Scale-Craft Scale Model Trains was founded in 1933 by Elliott Donnelley when he acquired American Model Engineers,
Inc. Donnelley was a third generation Chicago printer and grandson of Richard Robert Donnelley of R.R. Donnelley,
the famous printers. He was born in 1903 and grew up in Lake Forest, Il. Donnelley lived there
his entire life, until his passing in 1975. He had a life-long enthusiasm for trains, which included being active
in preserving Shay locomotives at railroad museums such as the Illinois Railroad Museum and the Hesston Steam
Museum in Indiana. He also was active in live steam large-scale model railroading, and for two decades led a
regular live steam "club" on his estate off Waukegan Road in Lake Forest.
The company operated in Chicago, Libertyville and Round Lake, Illinois. The official name and corporate status
changed several times before WWII. The company went from being called Scale Models, Inc. to Scale-Craft Scale
Models, Inc., to Scale-Craft & Company. In 1939 the company was headquartered at 1516 South Wabash Ave. in Chicago.
The 75 page catalog that year included 'O' scale and 'OO' scale trains. These trains were highly detailed scale
model kits that were targeted toward adult male hobbyists that wanted realism on their operating layouts, not toys.
Donnelley wrote many still-notable educational and enjoyable articles on modeling for his catalogs and in Scale-Craft's
newsletter, "Blow Smoke".
A 1934 catalogue supplement issued in November touted the new bronze boiler casting and
cast aluminum tender for the Scale-Craft Hudson. The new locomotive casting was a single piece that included
the boiler, fire-box, cab, running boards, stack, sand and steam domes. It was believed that by incorporating
each of these components into the single casting it would shorten build times and permit a level of detail
never achieved previously in a scale model, such as the NYC Hudson. A Scale-Craft K4s pulled the 'Broadway Limited'
scale model train at the Chicago World's Fair Century of Progress Exposition of 1933. It ran for 150 days, 12
hours a day, 27 miles per day, more than 4,000 miles total, without a need for a single repair. With the exception
of motor bearings, this was a stock Scale-Craft model.
The 'O' scale Southern Pacific P-13 4-6-2 Pacific Type loco offered by Scale-Craft was a highly detailed model
of the prototype. It was accompanied by a 12-wheeled Vanderbilt type oil tender. The length of the locomotive
was 13", with tender being 10", the overall length of loco and tender was almost 23". The loco weighed 7 lbs.
4 oz., while the tender was 3 lbs. 8 oz. It required a minimum 36" radius track curve to run properly. It was
list priced in the catalog at $49.50 offered as a complete kit #K1462.
There were also 5 section kits offered for those hobbyists interested in building the model in phases, or for creating
a customized version. The Section One kit consisted of just the brass frame, gearing, drive wheels, side rods, main rods
and cylinder block. And the Section Two kit contained the valve gear, frame, pilot step, cross heads, piston rods, and motor.
These two kits combined provided the complete running chassis without boiler, domes, detail or cab. Each kit was in the $10 to
The Scale-Craft 1¼" ('O') scale locomotive frames utilized a patented two piece bronze casting with
milled seats for the driver axles and 3/16" wide axle bearings. Drive wheels were made of unchilled cast gray iron and
were 1⅝" in diameter. The valve gear was hand formed from German silver. Side rods were cast bronze, hand fitted,
and dull nickeled. They utilized a double steel worm and fibre worm gear mounted in a heavy cast bronze bracket for the
locomotive transmission. Motors were either standard 12 volt DC or 12-18 volt AC. The superstructure was rolled #20 gauge
sheet brass with cast bronze fittings. The recommended minimum track curve radius was 3' for passenger locos and 4' for
freight locos. Solid steel or brass rail was recommended. Outside third rail was standard, but 2-rail systems were
The Scale-Craft 'O' scale freight car kits included quite a few detail parts, and even paint. Unlike some other
manufacturers of freight kit's, Scale-Craft included complete trucks, fully assembled and ready to attach and run with each
car. Holes in parts were all pre-drilled, and complete machining of the cast parts was performed so that the builder
only had to worry about assembly. Fidelity to scale reproduction was done with emphasis. The 'O' gauge tank car
kits produced by Scale-Craft were very popular with hobbyists. They were modeled after the I.C.C. 103 8000 Gallon
Capacity tank car prototypes produced by the American Car Foundry, that were the most widely utilized on North American
railroads during this era. The tank was a one-piece casting that included a single dome and rivet detail. The underframe
was also a single piece casting. Details included ARA trucks and brake wheel. Trucks could be insulated for 2-rail
operation, or came un-insulated for 3-rail. The kits came in a multitude of options for decoration including Johnson
Refining Company of Cleveland, OK, Texaco, Phillips 66, Shell, Sinclair or Pure Oil and were priced at $3.95 each.
Many Scale-Craft kits were put together to serve as rolling stock for the Eastern Railroads scale train layout exhibit
at the 1939 NY World's Fair. Today these trains are very rare and highly sought after by scale collectors.
The Scale-Craft 50 Ton 'O' scale Steel box car was modeled after the ARA double sheathed steel box
car prototype. These cars were offered painted and lettered in complete kits, or as individual parts. Two types of kits
were offered - a Professional's Construction kit that required the builder to hand finish the wood and brass parts
that were only in rough fabricated condition, and to assemble the trucks, or the Hobby Construction kit that had all
parts in finished form, with brass parts that were pre-shaped and bent, and the included trucks were fully
assembled. The Professional's Construction kit for the box cars sold for $4.45 while the Hobby Construction kit was $6.95.
Donnelley's Scale-Craft was a pioneer in 'OO' gauge modeling. This was a 2-rail system introduced in 1937. The engines
were equipped with a 7 pole armature permanent magnet 24 volt DC motor. While this motor was already used in HO trains,
it had never been used in 'OO'. American 'OO' is 1/76 scale, ¾ inch (19mm) gauge. The size is about half way between
HO (1/87) and 'S' (1/64) scale. The initial offerings included a MEC 4-6-0, baggage car, coach, boxcar, hopper car, tank car,
and caboose. All of these were die cast with superb rivet detail and working doors and vestibule traps on the passenger cars
that were clearly milestones in the development of small scale models at the time. Initially everything was available
assembled or in kits, and in 1937 Scale-Craft offered two train sets, a passenger train (4-6-0, baggage, two coaches) and a
freight train(4-6-0, box car, tank car, hopper, and caboose). They were available assembled for $68.00 or in kit form for
$48.50 (a 24 volt AC transformer was extra for $17.50) they included a line of sectional track (straight and curved sections
only) on a metal base. This track was available until WWII.
When Lionel entered the 'OO' gauge train market a year later in 1938 they initially used modified
Scale-Craft 'OO' cars in their pre-production sets and catalog photos. These models were sold by Lionel with their own
decals. Donnelley discovered this when he saw the Lionel products at the F. A. O. Schwartz Toy store in New York.
As a result it was determined that Lionel actually infringed upon Scale-Craft patents for their truck design. Subsequently
Lionel had to pay Scale-Craft a royalty.
Subsequent Scale-Craft locomotive models in 'OO' included a sand cast bronze 4-6-2, which was a reworking of a
model originally produced by Herbert L. 'Red' Adams of Chicago. The line expanded quickly, to include (as freelance
variants of the 4-6-0) a 4-4-2 and a 4-6-4T suburban double ender, a sheet brass CWP&S heavy 0-6-0, and
a beautiful die-cast C&NW Class H 4-8-4. The Scale-Craft 4-8-4 was the largest die-cast steam locomotive ever offered
in American 'OO' scale. The final die cast car was a stock car. Later Scale-Craft cars, following the
initial die cast ones, exhibited considerable variety in materials and design. Their original wood reefer had a wooden
body with sand cast details and a die cast "skeleton" underframe, while the later version had stamped brass details
and a full die cast underframe. Their 50' flat also used a modified full die cast underframe with brass sides and a thick
wood floor. Joining the cast passenger cars were a Pullman sleeper, a diner, and an observation, all of which had
stamped steel sides. The die-casting process allowed for a much greater level of detail to be produced and
Scale-Craft boasted that the baggage cars had 1500 rivets, while the passenger coaches had 2000 rivets. The
coach was available with standard vestibules or open ends for suburban use, and the vestibule coach and baggage
cars were both available with either air conditioned or monitor type roofs. The monitor roof was made of wood and
metal and did require a bit of clean up and shaping to be performed by the modeler. With all these options, a
total of eight passenger cars were possible. And eight prewar freight cars were now part of the line as well.
The earliest freight cars equipped with the cast underframe are easily identifiable as they have the truck bolsters
placed farther in from the ends than later production cars. The passenger coach and baggage car kits were priced
at $3.75 each. Decals were available for 17 different major rail lines. Two-rail wheel insulation was standard
on the 'OO' gauge cars.
The Scale-Craft die-cast 4-8-4 locomotive in 'OO' was produced from 1939-42 with the model
#K1988. This kit was an amazingly faithful reproduction of the Chicago & NorthWestern RR class H 4-8-4. The
headlight and bell bracket were overscale, otherwise the model was an exact replica of the prototype. The
die-cast model kit included pilot, couplers, air pumps,
cylinder block, smokebox front, boiler and cab, tender body, frame and truck frames, and loco pilot and
trailing truck frames. The frame consisted of two formed, drilled and tapped steel sides with brass spacers
in-between. The superstructure came complete except for requiring the installation of handrails, headlight,
number plate, ladder, cab back, grab irons, whistle and generator. The 1st, 2nd and 4th driver axles were
sprung. Power for The loco was provided by a seven-pole universal motor, driving the number 3 axle through
a gear box mounted to the frame. A flexible rubber coupling connected the gear box and motor shafts. Reversing
was accomplished by a hand-reversing switch located in the tender. A reversing rectifier could be installed
in place of the hand-operated switch at very small cost. This model is very rare and hard to come by today.
The vast majority of Sale-Craft equipment is kit built. In 1940, a 12 volt AC/DC series-field (K&D
type) motor replaced the solid magnet motors. These were used with reversing switches or Nieter-Mallory
type field rectifiers for automatic reversing. Scale-Craft also sold rail, turnout parts, and fiber tie-strip.
While all Scale-Craft motive equipment was insulated for two rail operation, the locomotive kits included
instructions for modifying them for three rail operation.
Donnelley's Scale-Craft line was for do-it-yourselfers, who by the early 1930's no longer could afford
the Lionel product line of manufactured equipment. The company thrived through the Depression and the
rationing wartime years, but subsided during the return of prosperity after World War II, especially by
the early 1950's. For the baby-boomer children of the 1950's middle-class, manufactured model trains were
fairly routine in the household.
Scale-Craft acquired the Maxwell line of structure kits in 1939. Production of the 'OO' line was temporarily
halted in 1942. By 1946 the company was producing five 'O' gauge freight car kits and 11 passenger and freight cars
in 'OO' gauge. In 1946 the 'OO' line was sold to the west coast sales manager, Doug Douglas,
who moved operations to Hollywood, California. For a time business in California was good, but eventually
Donnelley purchased the line back and expanded it with several new offerings. Scale-Craft remained in the
Chicago area until the 1950's. In 1951 the 'O' gauge car side of the Scale-Craft line was acquired by
Thomas Industries who continued manufacture into the early 1960's. While Central
Locomotive Works of Chicago, IL acquired the 'O' scale line of locomotives. For a time the 'OO' gauge products
continued under the Scale-Craft name with manufacturing being handled by Gunnard Stark in Lake Forest, Il. The
'OO' gauge tooling and inventory was eventually sold to Kemtron in 1954. Kemtron
was already making 'OO' scale products, including a GP-7 in brass. However, 'OO' turned out to be a poor selling
product line for Kemtron, and by the 1960's it was completely phased out. Rumor has it that the Scale-Craft 'OO'
dies were destroyed to avoid having to pay property taxes on them.