-0 switcher had been on the market for quite a few years already and certainly was available in April of 1950. Surprisingly, Ulrich was producing die cast metal kits, ther kits were not cast resin as they are today. Lionel advertised O-27 equipment in Model Railroader back then. One of the largest manufacturers at this time was Tru-Scale! They made milled basswood track/road bed and had many other model railroad items. Silver Streak was a division of Tru-Scale back then. It was just as likely you would see cover shots with Al Kalmbach; or, Lynn Westcott along with other notable Model Railroading folks. O gauge was more prevalent than HO back in this era and advertisements for TT equipment were fairly regular. What surprises me most is modelers would determine that they needed a 4-6-0 for their "Busted Flatts RR" and get busy making one from what ever material was available (mostly brass). That modeler railroaders where innovative and resourceful far beyond how we are today is demonstrated on almost every page of the magazine! Varney, along with Tru-Scale maybe would have been considered "Big Players". Bowser and John English where around and producing locomotives as was Penn Line.
 
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NP2626

Active Member
#2
I wonder how many people actually subscribe to the Model Railroader All Time Digital Archive?

In fact, I wonder if I am the only one?

Do you remember LePages Glue?
 
#3
Mark - I do not subscribe, as I don't have much spare time since I retired. Go figure! I actually still use some LePage products, but normally not on modeling projects.
You are, with your searches, in the midst of an era that includes some articles written by a man I met a couple of times in Dallas, Bill McClanahan. My dad took me to see his "Texas & Rio Grande Western" layout several times, as he knew him well. We first met him together at Hall's Hobby House, run by the late great Bobbye Hall. I was about ten years old at the time (1962). You had to climb a narrow staircase into his attic to see it. It was that layout that got me hooked into HO, although I didn't actually start modeling for 20 years after. He also wrote a book about model railroading scenery in the 50's I think, but I don't remember the title. In real life, he was a sports writer and cartoonist for "The Dallas Morning News".

Willie
 
#4
About a year ago, I was given a gift from an older fellow who I operated on a layout with regularly. It was his entire collection of MRR mags from 1950 to the present, all in pristine condition.

I cannot put them down!!!!! The ones from the early 50's are my favorite. I am completely obsessed/fascinated with anything from John Armstrong... he was a genius.

Edit: I'm 40


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
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Y3a

Stuck in the 1930's
#5
I remember that the late 1950's HO was becoming to be more reliable, and more kits were being introduced all the time. Varney, and Bowser both made die cast kits, with motors that just sucked! North West Short Line solved that, with better gear boxes and motors. Cal-Scale, Kemtron, Precision Scale and Bowser produced lost wax castings of the various Stesm loco appliances and detail parts. Kemtron even produced a brass Mogul kit! Athearn was king of plastic diesels, and their blue box kits were the staple of most all model railroaders. Champ made lots of decals too. The big improvement in HO was getting away from brass track. By the late 1960's, experimenters were making momentum controllers. Modern improvements in manufacturing made products better. N scale didn't really catch on until the mid 1970's. Kaydee couplers in N scale helped out. The late 60's also saw the ramping up of smaller manufacturers like Westerfields, and C&F making resin kits of lesser known rolling stock. Several plastics companies were making plastic and cast buildings like DPM. Woodland scenics expanded their scenery products, structures, and castings.

My first trains were American Flyer. They were fun in the early to mid 1960's but wasn't as 'scale' as I would have liked. Second try was with Auroras Postage Stamp trains. I also tried my hand at building an articulated engine from a kit! Arbour Models C&O H-8 2-6-6-6. NEVER got it to run well. I finally sold all of it off in the mid 1980's to get into RC airplanes. THEN...I got a job at a local hobby shop (To get a discount) where the HO scale trains got my attention. Ended up buying 8 of the Oriental Ltd "Powerhouse" series N&W Y3 2-8-8-2's. I added more details, repainted, added DCC and ran them on several layouts. When I bought my most recent house, it had a large loft, which became my first layout in years. With changes to my job situation I had no money to continue, so It's being torn down and sold off except for a few pieces of brass.
 
#6
To your list of early manufacturers I would add Varney and Aristocraft. I have a number of their engines and rolling stock and find the detail, while not up to modern standards, quite acceptable.
 

NP2626

Active Member
#7
I saw my first reference to Nickle Silver rail in the beginnings of 1959. Mantua was one of the big players by this time. America's Hobby center (AHC) got it's start in the 50s sometime, the first issue I've come across with two full page ads for AHC was in the December, 1953 issue. If you where a Lionel guy, Madison Hardware of N.Y. N.Y. was a mail order house you might do business with. Ambroid made many HO kits for the model railroader as well as their famous cements for both wood and plastic. In the later part of the 1950s Model Railroader started a series in every issue where the discussed the paint schemes for many diesel locomotives by railroad along with this series they also looked into steam engine equipment. By the late 1950s, Atlas had asserted itself as one of the premier producers of both sectional track and flexible HO Track. In fact other than hand laying, Tru-Scale track, Atlas was maybe the only producer of finished "Snap Track" in curves straight and Turnouts.
 
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NP2626

Active Member
#8
Mark - I do not subscribe, as I don't have much spare time since I retired. Go figure! I actually still use some LePage products, but normally not on modeling projects.
You are, with your searches, in the midst of an era that includes some articles written by a man I met a couple of times in Dallas, Bill McClanahan. My dad took me to see his "Texas & Rio Grande Western" layout several times, as he knew him well. We first met him together at Hall's Hobby House, run by the late great Bobbye Hall. I was about ten years old at the time (1962). You had to climb a narrow staircase into his attic to see it. It was that layout that got me hooked into HO, although I didn't actually start modeling for 20 years after. He also wrote a book about model railroading scenery in the 50's I think, but I don't remember the title. In real life, he was a sports writer and cartoonist for "The Dallas Morning News".

Willie
Willie, Bill McClanahan's book was entitled Scenery for Model Railroads, I still have a copy. He also did cartoons for Model Railroader that where done in the 1950s.
 
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NP2626

Active Member
#9
Another fascinating thing I have seen in the pages of old Model Railroader magazines is designs of various structures by people who submitted a scratch building article to the magazine and that structure became a kit done by some manufacturer later on. An example, of which there are many, is Atlas' HO 702 Track Side Shanty kit. Everything that was included in the scratch building article was duplicated in the kit, even the two fellows out front playing checkers, at least my version of it had the figures when I purchased it back in the 1990s. Many of the water tank kits available today had their beginnings as a scratch building project in Model Railroader Magazine from the 50s and 60s; or even earlier! There is a wood Coal Mine Kit that I saw advertised over the years and was offered at one time and the same kit was offered by Faller, Model Power, Tyco and AHM. This kit was originally designed by Jack Work! Many of us know about John Allen's two stall "Gorre Engine House" that became a Kit by Revell, back in this same time period. Revell later modified the kit some, to become Superior Bakery.

The list goes on and on as far as items that appeared as scratch building articles in Model Railroader Magazine and probably Railroad Model Craftsman that eventually became kits offered by various manufacturers, some where even offered by multiple manufacturers!
 

Y3a

Stuck in the 1930's
#10
I think the reason Model railroading is waning is the lack of skills and discipline of the youngsters. If they can't have it ASAP, they won't play. Same can be said for RC Model airplanes. Hardly anyone knows how to build a stick & Tissue rubber band powered airplane. I made a healthy side business of building Bowser steam engine kits. Most folks were afraid of getting in over their heads, afraid to actually LEARN something. I kept jacking up my price but they just kept on coming. i probably built 80 kits. Bowsers Challenger and Big Boy kits produced a VERY heavy loco that would pull everything. You just couldn't have any lightly built balsa wood bridges, and those engines would crush them! In the early 1990's Bowser offered a correct boiler/cab for their PRRR I1 2-10-0. Even Bowsers 0-4-0 docksider was a good puller when compared to the rest.
 

NP2626

Active Member
#11
I don't know that it's a lack of skills and discipline, as they are accumulated by doing. I think they lack the desire to learn how to do it. Like you, I have built many locomotives from kits, MDC Roundhouse, Athearn, Mantua and Bowser kits and took RTR locos and kit bashed them into things they were not. I model the Northern Pacific, not a very popular railroad. Back when locomotive kits where available, I would hear people say "Oh, I could never do that"! I thought what a stupid statement! They gave up before they even started!

I was big in Radio Control Airplanes. I could see the hand writing on the wall back in the early 90s when so many almost ready to fly airplanes where supplanting the kits and left that hobby to get into this one. RTR has far supplanted kits, so the same did happen here.

This replacement of kits with "Ready Built" locomotives and rolling stock, is maybe why I love looking through the pages of the old magazines. I truly do drool over what was available back then! I wonder is what we do now, even really Modeling? From my point of view, if you buy everything already built, you might be building a miniature railroad; but, the modeling part ceases to exist.
 
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NP2626

Active Member
#13
By 1960, where I am now with MR's All Time Archive, Athearn is claiming they have just under 200 kits available to the modeler. Mantua has occupied the back of the front cover for years now. There are many small manufacturers providing locomotives in brass and plastic. Rivarossi has hit the pavement running and are being imported by Associated Hobby Manufacturers, Inc. (AHM). In reading the July 1960 issue, I came across an obituary for Al Kalmbach's Wife Bernice who had died on April 29th. Kalmbach publishing now has ten books on building model railroads. Essentially, these ten books where standard and along with a few newer books where still the back bone of their library when I stated building my layout back in 1988. The editors have changed from John page in April of 1950 when I was born, to Paul Larson. The large book "Cyclopedia- Volume I, Steam Locomotives" is a new publication and cost $20.00, expensive back then; however, far cheaper than what I paid for my copy new.

I like how the model railroaders of the day came up with the names for their railroads and the towns they served with some imagination! Bugtussel, Bruzednbleedn, West Agony, Gorre, Daphetid, Gum Stump, Snow Shoe. I also like the fact that although they made their railroads realistic to a point, it was more important to express they're imaginations. Not like now, where we might be scolded for doing so, by the rivet counting modeling public!

Cal Scale is marketing brass casting detail parts. Central Valley is also up and running and started out selling both freight car and passenger car trucks. Starting in 1960, every cover on the magazine is now printed in color. Color covers had been used irregularly, previously.
 
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montanan

Whiskey Merchant
#14
It was an interesting time for model railroading. I did have a Lioner set like most of us that went up at Christmas time, but after riding with my relatives on the railroad I wanted something more permanent. I had a space in the back of my dad's shop where I had room to make a permanent layout. My relatives would all bring me back track, locomotives and rolling stock when they returned from their trips. We really had nothing in the way of hobby shops at all where we lived. I can well remember all of the different brand available back then. I think Tyco and Varney were the majority of what I had on my layout back then.

I went into the service in 1964 and there was no layout, but I did subscribe to MR and RMC to keep up with what was going on in the hobby. When I got out and finally had room for a layout, I was limited to N scale because we were stuck in an apartment.

When I got back into HO scale after moving back home to Montana, Athearn was probably offering some of the better locomotives and freight equipment. The majority of my freight cars are the old blue box kits, but I also picked up a number of wood kits from Silver Streak and also some Tichy kits. Ne new locos and freight equipment available today is really some nice looking stuff, but can get pricey.

I am glad that I did accumulate what I did many years ago as I don't know if I would be willing to pay some of the prices of what is available today. Unfortunately, I have no idea of what happened to my HO scale stuff from the 50's, but compared to what is now available, that stuff was from the stone ages.

I do stili subscribe to MR and RMC as I do enjoy the layout visits adn photos of layouts, but don't know how much longer I'll subscribe. I am a DC operator and more and more of the magazines are devoted to DCC and I have no interest in DCC.

It was a lot of fun modeling back then and I did learn a lot over the years that helped me build what I have today.

Model railroading is a great hobby.
 

JazzDad

Gandy Dancer
#15
Myfrst HO scale layout began in the 60's: Tyco sectional brass nailed to a 4X8 sheet of plywood. It was in the basement. (Can you say corrosion?)

It wasn't until around 1970, when one of the folks from Model Railroader Magazine visited my school, that I really got into modelling. I realized that the "pizza cutter" wheels of AHM (Rivarissi) engines only ran on track that scaled out to be about 18 inches high. And I HATED rubber traction tires.

The nearest hobby shop was 26 miles away, and with a bicycle for my sole transportation, mail order was the way to go. I got lots of stuff from an outfit called "Hobbies for Men". (I know, today that sounds like a firm where you'd order sex toys.) And your order took 6-8 weeks to arrive! When the order finally came, there would be a catalogue in the box, and the whole process began again. Step 1: Drool over the huge variety of stuff. Step 2: Determine how long to save the paper route money to buy something...
 
#16
There is no question that the current crop of model locomotives generally run better than those with open-frame motors back in the '50's. OTOH, I decry/deplore the lack of steam locomotive kits from Bowser and especially Mantua. I have more Mantuas than room to run them. I loved kitbashing their Mikados into 2-10-2 and 2-10-4, and 4-6-2's into 4-8-4's. I was fortunate to latch on to those 20mm Canon coreless motors when they were still available. Fitted them to the Mikes, and the various ten-coupled locomotives, and have now fitted two of them with WOWsound, with probably more to come. Likewise, scratch-building a meatpacking plant out of balsawood, including scribing each course of bricks with a #2 pencil was challenging, but fun! Don't see much of that anymore. :(
 

NP2626

Active Member
#17
In January of 1961 I am seeing that MDC Roundhouse has produced their line of Ore Cars, both inside and outside braced types. I have some of these very early designs and they have a more scale appearance than there later versions. Of significance is the hopper doors on the inside of the car. On one under-frame, the coupler boxes where too narrow to install Kadee #5s, so the entire coupler box was filed off to make room for a Kadee coupler box. There are advertisement for Walthers Passenger cars with full interiors. $6.95 for HO and $16.95 for O scale. Selley is offering a short open platform metal passenger cars that are remarkably well detailed. Brass manufacturers are very well represented. By this time I would say that MRC has become the industry leader for power packs. The January 1961 issue has a very fine article on Interlocking and signalling plants. The Diesel Color Charts are still going on in the magazine. It appears that Linn Westcott took over as editor in February of 1961
 
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NP2626

Active Member
#18
I'm looking at 1962 now. I see that Northwest Shortlines is offering a brass Northern Pacific W-3 Mikado. In fact, this is the first time I have seen NWSL advertise in the magazine. There is also quite a large assortment of brass being offered now: Gem, Akane, LMB, Tenshodo & United, imported by PFM, Max Gray and many others show up in the pages. There may have been previous advertisements in previous issues; but, this is the first time I have noticed the advertisement from Little Engines who made the back yard kits for live steam you can ride on. I also see there is an advertisement for a Walthers Catalog and there is information on TT by a company called Rokal. What they advertise has a distinctly European look to it.

I am amazed at the layouts and project undertaken by modelers of the time. Their ability to produce highly detailed rolling stock, locomotives, structures and layouts is amazing! Most of the layouts are spaghetti bowls with most of the table tops covered in track; however, this was how it was done back then.

I also noticed that in the 1962 Model Railroaders, there doesn't seem to be a Masthead, where the editors and contributors are listed, why not, I have no idea.
 
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NP2626

Active Member
#19
I'm into 1963 now. This is the first year that I was exposed to Model Railroader and there are two issues I specifically remember. They are the June and September issues. The June issue had a discussion on Jack Alexanders O scale layout in an article entitled The Restless Railroad and starting in the mid 1930s. The fist picture shows two rail O scale track with the raised outside third rail carrying the power. His layout was essentially a multi tracked oval. In 1940 Jack started messing around with On3 and adding scenery, which I guess was seldom seen on model railroads back this early in time. Then later, he added On2 to the layout in the 1950s. Eventually he tore out all the standard gauged track and he became a narrow gauge modeler. I still remember poring over his track plan and being very impressed.

He became interested in the Colorado Southern and his locomotives had the prototype's spark arresters on them.

A few pages after this article there was a "Dollar Car Project" of a wood Gondola by Jack Work. This was an interesting article for kid who didn't have much money!
 
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NP2626

Active Member
#20
In the September 1963 issue of Model Railroader there are two articles that really tickled my fancy. The first was an article named "Mudhen Metamorphosis: A free-lanced Cross-Kit loco". I found this article to be interesting, because it created such an interesting locomotive. It was an Inside Frame Narrow Gauge 2-4-4 Mason Boogy like locomotive that seemed like a 13 year old kid could actually make! I never did even attempt try to start on one; but, I looked over this article many, many times.

The real "Clincher" for me about this issue of Model Railroader was a layout that would influence me to this day. It was the "Bellefonte and Snowshoe, a railroad planed for solo operation". The layout was described by it's owner, Chuck Youngkurth who I understand died here not to long ago! I thought the photos provided where some f the most realistic photos of a layout I had ever seen. Chuck talked about the history of the real Bellefonte and Snowshoe railroad in the Allegheny Region of Pennsylvania not to far away from where Horseshoe curve was located in the 1860s. I guess the railroad had been associated with the Pennsylvania railroad and shared trackage near Central City.

Chuck had built a few layouts dedicated to the Bellefonte and Snowshoe RR. The first was a simple 1 foot X 6 foot switching layout with a switch back separating the towns of "Gum Stump" from "Snowshoe". This layout was further developed into a Dog Bone with with the switching layout located in the center. Chucks final Bellefonte and Snowshoe layout fit on three walls of a 12 foot by 14 foot room. This final layout was a folded dog bone with a yard at Snowshoe. He used 18 inch radius as a minimum. Chuck was believer in switching puzzles, so the yard at Snowshoe would have been difficult to work. However, I loved how the railroad was set-up and to this day, find the Bellefonte and Snowshoe layout to be very interesting. Unlike many layouts of the time, this one was not a Spaghetti Bowl. I thought the scenery was totally believable.

If you've been in this hobby for awhile, you probably have layouts from the pages of whatever publication that have influenced you. Although I did not ever build another Bellefonte and Snowshoe layout, there was a time when this certainly could have happened for me as I liked Chuck Youngkurth's layout so well! What was a layout that influenced you?
 
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