Gordon Varney

JP Barger

Thanks to the half dozen members making instructive and insightful comments
on my Varney piece of two days ago. Sometimes-too often, perhaps- I'm guilty
of oversimplifying what I'm trying to say or write. Worse, I leave out steps
in the flow of logic that's supposed to be carrying the message. Such was
the case when I cited the date of 1969 for the introduction of the first
35mm SLR camera. I had only been taking train pictures beginning in 1963
with a loaned Argus C3 (loan from my brother), when I found myself in 1971
at the best camera store in the Ginza area of Tokyo. I studied the available
cameras and lenses to see what might fit my needs. I ended up buying an F1.
Further study revealed that Nikon made its first really popular SLR model,
the F, starting in 1969. What I was trying to say in my last email-in my own
clumsy way-was that the widespread ownership of simple to use cameras began
in 1969. Subsequent to that date, railroad photography increased
exponentially, along with photography for all other uses. What I didn't mean
to imply was that the very first SLR began in 1969. And thanks for putting
me straight with the facts about the Exakta, Doug Rhodes.
Friend Tim O'C makes the point that SLR cameras didn't inherently take
better pictures than other cameras. It all depends on what SLR and what
other camera you are comparing. Suffice to say that almost all brands of
SLR's took pictures equal to or better than earlier cameras, vastly
expanding low light capability with the accurate grinding and polishing of
much greater diameter lenses. Possible exceptions are Schneider lens
equipped Leicas, and 4x5 cameras. But for quality pictures, low prices and
ease of use, it's very hard to beat SLR's. So picture taking of important
1910-1960 freight cars travelled up the proverbial sales curve with the
Japanese-made SLR. Remembering the 40 year underframe rule, it was actually
1920-1960 cars still running in 1960. Incidentally, the Kodak Tourister took
excellent daytime pictures. Many of you have seen some of hundreds of photos
taken mostly of the UP by Emil Albrecht of Logan, UT with his Tourister.
Tony Thompson is, of course, right to say that Gordon Varney is ultimately
responsible for putting out an SP Overnite box car with a paint job for
which no one has, so far, found a corresponding prototype. But was there
such a car on the drawing board somewhere? Gordon wasn't a printer by trade,
as were both M. Dale Newton & Howell Day of Red Ball fame; rather, he was
what one might call a manufacturing entrepreneur. It is highly unlikely that
Gordon personally did any of his own drafting or artwork. So, who prepared
the artwork for the bogus(?) SP car? Was it Varney's employed draftsman, or
a vendor (or his artist/draftsman?) Or did this version of a possible SP
boxcar appearance exist as a draft at SP, and someone connected to Varney
came up with it? If we could find a prewar Varney employee, we might find
out. Or,just the right SP employee.
By the way, did you know that Varney produced most of his freight car types
in brass sheet before WWII? These are rare models. When the war started,
brass went on the impossible to get list, as it was required for shell and
bullet casings. Both Varney and Mantua turned to aluminum or tinplate sheet
to continue. But Varney not only gave up completely on making RR models in
1941; he moved to Chicago and put together a screw machine business making
high volume parts for the war effort. After the war, he moved to south
Florida, and began all over in the train model business. During the screw
machine phase, he put a reduced number of ads in the model mags flatly
saying he was reducing inventory, selling off what he had still in stock, as
did Bill Walthers and other manufacturers.
Fred Freitas and Jerry Glow both raise interesting points relating to
product-compromising manufacturing decisions made by Athearn and Varney
along the way, but this email is becoming too long. I'll try to include (my
versions of) true stories of events in the late forties and sixties to cover
both of these situations in later submissions.

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