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They’re displayed side by side in the heart of the museum with cab access to both and the added benefit of drivers and running gear that move periodically on the steam locomotive. I was at the museum at closing time last Sunday afternoon, and as I walked out, I glanced over my shoulder to take in one last look at this pair.
Bowser Published a comprehensive Reference Manual sometime after the Challenger went into production. Bowser is a name familiar to model railroaders today, well-known for their fine line of plastic freight car kits, among other items. At the height of World War II in 1944, Bowser was employed by the Naval Ordinance Plant Indianapolis (NOPI).
Upon closer examination, Bowser discovered that many important parts of the Mountain, such as the frame and drivers, were not HO scale. Bowser never really liked the climate in Indiana, and in the spring of 1946 he made a visit to California.
Prior to moving, Bowser prepared for his new venture by accumulating additional machinery and locating the master pattern for the Knapp Mountain. When they arrived in Redlands in August of 1946 they could not find a rental house so they moved into the Redlands Hotel.
Although the production problem was solved, Bowser was running low on funds and could not set up a foundry to make the Mountain castings.
With the financial problems behind them, arrangements were made with Superior Casting of Chicago to produce the Mountain castings. With Bowser's motor problems solved and the financial shortages relieved, production continued on the Mountain kits.
While all this was going on, Model Railroader published a survey of the potential model railroad market.
Sales volume must be increased to reduce overhead and advertising costs on a per model basis. To lower the cost of the castings, the K-11 boiler and other parts were made from Zamac instead of cast brass.
Being a more seasoned company helped Bowser to get the K-11 Pacific into production in record time. When the Challenger went into production, Bowser Manufacturing's financial position was still pretty poor. Soon after the contract ended, Acheson decided to force Bill Bowser out of the company enforcing the buy-or-sell agreement they signed at the time the partnership was formed.
After losing the company, Bill Bowser leased the plant from Acheson, and won a contract with Northrup to design periscopes for Army tanks. Since Bowser Manufacturing was in full production prior to the buyout, Acheson had enough kits inventoried to last into the 1960's. In 1961 Acheson was contacted by Lewis English who was interested in purchasing Bowser Manufacturing. Bill Bowser’s engineering career continued successfully through the years until his retirement.
Once you get your first O gauge train set you imagine hours of enjoyment hauling freight across the country behind a smoking locomotive. Then you set up the small 27-inch (figure 1) or 36-inch (figure 2) oval that comes with the set, and watch your train chase its tail. Adding a switch (or turnout, as they are sometimes called) will probably add the most operating fun for the money.
Add a second switch at the other end of the spur siding (see figure 5), and you have a multiple use track that serves as a siding with two entrances. Figure 6: Two switches can also create a passing siding that allows cars to be parked where so the train can pass them on the mainline. Figure 7: Placing the switches on the curves of the oval creates a longer passing siding, but requires more space. At this point, you should probably think about building a semi-permanent train table so you don’t have to disassemble your track at the end of each operating session.
For me, half the fun of O Gauge model railroading is planning what to do next to make your layout even more interesting.
I imagine they have good conversations about tonnage, snow, engineers good and bad, and their times on the main line.
Currently located in Pennsylvania, Bowser’s roots stretch back to Indiana and clear across to California.
But when scale model railroading first began to take hold in America, there were few parts and kits available. It was there that George Hockaday, one of Bowser's friends and an avid railroad modeler asked if he could make some hobby parts for him.
Bowser's new interest in HO prompted him to purchase the parts inventory for the Knapp brass Mountain when the opportunity arose.
Bowser set out to create a more accurate product, and began the task of redesigning theses parts to the proper scale. The warmer, dryer climate and relative bug-free environment convinced him that he should move there.
Since a suitable factory location couldn’t be found right away, Bowser bought a small piece of land and began constructing a new building.
However, as in any new business, things did not go as planned and there were many challenges to overcome before it would be in production.
After ten months of trying, not a single suitable boiler casting was produced and the contractor threw in the towel.
In the late 1940s, miniature electric motor design and manufacturing were in their infancy and component failure was common. The fiber insulation was replaced with glass insulation, the wire was changed to double-coated formex, and the commutator terminals were pre-tinned (coated with solder) so that flux was not needed. If the customer developed any problems, they just had to send the motor back to Bowser for replacement at no-charge. With the Mountain kit in full production it was time to develop a new model to add to the line.
With two quality locomotive kits on the market, changes in the national economy began to affect the hobby market. To an engineer like Bowser, this was the supreme challenge, something he could really sink his teeth into.
Bowser had some contacts at the National Bureau of Standards that he made when he worked at the Naval Ordinance Plant. Under the agreement, when Acheson offered to buy Bowser's interest, Bowser could have bought his interest by coming up with the money to match the buyout offer.
This piece of equipment required some close tolerances and Northrup was having trouble getting a working model designed and built. When he started running low on parts Acheson did not have the expertise to manufacture replacements, and kit availability suffered. A price was met, and Bowser Manufacturing became the property of Lewis and Shirlee English. If you find something of value here, please "pay it forward" and help us keep the site operating by a secure donation through PayPal (PayPal account is not required), or by shopping with our advertisers. As your train runs around this track it seems to reverse itself, and crosses back and forth.


By using insulating pins to connect the tracks coming off the switches, you can wire the passing siding and the section of the mainline adjacent to it to a toggle switch that will turn the power on or off to those sections of track, allowing one locomotive to park on the siding while the other travels past it (We’ll have more on how to wire your layout in future articles). The easiest method is to just put a 4-foot by 8-foot piece of plywood on a pair of sawhorses.
However, if you or any of our other readers would like to contribute photos of their layouts, we would be more than happy to post them in a photo gallery. Like two old friends who belly up to the bar for a drink and to catch up, there are lots of stories to share. Founded by Bill Bowser in 1946, the company was responsible for the design and manufacture of some of the most detailed and reliable locomotive kits of the day. As we began to emerge from the effects of the Great Depression, and war in Europe loomed on the horizon, HO scale models made their debut. Wartime production controls had made parts hard to come by, but Bowser had a small shop at his home with metal working capabilities. Knapp owed money to Superior Casting that he could not pay, and Bowser agreed to take care of the amount due in return for acquiring the entire parts inventory. The redesign of the drivers presented a technical problem since Bowser did not have the casting equipment necessary to make spoke drivers. In October of 1946 the family sold their house and furniture and shipped the shop equipment to Redlands, California where it was put into storage.
Once the building was completed, the machinery was moved from storage and the doors were opened for business. Initially the brass castings for the Mountain were to be made locally by a person who had brass foundry experience. The problem was gassing in the mold that created bubbles and destroyed the fine finish and overall quality of the part. Later, large quantities of the turned parts were purchased from Automatic Screw Machine Company.
This type of guarantee was unheard of; in fact it was so unusual that it got Bowser into trouble with some of the members of the NMRMA (National Model Railroader Manufacturers Association).
Looking at the results of the survey at face value, Bowser was assured he could possibly sell as many as a thousand locomotives a month!
Many locomotives drivelines of the time used an angled motor mount with an attached a worm gear on the end of the motor shaft that meshed with the drive gear. The locomotive business was hurt more than the car kit business since they could be sold for a few dollars while locomotive kits were a significant bite out most anyone’s income. The Semi-Vanderbilt tender was used behind some of the early 4-6-6-4s that preceded the UP Challenger. Bill formed a new company called Bowser Precision Products, and grossed $80,000 in its first year building periscopes and other contract items.
By that time, however, he had made a considerable amount of money selling the ready inventory while operating with a very low overhead. What was left of the inventory and tooling was moved to Muncy, PA and installed in their basement.
He recently had a resurgence of interest in his old company's products and is busy designing a new miniature motor.
Also, if you are just getting started, you may want to decide if you want to stick with the brand of track that came with your set.
Interesting for a bit longer, but with limited operational features, this layout still it loses its luster after a while.
It also works as a “reverse loop.” That is, a train traveling counter-clockwise around the track can enter the reverse loop, and come out the other side traveling clockwise around the layout.
If you want a passing siding long enough to hold an entire train, you can move the switches to the curves (see figure 7). During the nine years Bill owned Bowser Manufacturing he redesigned the popular Knapp Mountain kit, and engineered the K-11 Pacific, as well as the Arc-1 4-6-6-4 Challenger.
Some hobbyists created crude homemade castings for their own use, and would sell off the rest to offset the cost of production. After reviewing many prototype pictures, it was discovered that some locomotives used a different type of driver known as Scullin drivers. Deciding that good jobs were hard to find--and being an eternal optimist--he decided to start his own business. Bowser, his wife, and their two children then packed up, jumped into their 1941 Oldsmobile and traveled to California to begin the new adventure. To help make ends meet in the years between 1946 and 1948, Bowser Manufacturing produced experimental rocket nozzles for Redlands Rocket Propellant Company, a mold for a toy Colt six shooter, and small parts for Bourne Engineering in Riverside. The brass boilers and other parts are made using plaster molds created from the master brass castings. Acting largely in the capacity of a silent partner, Acheson had a desire and the funds to invest a small manufacturing business. A one-ton bench press was used to make the flat items such as valve gear and a small Zamac die-casting machine did the Scullin wheel centers, side rods, and small cast parts. As standard motors of the time were inclined to inevitably fail, they claimed the Bowser warranty would set a bad precedence that could lead to severe financial problems for all manufacturers. Based on this information and the continual pressure from the distributors, it was decided to sell through the jobbers.
Although the Mountain tender was a good fit, it was more expensive to manufacture than the K-11's die cast parts. Low down payments for new cars, new furniture, new homes and appliances were attracting the capital that was previously used for hobbies. Two hundred and thirty Challengers were built for American railroads following World War II. These early 4-6-6-4s became known as little Challengers and were renumbered as the 3800 series.
During the year the contracted lasted, the company was in full production of model kits, and was able to build up a nice inventory at a very low cost. However, Bowser Manufacturing had several loans out that Acheson had personally guaranteed. The Lewis family began rebuilding the nearly defunct company (at its peak, Bowser Manufacturing had formerly employed twenty-two people).
Over the years, the English family purchased other companies, such as Penn Line, and expanded the Bowser product line.
It’s off to the local hobby shop to buy more track and expand your iron horse empire. You can pick up and drop off freight cars on the spur siding to serve an industry that is adjacent to the track. Once the train has gone through the reverse loop and is traveling clockwise, you would need another reverse loop set the opposite way of the first to turn the train again.
This will work for a while, but without a frame to stiffen it, even this thick plywood will eventually warp. The K-11 Pacific and Challenger kits are still sold today, proving their enduring value to the model railroad community. Some small machine shops began producing side lines of hobby equipment, but none were full-time hobby producers. This was a time when modelers did a lot of designing and scratch building to create their locomotives.


The inventory consisted of boiler castings, frames, wheel sets, a few motors, and some valve gear that was nothing like the actual locomotive valve gear.
This was a break as the Scullin drivers could be turned on a lathe from solid stock and the holes drilled with a drill press. During this period, a small die-casting machine was purchased and a press was built to make plastic compression moldings used in small wheel centers and motor commutators.
Putting other important tasks aside, Bowser started researching the process to see what was wrong.
Although this new partnership was the catalyst required to get Bowser into production, it would ultimately lead to Bowser losing the very company he founded. Finally, in late 1948, Bowser Manufacturing had the Mountain in production and placed its first ad in Model Railroader magazine. The new warranty did not create any problems for Bowser Manufacturing however, as only a dozen or so motors were ever returned. However, the jobbers stated they would not stock Bowser's products if they continued to sell directly to the public. With the decision to sell through distributors, Bowser returned the checks he had received for direct orders from customers and told them they would have to buy from their local hobby store. In HO scale the model would be a good size and could negotiate the small radius curves found on many layouts.
Although leaving detail off upset the more avid, purist modelers, it was a necessary compromise. Post-ware inflation was raising the cost for materials, wages, and advertising while economic pressure kept a lid on retail prices. For Bowser to buy the company, he would have to match Acheson’s offer and cover the loans.
Ask you local hobby shop about their opinions of the various track brands and styles available. If there are several industries that use the siding, you may have to juggle the cars in your consist to get the correct ones in front of the correct loading dock, giving your train crew even more work to do. See our O gauge model railroad layout project benchwork page for more information on building your train table.
Lionel, MTH, Atlas, and many other companies manufacture accessories ranging from buildings to create an urban environment to operating accessories that can add the action of unloading and loading train cars on your railroad. This is the story of Bowser Manufacturing's early years, and the difficulties encountered in designing and manufacturing a quality HO scale locomotive kit in the 1940s and early 1950s.
Wartime restrictions had practically eliminated the availability of any kits that were produced. Soon it was discovered that the incorrect type of plaster was being used to make the molds. There was a big difference in the amount of profit between selling through jobbers and selling direct.
This decision led to another financial crisis as sales never came close to the survey results or the jobber's estimates. The idea was to create a quality model, but leave off some of the more intricate detail that raised production costs. Since the Mountain used the same size drivers, the spoked drivers were now available for the Mountain.
The motor shaft is on the same line as the driveline and the drive worm gear is perpendicular to the axle drive gear. Although financial success still eluded Bowser, plans went forward to develop the next model. One of the most significant additions to the product line was the UP Big Boy kit that evolved from the original Challenger design. They all have pros and cons, so this is a good time to study them and see if you want to change.
There is a different kind of track piece that is the logical next step in creating your model railroad empire: The switch. For instance, if you need to drop the fourth car in your train at the last industry on the spur, and the fifth car at the first industry, you are going to have to uncouple and leave the fifth car on the main while you spot the fourth car on the siding.
If it got hot enough, the insulation on the armature wiring would melt causing an internal short. Bowser offered the new drivers separately, and the Mountain kit continued to be shipped with the Scullin drivers.
This was to be the granddaddy of all projects--the Union Pacific 4-6-6-4 articulated Challenger. With the addition of a super detail kit, the Bowser UP Challenger and Big Boy are two of the finest large HO scale steam engine models available.
Thanks to people like Bill Bowser, model railroaders were able to enjoy advancements and quality products much like the ones some of us may take for granted today. The high temperature of the liquid brass caused the plaster to out-gas and ruin the brass casting.
This meant Bowser had to sell many more kits to make up a profit for the steep jobber discount. The gear lash is set when the worm gear is mounted and is not dependent on the motor mounting. Acheson knew Bowser could not come up with the necessary funds and he got control of Bowser Manufacturing for a very small amount--far less than half of its true value.
Today, Bowser is one of the few manufacturers of high quality, die cast locomotive kits in existence. The correct plaster is a special type that is chemically inert and porous enough to allow any gases produced to escape during the casting process. To make matters worse, it was discovered that the person soldering the armature connections to the commutator was using too much flux paste. Of course, the jobbers claimed they would have no trouble moving the necessary quantity to meet sales projections.
Based on actual sales results, it appears that people wanted to buy about five times what they could actually afford.
The motor can be removed and reinstalled without having to reset the gear lash and there is little danger of accidentally bending the motor shaft. Without the promised big sales volume and with the reduced profit on each sale, Bowser Manufacturing was going through a rough time. This system may not be as sophisticated as the gear boxes in use today, but it was quite advanced for the time. If all this was not bad enough, hobbyists of the time were cleaning the track with fine steel wool, and residue fibers would be pulled into the motor by the magnet creating yet another possible short circuit scenario.
Each K-11 driver axle is mounted in a pair of bronze bearings to minimize wobble and prevent wear that causes the mechanism operation to deteriorate over time.




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