Joseph R. Matthews started General Models Corp. (GMC) in 1943 in Wheaton, Il. Matthews had just
been medically discharged from the United States military and his hobby was model railroading.
He thought that the concept of
direct marketing kits to the end user so that they could build their own train cars could be profitable.
He started making and selling both HO and 'O' gauge products. GMC also became a wholesale distributor of
other manufacturer's products. The company motto was "Transportation in Miniature".
Matthews borrowed money from his brothers in-law to start the business. The rapid success of the
company allowed him to then borrow additional funds from a bank. The business grew and had to move to
3 larger facilities in one year. Matthews appeared on the cover of Model Railroading Magazine 3 times
At first only 'O' scale rail cars were built. General Models car construction utilized wood bodies and brass or cast details.
They made their own trucks insulated for 2-rail operation. The reefer car roofs had 4-parts and there was no hardware
details such as door handles or hinges. Detail included steps, 6-rung ladders, plastic roof cat walks, retainer valves with
piping, car-end reporting mark decals and correct style brake wheels. Eventually a decision was made to build and market
steam locomotive and diesel engines. Business was good and product was being distributed and sold-out all
over the United States, especially by Christmas of 1945. Because of material shortages due to the war,
it was difficult to get enough copper for the engine wiring. Matthews gambled by trying the black market,
and bought what he thought was 3 railcar loads of copper. It was never delivered. Matthews was
devastated and he spent 6 months in a sanitarium to recover. The loss forced the company to file
for bankruptcy. Matthews did eventually pay back the bank everything, however it took 30 years for him
to do this.
General Models Corp. packaged, marketed and sold the Atwater Models General Motors F-3 diesel
loco units in 'O' gauge. These were super detailed die-cast engines first developed by Frank Libuse, Jr.
of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and released in 1947, before
Lionel released their Bakelite molded models. The dies for these models
initially bore the Atwater Models logo, but these dies were eventually reworked to bear the GMC
casting mark. They were made of a pressure die-cast zinc alloy that consisted of 5 tongue-and-groove pieces.
Literature proclaimed that the kit could be assembled with just a screw driver, as all holes were pre-drilled.
The engines featured operating headlights, Mars light, number boards, and marker lights. Die-cast
trucks with self-aligning replaceable bronze axle bearings in the truck journals were also featured. At the time,
these models were considered to be the most highly detailed and true to form F unit diesels ever created in 'O' scale.
The engines included a Miller Laboratories permanent magnet motor for 2 rail DC operation, with
the ability to utilize a rectifier for AC operation, and a wire addition to facilitate 3 rail operation.
They used a hand reverse. It was priced at $60 for a powered A unit, $40 for a dummy A unit,
$55 for a powered B unit, and $35 for a dummy B unit. Atwater Models had also planned to create E-7 diesels in 'O' scale as
well, but these model locomotives were never delivered. The fate of Atwater Models of Milwaukee, WI, or how GMC obtained
the F unit dies from them is unknown. In 1950 Matthews published a series of monthly magazines called 'The O-Gager'. In
these magazines the GMC 'O' scale line was promoted along with other scale railway advertisers. The magazines also contained
articles on these products. Supposedly this magazine had 18,000 subscribers. Frank Libuse Jr., the creator of the Atwater
F units, is listed in the magazine as 'Chief Engineer at GMC'.
In the fall of 1948 General Models Corporation made a very realistic looking
electric powered die-cast 'O' gauge scale model of the EMD 1,000 horsepower diesel yard switcher engine.
There were 3 rail as well as 2 rail versions, and it was advertised as capable of running on 'O', 'O-27',
'O-72' and Gargraves track, however, it is known that these locomotives had some difficulty navigating Lionel
type switches. The engine featured a worm drive, and the ads proclaimed that it was the
first 'O' gauge switcher for tin-plate operation with this feature. It also sported a 7-pole motor
and sprung wheels "for equalized operation". A nice feature was the operating lights. The switcher had
sequencing dual light operation so that when the engine was moving forward, only the front headlight illuminated,
but when it moved in reverse, only the rear light illuminated. This feature worked in conjunction with
the 3 position reversing mechanism (forward, reverse and neutral). Front and rear knuckle couplers,
dual smokestacks, a brass bell and simulated horn were also included. The reversing unit was cleverly controlled and
activated by rotating the second smokestack. The switcher came in unpainted
black and sold for $35 ready-to-run or for $29.50 in kit form. The first units produced were fitted with the motor
placed vertically in the middle of the chasis and also featured straight cut gears and utilized a speedometer
cable driveshaft extending from the motor to the power truck. 2-rail versions featured scale pilots with a small
rectangular opening for a scale coupler, while the 3-rail versions were fitted with a longer slot opening to facilitate wider
coupler swing on narrow radius tinplate 3-rail track.
It is beleived that General Models Corp. had this switcher in
development as early as 1945. Interviews with Al Pittman have revealed that he was approached to put
an 'O' gauge motor into production around this time for General Models Corp. that would be used in a
diesel switcher. But due to GMC's inability to raise sufficient capital during those lean years,
that deal fell through. The pickup slide for the 3 rail version of the General Models Corp. switcher
was made for them by Thomas Industries of Shawnee, Ok. Because the switcher
is basically unmarked, except for the Thomas name appearing on the side of the slide, many collectors
mistake the General Models EMD as being manufactured by Thomas Industries. An interesting claim
about this GMC engine is that in photos of the 1949 Lionel Showroom layout
there appears a similar looking switcher. Since Lionel didn't actually make or sell a switcher
until 1949, it is believed that the switcher appearing in the photo is possibly a GMC model.
Whether or not it actually is the General Models
Corp. NW2 switcher appearing in the Lionel Showroom photos, Lionel moved at full speed to come out
with their own version and avoid lost sales revenue to the hobby market once they saw what GMC had
built. Once again Lionel was prodded to innovate by a competitor.
In the late 1940's, GMC acquired the 'O' gauge tooling of respected manufacturer
Varney. In 1949 GMC produced a kit from this tooling for an 'O' gauge brass
B&O 10-wheeler Atlantic 4-6-0 Steam locomotive with insulated wheels for running on 2 rail.
Varney had originally sold their 10-wheeler for $100. In 1950 GMC listed it for $38.75 to $44.50. It came
with a Pittman DC motor, but for $.50 to cover postage, the manufacturer would swap
it out for a 12 volt A/C motor if desired. Other steam locomotive 'O' gauge kits were developed by GMC from the 10-wheeler
casting and tools. These included an Atlantic 4-4-2, Pacific 4-6-2, Mountain 4-8-2 and articulated 2-6-6-4. Kits were sold as
complete, mechanism only, boiler only, or tender only.
GMC made a limited run of 100 of the articulated 2-6-6-4 steam locomotive model kits. It had been in development
starting in 1948 and took two years to complete. A picture of this model appeared on the cover of the All-Nation Hobby Shop's
'O' gauge Catalogue 8th edition. The 2-6-6-4 prototype was originally built in 1934 by the Lima Locomotive Works.
It was intended for use in high speed freight service. Only 60 of them were actually ever built.
In the GMC model just the rear 6 drivers were powered. The literature issued by GMC stated that the model was designed to run
on a 36" radius track with just normal boiler overhang. Overall length with tender, coupler to coupler was 29½".
Weight was 11¼ lbs. It featured a GMC free rolling worm drive, and was available with either a General 200 series
AC/DC or DC only electric motor. The boiler was a super detailed Adams casting. The drivers were 70" Cadmium plated with
steel rims. The tail beam of the frame was made of cast brass and was designed to float above the trailing truck assembly.
Cost complete with tender was listed as $125. It was promoted in the 'O-Gager' magazine as "the finest locomotive ever put
on the market".
GMC manufactured and sold a unique looking Pollock hot metal car kit in HO gauge.
This was a detailed scale model of a prototype car used by large steel mills to transfer molten steel
from blast furnaces to the ingot pouring area, or to the foundry for shaping and hardening. The car
featured an operating tilting ladle and removable cover, was constructed of die-cast and machined
steel welded sheets, and could be fitted with AAR type trucks.
The Mac was an operating hand car sold by General Models Corp. that cost
$1.95. This low end 'O' gauge 3-rail item had a two-segment motor and would just run in
forward. It was made of die-cast Zamac and featured an operating headlight. Another similar item by GMC was the small $5.95
Elec-Traction Street car. It came in 2 variations for 'O' or 'S' gauge track. It was made of two color plastic - red roof with
yellow sides and featured an operating headlight and a trolley pole on the roof. Both the hand car and the trolley
operating powered units came ready-to-run but required a push to get started. These products were acquired when GMC purchased
the inventory of EMCO Products of New York.
In 1950 Jim Wilson, owner of All-Nation Hobbies, acquired General Models Corporation at bankruptcy auction
to add to its manufacturing line. All-Nation continued making, improving and selling the 'O' scale F unit kits, EMD Switcher kits and the
4-6-0 10-wheeler, 4-4-2 Atlantic, 4-6-2 Pacific, 4-8-2 Mountain steam outline loco kits. They added 4-4-0 American and
2-6-2 Prairie steamers, all evolved from the original Varney 10-wheeler. They did not produce the 2-6-6-4 articulated.
After he recovered from the trauma of GMC, Joseph Matthews went to work for the A.C. Nielsen Co. where he eventually retired.
During his time there, Matthews signed up Walt Disney and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to subscription contracts for the
Nielsen T.V. ratings system. During the time he was in the model train business Matthews had serverd as President of the Model
Railroader Manufacturers Association.
Original GMC models and un-built kits are fairly rare, but not as collectible as their scarcity would presume. The most
commonly found are the EMD switchers. The articulated 2-6-6-4 steam loco is perhaps the rarest, since only 100 were ever produced.
Experienced scale model builders oftentimes have some of the GMC products in their collections, and many take joy in the challenge
of finding and building the un-assembled kits, or in restoring and super-detailing the F units and steamers. The abundance of modern day
detailed brass and plastic injection molded 'O' scale ready-to-run models in the marketplace that are manufactured in the Orient
and sold by the more established companies like MTH, Lionel, Weaver,
Atlas, Bachmann, and Sunset Models/3rd Rail has made it
much easier for hobbyists to obtain scale models of the sort that GMC and Joseph R. Matthews set out to produce. Finished GMC kits
that have been modified with readily available detail parts for those who wish to make sure that every single brake line, steam line,
builders plate and small part is located on their model often outshine many of the intricately detailed brass imports of current times.
However, the original GMC steamers survived and live on through the efforts of some smaller companies. In the
1990's All-Nation Manufacturing was closed down by then owner Bill Pope and the steam line of kits was sold off. It was initially
acquired by George Sennhauser of Babbitt, MN who created the Babbit Railway Models name and reintroduced the line. Sennhauser continued
to refine the products greatly. In 1993 the company was sold again, this time to Boyce Yates in Kentucky who renamed the line Babbitt
Loco works. Yates continued the line under the Babbitt name for several years. Babbitt Railway and Supply Company
was located at 715 Barger St in Mayfield KY. The line consisted of the 4-6-0, 4-4-0, 4-6-2, 4-4-2, 2-6-0, and 4-8-2, all using 70” drivers,
cast bronze boilers, NWSL gearing, three different cast aluminum or sheet brass tenders, and brass and white metal details. Babbit Models
was the last supplier of these 6 former GMC/All-Nation Steam loco kits and detail parts through the late 1990's. Many 2-rail 'O' Scalers
considered these loco kits as top of the line. As of June 2010 Bill Wade of Bill's Train Shop (BTS) in West Virginia
http://www.btsrr.com/ owned the GMC/All-Nation/Babbitt line of locomotives
and parts supplies. Plans were being developed to reintroduce the line with new castings (likely urethane resin).