Sunday, December 10, 2017

Animated Scale Models Handbook

Vince and I were chatting a little bit about books on scale modelling. It sent me on a pleasant trek through the little library I've built up on the subject over the last few years. One of my favourites is Adolph F. Frank's Animated Scale Models Handbook published in 1981 by Arco Publishing. I take the time to read any introductory material in these old volumes. They often contain fascinating bits of background information, and Mr. Frank's is a great one with his discussion on the roots of scene modelling - and to some extent model railroading - and where his interest came from. Here's what he has to say in the Foreword,

When I was a small boy, it was customary for families to have a "Putz" or Nativity scene as part of their Christmas decorations, which were usually found under the Christmas tree. Many of these families were descendants of old European craftsmen who made ornate and elaborate displays. I'm speaking of a time in our industrial history when a large portion of the labor force was extremely skilled with their hands. They were artistic types - machinists, pattern makers, finish carpenters and other artisans - who being fine craftsmen, seemed to delight in outdoing one another in making these displays. As a result, the Nativity scene slowly became just one part of a much larger display, commonly called the Christmas tree yard. In this yard was found anything from a model of the family home to a model of the entire village in which they lived.

As I grew older, in the late '20s and early '30s, the electric train came into prominence and was added to the display or yard. Automobile dealers took their entire display rooms and built large villages with waterfalls, as well as working trains and automobiles. I was immensely intrigued by these elaborate displays.

As the years passed and I became more interested, my father and I started to add animation to our display. It was very disillusioning, however as all we could buy at that time were an electric train and an assortment of vehicles, animals, and buildings, none of which were to any specific scale. As a result, we had to build the structures and everything else that was needed to assemble a display. The word "scale" or "scale modelling" was just coming into usage, so there wasn't much scale modeling being done.

Another frustrating aspect of this era was our inability to miniaturize anything due to the unavailability of small motors or parts. Quite often even the electric motors had to be built. The miniature electric motors we know today didn't come into being until after World War II. Until this time, most motors were salvaged from discarded appliances, such as fans.

The hobby business also began to come into its own during the post-war period. Many small factories turned from wartime production to the model-and-hobby business. At first, only cardboard and wood products were available. Some of these were and still are high-quality merchandise. Soon many plastic and metal scale models were available. Model railroaders capitalized on this when HO scale came into its own during this period. It seemed no time at all until there was a model built in HO scale to suit any situation. To the avid builder this was Utopia. We started by building structures and trying to animate them with gears, cams, levers, etc. By trial and error and some mechanical sense (since there were no drawings available) we built everything from a waterfall to an automobile assembly plant. It was a real challenge to design something and then see it through to its completion.

My family and friends who have been close to me over the years urged me to publish my notes, since there seems to be very little written on this subject. I have consented to collect my notes and compile them in this book. I hope you will have as much pleasure using these notes as I have had researching them.

I bought my copy of this book new back in 1981 from an actual store in the underground shopping concourse near the Bloor and Yonge subway station in Toronto. The store sold science and engineering related toys, games, equipment, gifts and a decent selection of books. I was still in university at the time and it was one of the haunts on my bookstore trail through Toronto's downtown core. Like just about every bookstore I frequented back then - and there were many - it's long gone. 


  1. I remember finding this book at the library in the early '90s. it was out of print then, so I cajoled the local printshop lady into copying the entire book and spiral binding it. I believe the cost was double what the book would have sold for new. I've often wondered where my copy went, but life's changes sometimes requires dumping ballast ...

    1. Agreed. I noticed that old copies seem to vary wildly in price, but it looks like some reasonable prices on the paperback version that came out in '82 can be had.

  2. just catching up on some reading and came across this from one of your "great places" list; seems poignant.