Joseph R. Matthews started General Models Corp. (GMC) in 1943 in Wheaton, Il. Matthews had just
been medically discharged from the United States military and his hobby was model railroading.
He thought that the concept of
direct marketing kits to the end user so that they could build their own train cars could be profitable.
He started making and selling both HO and 'O' gauge products. GMC also became a wholesale distributor of
other manufacturer's products. The company motto was "Transportation in Miniature".
Matthews borrowed money from his brothers in-law to start the business. The rapid success of the
company allowed him to then borrow additional funds from a bank. The business grew and had to move to
3 larger facilities in one year. Matthews appeared on the cover of Model Railroading Magazine 3 times
At first only rail cars were built. Eventually a decision was made to build and market
steam locomotive and diesel engines. Business was good and product was being distributed and sold-out all
over the United States, especially by Christmas of 1945. Because of material shortages due to the war,
it was difficult to get enough copper for the engine wiring. Matthews gambled by trying the black market,
and bought what he thought was 3 railcar loads of copper. It was never delivered. Matthews was
devastated and he spent 6 months in a sanitarium to recover. The loss forced the company to file
for bankruptcy. Matthews did eventually pay back the bank everything, however it took 30 years for him
to do this.
General Models Corp. packaged, marketed and sold the Atwater Models General Motors F-3 diesel
loco units in 'O' gauge. These were super detailed die-cast engines first developed by Frank Libuse, Jr.
of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and released in 1947, before
Lionel released their Bakelite molded models. The dies for these models
initially bore the Atwater Models logo, but these dies were eventually reworked to bear the GMC
casting mark. They were made of a pressure die-cast zinc alloy that consisted of 5 tongue-and-groove pieces.
Literature proclaimed that the kit could be assembled with just a screw driver, as all holes were pre-drilled.
The engines featured operating headlights, Mars light, number boards, and marker lights. Die-cast
trucks with self-aligning replaceable bronze axle bearings in the truck journals were also featured. At the time, these models were
considered to be the most highly detailed and true to form F unit diesels ever created in 'O' scale.
The engines included a Miller Laboratories permanent magnet motor for 2 rail DC operation, with
the ability to utilize a rectifier for AC operation, and a wire addition to facilitate 3 rail operation.
They used a hand reverse. It was priced at $60 for a powered A unit, $40 for a dummy A unit,
$55 for a powered B unit, and $35 for a dummy B unit. Atwater Models had also planned to create E-7 diesels in 'O' scale as well, but these
model locomotives were never delivered. The fate of Atwater Models of Milwaukee, WI, or how GMC obtained the F unit dies from them is unknown.
In the fall of 1948 General Models Corporation made a very realistic looking
electric powered die-cast 'O' gauge scale model of the EMD 1,000 horsepower diesel yard switcher engine.
There were 3 rail as well as 2 rail versions, and it was advertised as capable of running on 'O', 'O-27',
'O-72' and Gargraves track, however, it is known that these locomotives had some difficulty navigating Lionel
type switches. The engine featured a worm drive, and the ads proclaimed that it was the
first 'O' gauge switcher for tin-plate operation with this feature. It also sported a 7-pole motor
and sprung wheels "for equalized operation". A nice feature was the operating lights. The switcher had
sequencing dual light operation so that when the engine was moving forward, only the front headlight illuminated,
but when it moved in reverse, only the rear light illuminated. This feature worked in conjunction with
the 3 position reversing mechanism (forward, reverse and neutral). Front and rear knuckle couplers,
dual smokestacks, a brass bell and simulated horn were also included. The reversing unit was cleverly controlled and
activated by rotating the second smokestack. The switcher came in unpainted
black and sold for $35 ready-to-run or for $29.50 in kit form. The first units produced were fitted with the motor
placed vertically in the middle of the chasis and also featured straight cut gears and utilized a speedometer
cable driveshaft extending from the motor to the power truck. 2-rail versions featured scale pilots with a small
rectangular opening for a scale coupler, while the 3-rail versions were fitted with a longer slot opening to facilitate wider
coupler swing on narrow radius tinplate 3-rail track.
It is beleived that General Models Corp. had this switcher in
development as early as 1945. Interviews with Al Pittman have revealed that he was approached to put
an 'O' gauge motor into production around this time for General Models Corp. that would be used in a
diesel switcher. But due to GMC's inability to raise sufficient capital during those lean years,
that deal fell through. The pickup slide for the 3 rail version of the General Models Corp. switcher
was made for them by Thomas Industries of Shawnee, Ok. Because the switcher
is basically unmarked, except for the Thomas name appearing on the side of the slide, many collectors
mistake the General Models EMD as being manufactured by Thomas Industries. An interesting claim
about this GMC engine is that in photos of the 1949 Lionel Showroom layout
there appears a similar looking switcher. Since Lionel didn't actually make or sell a switcher
until 1949, it is believed that the switcher appearing in the photo is possibly a GMC model.
Whether or not it actually is the General Models
Corp. NW2 switcher appearing in the Lionel Showroom photos, Lionel moved at full speed to come out
with their own version and avoid lost sales revenue to the hobby market once they saw what GMC had
built. Once again Lionel was prodded to innovate by a competitor.
In the late 1940's, GMC acquired the 'O' gauge tooling of respected manufacturer
Varney. In 1949 GMC produced a kit from this tooling for an 'O' gauge brass
B&O 10 wheeler Atlantic 4-6-0 Steam locomotive with insulated wheels for running on 2 rail. It came
with a Pittman DC motor, but for $.50 to cover postage, the manufacturer would swap it out for a
12 volt A/C motor if desired. GMC also made and sold a 4-6-4 Challenger steam locomotive 'O' gauge kit.
GMC manufactured and sold a unique looking Pollock hot metal car kit in HO gauge.
This was a detailed scale model of a prototype car used by large steel mills to transfer molten steel
from blast furnaces to the ingot pouring area, or to the foundry for shaping and hardening. The car
featured an operating tilting ladle and removable cover, was constructed of die-cast and machined
steel welded sheets, and could be fitted with AAR type trucks.
The Mac was an operating hand car sold by General Models Corp. that cost
$1.95. This low end 'O' gauge 3 rail item had a two-segment motor and would just run in
forward. Another similar item by GMC was the small $5.95
Elec-Traction Street car. It came in 2 variations for 'O' or 'S' gauge track. Both of these
operating powered units required a push to get started. These products were acquired when GMC purchased
the inventory of EMCO Products of New York.
In 1950 Jim Wilson, owner of All Nation Hobbies, bought General Models Corporation.
After he recovered from the trauma of GMC, Joseph Matthews went to work for the A.C.
Nielsen Co. where he eventually retired. During his time there, Matthews signed up Walt Disney and
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to subscription contracts for the Nielsen T.V. ratings system.