Thomas Industries was founded in the post WWII 1940's by Jim Thomas in Wenonah, NJ to create a line of
'O' gauge scale and tinplate trains. Jim Thomas was one of the founding partners, along with John Tyler, of
Mantua Metal Manufacturing, a maker of electric motors, toys and electric trains
that got its start in model train making during the 1930's. The original plans for Thomas Industries
included manufacturing of 'O' gauge kits. The first product was a C16 class 0-4-0 steam locomotive based on the
Baltimore & Ohio prototype from the 1900's. This smaller locomotive helped train enthusiasts that lived in cramped
houses overcome the challenges of layout space that plagued many 'O' gauge operators of the time period.
Thomas followed the 0-4-0 with a 2-8-0 consolidation. These locomotives demonstrated a
high level of design and engineering, employing sheet metal boilers, die-cast zinc alloy boiler fronts and
cabs, sprung drivers, cast-brass cylinders and main frames, turned brass smokestacks, brass headlights and
bells, and Pittman electric motors. These models were respected for their looks and performance by hobbyists.
By the 1950's, Thomas had changed its direction to modeling 19th century trains. Thomas
Industries succeeded in producing an 1860's era General type steam locomotive and set almost a decade before
Lionel did. They released the TP-3000 4-4-0 engines and the freight/passenger cars
in tinplate to go with these locos in ready to run sets. The locos were generic in appearance, but
included red painted cow-catchers, detailed sand domes, a square shaped headlamp, simulated whistle and bell in
brass. Offered were models with a cabbage stack (wood burner) and a straight stack (they called it the
Branchline) coal burner. There was a passenger set, called the Shawnee Express, and a freight set
called the Shawnee Fast Freight.
Their passenger cars and freight cars predated Lionel's offerings representing
this time period by several years.
Some say Lionel got religon because of what Thomas made and sold. No whistle or smoke was offered but these
trains sold well and were noticeably less expensive than Lionel's offerings. It is unknown whether Thomas
intended to compete directly with Lionel, as at the time, Lionel was concentrating on making contemporary models
of motive power prototypes. Thomas fitted their trains with knuckle couplers to make them compatible with
Lionel products. Jack Ferris of AMT liked the knuckle couplers so much that he put them
on his AMT cars also.
Thomas advertised their old time trains as a model that could "become the pride of
your Lionel layout". The passenger cars that came with the General set were referred to as Pioneer cars.
The Thomas old-time coach was originally produced at the Wenonah, NJ. factory with the word 'Pioneer' on the
side. By the middle of 1951 the year '1869' was added to either side of the word Pioneer. Coaches also exist
without any letters or numerals on the sides. Later production runs had simulated wood battans. There are
26 known variations of the Pioneer coach, 13 variations of the combine car, and 12 variations of the
baggage car. Freight cars made were a Pulpwood car, Sleel Flat car, Gondola, old time 4-Wheel Caboose,
Crane car, and single-dome, triple dome, and 6 dome Tank cars.
In 1951 Thomas acquired Scale-Craft and Company's line of 'O' gauge cars and moved
to a new facility in Shawnee, OK. The acquisition encompassed the Scale-Craft dies and equipment to
manufacture nine freight car kits. This included a 40' 6 inch box car, a 40 ton stock car, a 50 ton twin
hopper, a 70 ton gondola, a milk tank car, a Passenger Express Refrigerator car, and maintenance work car.
These freight car kits were
available from 1951 to 1960. The 1952 catalog of Thomas Industries Trains was 12 pages and contained
black and white photos of the trains being offered. In the mid-1950's Thomas also released HO gauge tank car kits
and lead figures.
Thomas also made a Passenger Waiting Platform, Goose-neck Lampost, Boulevard Lampost, and
Switch Throw accessories. Thomas continued to produce trains until 1959 when Jim Thomas died suddenly of a
heart attack. Other firms, including Thomas Industries Model Trains of Plano, TX in 1962, continued
production, until the dies and blueprints were destroyed in a fire in 1964.