I chose to set my model railroad in the late 1930s
somewhat indirectly: I was originally interested in modeling the high-traffic
World War II era, but wanted to try out my waybill generator
beforehand, not knowing how long it might take to work out the bugs.
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It wasn't long before I realized two things:
The 1930s, despite the slow economic conditions,
was a time of many transitions and innovations for America's railroads.
- How long it was going to take me to reach the 1940s.
- How little I knew about the 1930s.
Many of the conditions and transitions of the time
have a direct bearing on the equipment a model railroader selects for his
- Two-way train telephones were used for the first
time in 1937, by the Pennsylvania Railroad.
- Fluorescent lighting was first installed in U.S.
passenger equipment in 1938.
- New designs and types of freight cars were being
developed to cut cost and increase carrying capacity. Notable
among these were covered hopper cars and the B&O's famed "wagontop" box cars.
- Although still investing in conventional steam power,
many of the major railroads were beginning to give serious consideration
to Diesel-powered equipment, with its dependability and economy.
- Whether Diesel or steam powered, the major railroads
were going in for streamlining in a big way.
Some of the
I found surprised me as well. Maybe they'll surprise you, too.
- The colorful "billboard" refrigerator cars of the early to mid
1930s began to disappear in the late 30s. The
U.S. Government, in response to an outcry for fairness, ruled that
allowing the lessees of freight cars to advertise their products on
the cars' sides amounted to an illegal advertising rebate. After
July 1, 1938, any car with the lessee's name in
lettering over 12 inches high could be
rejected by any railroad unwilling to take it in interchange.
(Reference: Burlington Bulletin #28,
several pages. Other sources say the deadline was July, 1937.)
- Arch-bar trucks were outlawed, but extensions to
the deadline for their replacement delayed their actual demise until July,
- The old type K brake equipment was being replaced by type AB.
- Although still much in evidence, 36-foot boxcars were being
replaced by newer, all-steel cars, forty or fifty feet long.
The New Haven had only 36' cars until 1941,
although some were of "modern" construction.
Eventually, my research led me to take
several years "off" from my regular modeling activities
to compile a list of companies
doing business in the period just before the war. This
list was once available in book or CD form
as Tom's 1938 Register.
If you, too, are interested in the late 1930s drop me a line, and maybe
we can share some information.
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