Redball Reefers

JP Barger

Hi, Tony & others interested in the old Redball cars,

I wrote a memo a while back, but sent yesterday, talking particularly about
the Elwoods Root Beer car of Redball's. When I reviewed Tony's question
about the origin of Red Ball, the MDN Company began under the ownership of
M. Dale Newton in Los Angeles in about 1937. These car kits were delivered
mostly in off-white pebble-toned boxes, although some were a dull plain
white. In addition, for a time, MDN had a kit-of-the-month club, for which
he mailed his kits directly to individual buyers in ivory colored pebble
toned boxes, but with green & white labels. Later, in Oregon, these became
plain brownish corrugated boxes of kit box size. In early 1942, MDN,
apparently concerned about the Japanese submarine firing a shell into Long
Beach just at the start of WWII, moved his entire business to Oregon,
settling in Medford. Not long after that, his plant had a fire, which
disrupted business for a while. MDN continued with the business until around
1954 when for awhile, there was a sales agent in the midwest involved, or
perhaps there was a conditional sale of the business. This arrangement
apparently didn't work, so in 1955, MDN sold the business to Howell Day in
Dunellen, New Jersey. As both men were originally printers, they had a
common language to share. One of the catalog sheets MDN had was a large
fold-out sheet, or broadside, showing many of his assembled cars. I'd love
to have one if anyone sees one drifting by. Or a good color copy!

Howell Day was one of the first hobby shop and manufacturing businesses from
1933 or -4 in HO trains under the name Model Railroad Shop in Dunellen, NJ,
now Piscataway due to a change in town boundaries. The shop is, would you
believe, still there, under its fourth owner, Jack de Rosset. In about 1936,
Howell started his own line of freight car kits under the H. Owen brand.
(Owen was Howell's middle name) These cars, not to be confused with Red Ball
cars, are extremely hard to find. Only a few days ago did I find an H. Owen
box (only) for his Texaco tank car kit, #222. Now to locate the kit or car!
Although I have around half of Howell's original H.Owen freight cars, kits
or built, I'm looking for the rest. They came in boxes just big enough for
the completed model. Box color was plain cardboard like the corrugated paper
color, kraft?. The kind that your mother wouldn't know was a frivolous
expenditure in the Great Depression!

The Model Railroad Shop had its own mail order catalog from about 1934 to
about 1938. Didn't I mention that HD was a printer?

Another Red Ball reefer story: Cudahy, in the billboard car side era, gave
its paintshop superintendent lots of room to control the painting on its
cars. Thus some of the cars had two sides alike, but others didn't. In the
period before 1955, MDN made his Cudahy reefer model with dissimilar
patterns on the two sides. One side was the Old Dutch Cleanser lady chasing
dirt with a stick or club; the other was Cudahy's Sunlight products: Butter,
Eggs, Ham etc. The car number on both sides matched, as well as other car
data, but the billboard painting was completely different. When Howell got
the masters for all the cars, he had a major task on his hands to sort all
the material, and to convert MDN's alphanumeric (aaa-##) numbering system to
a K-### system. Most people today know these kits & cars by Howell's system
of K-1 to K-212. But I digress. Howell didn't know of Cudahy's liberal
painting methods, and made two K numbers and two separate cars out of what
had been MDN's one. Surprise!! Both versions are correct, although the
prototype car numbers may be different. In other words, sometimes Cudahy's
painters made two sides the same; sometimes different. A car you find with
similar sides is MDN's; a car with the same sides is Day's. EXCEPT: there
are some mavericks out there who had enough kit material on hand from either
maker to make the cars up both ways, without concern for which person
created the card sides.

Hope this clears up who did what in a simple-minded way to help all of us
keep HD and MDN straight. I met HD for the first time in the sixties and
worked with him to make a complete collection of his cars for myself. I also
supplied a few pieces to him to complete his personal collection of his own
production. Howell spent four of his last years putting together a complete
set of his cars, which went to the NMRA; the set is in their building in

I made a trip to Medford, Oregon in 1963 especially to meet MDNewton. By
then, he was still working with his printing skills to produce local maps of
Oregon, used mostly by campers, hunters and fishermen. I only wish I had
been able to keep up a dialog with him to help me create a complete
collection of his models. Alas, 3000 miles and my preoccupation with
business survival and growth prevented it.


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