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Thomas Industries Trains

History

Thomas Industries Logo 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, as well as scale model builder's power tools and scientific instruments. Jim Thomas had a long career in train manufacturing having been one of the original 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 manufactured by Thomas Industries was a C16 class 0-4-0 steam locomotive based on the Baltimore & Ohio prototype from the 1900's. The loco was powered by a Pittman worm driven motor designed by Jim Thomas that was completely concealed in the loco's firebox. Thomas was good friends with Charles A. Pittman, owner of the Pittman Electric Development Company of Sellersville, PA which was famous for supplying many manufacturers with electric motors for their model trains. The engine was offered in kit form with a slope back tender for $29.50. This smaller 0-4-0 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 Industries C16 class 0-4-0 switcher circa 1949 Thomas followed the 0-4-0 with a 2-8-0 consolidation. The consolidation was 'O' scale and designed for 2-rail operation. This engine was featured as the cover illustration on the November 1950 issue of Model Railroader magazine. It included a tender and sold for $48.50 as a complete kit. It could also be acquired as an 0-8-0 for $44.00. 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 the Pittman electric motors. The locomotive's moving parts were machined to 1/5000 of an inch tolerances. These models were respected for their looks and performance by hobbyists. Thomas advertised their models as, "...easy to build and easy to buy!"

Unfortunately, sales of these scale products were just so-so. In the late 1940's the scale model builder market declined greatly. Hobbyists no longer had the time to spend building models, and the big toy manufacturers such as Lionel and American Flyer were now making more scale-like prototypical ready-to-run trains that appealed greatly to consumers. Plus the popularity of HO scale models was eclipsing that of the 'O' gauge with hobbyists. Thomas' goal of making and selling scale modeler's building tools such as sander machines, arbor presses, and brakes for bending metal was never accomplished. Instead Thomas concentrated its efforts on making steam castings, bridge components and machined parts that were employed by other manufacturers and the small model builder and hobbyist market. Thomas Industries manufactured the die cast body sides and ends for the Pittman 'O' gauge streetcars from 1949 through 1951. Jim Thomas also made parts for the 'O' gauge Minitoy trolleys of the same period.

Thomas Industries 'O' gauge #101 Trolley 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 as ready-to-run sets in 1951. 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. It was a 15½ inch scale model. The locomotive boasted a worm drive Pittman motor. 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. The Shawnee Express set was priced at $29.95. The locomotive and tender looked very protoypical teamed up with a consist of Thomas’s 'O' gauge rolling stock such as the 7½ inch TP-1006 tinplate flatcar or the scale wood-sided TP-1007 Wabash and Frisco gondolas. The loco by itself was priced at less than $6.00.

Thomas Industries 'O' gauge 4-4-0 Shawnee Express TP-3000 loco & tender from the Pioneer set 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 Industries Pioneer Set 'O' gauge #1869 Coach Thomas Industries Pioneer Set 'O' gauge Combine Thomas Industries 'O' gauge Pulpwood car

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. They were constructed of sheet steel and priced at $5.50 each. The Pioneer line offered a TP-1002 coach, a TP-1005 combine, and a TP-1004 baggage car. Each came in three color combinations: yellow body, red trucks and roof, green body, red trucks and roof, or red body, green trucks and roof. The coach and the combine featured removable roofs for adding detail to the interior. 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.

Thomas Industries Pioneer Set 'O' gauge with 1869 US Mail Boxcar, Coach and Combine

'O' gauge Freight car kits made by Thomas Industries were a Pulpwood car (1951), Steel Flat car (1952), Gondola, old time Reading RR 4-Wheel Caboose (1950), Crane car (1952), and single-dome (1949), triple dome (1949), and 6 dome (1949) Tank cars. The 3-dome tank cars were first made in 1949, once again predating Lionel's release of an 'O' gauge 3-dome tank car by 4 years. The Thomas Industries tank cars featured operating dome lids. The pulwood car sold for $4.75, the flat car was $4.50, the crane car was $5.50. The #TC-106 6-dome tank car kit was promoted as a wine car decorated for Roma Wine and sold for $7.75. Thomas freight cars were painted by H & H Body Shop of Shawnee.

Thomas Industries HO gauge Philgas 40' Single Dome LP Platform Tank Car #15001 Thomas Industries HO gauge Columbia Southern 40' Single Dome LP Platform Tank Car #3689 In 1951 Thomas acquired Scale-Craft and Company's line of 'O' gauge cars and moved to a new facility in Shawnee, OK at 1125 E. Independence Street. 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 Industries also released HO gauge tank car kits and in 1951 a set of hand painted 20mm HO Civil War era lead figures, designed and produced by Jim Thomas' son James Jr. When Jim Thomas sold his half of Mantua to his brother-in-law John Tyler, he agreed to refrain from making and selling HO gauge products. The agreement expired in 1955. The HO tank car kits now produced by Thomas Industries featured single dome as well as 6 dome tanks. The tank cars were formed sheet steel, with cast white metal underframes, tank ends, and domes. Smaller parts were all metal. Some of the single dome cars were offered with platforms. The single dome cars sold for $2.95, the single dome with platform sold for $3.75, and the 6 dome cars sold for $4.35. The cars were all metal and featured sprung trucks. They came pre-painted in several different road names and colors, including DX Sunray Oil, Anderson-Prichard Oil Corp. (APCO), Sinclair Oil Co., Magnolia Chemicals, and Matheson Chemicals. The platform tanks cars were decorated for Philgas Oil, Sinclair Oil Co., Columbia Southern and Baker's Chocolate. The 6-dome tank bore either the Roma Wine or the Ambrose Wine Co. livery. Blank kits were also produced for modelers to create and paint their own road names and heralds.

Thomas Industries 'O' gauge Ambrose Wine Six Dome Tank car Thomas Industries 'O' gauge stake bed flat car and crane car Thomas Industries 'O' gauge Frisco gondola

Thomas also made a Passenger Waiting Platform ($3.85), Goose-neck Lampost ($1.30), Boulevard Lampost ($.85), and Switch Throw accessories. Thomas also produced parts for a number of other manufacturers including the Ribbonrail track-cleaning flat car and the U&R Manufacturing Company's passenger cars. Thomas made a pickup slide for an 'O' gauge 1000 HP EMD diesel switcher manufactured by General Models Corp. (GMC) that was unmarked except for the Thomas name on the slide, which has confused collectors as to who made this diesel locomotive. The Thomas knuckle couplers, which mated with Lionel and Kusan trains, and the Thomas cast trucks ($2.10) were used by a good number of other train makers as well.

One scientific item that Thomas Industries was famous for building was the Spitz Model A Planetarium beginning in 1946. The Model A was invented by Professor Armand N. Spitz, who was the Director of Education at the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia. Spitz wanted to make a planetarium that would be affordable to the consuming public. To build the the projector's base and planet drum he brought his hand drawings to Jim Thomas of Thomas Industries of Wenonah, NJ. At this time Thomas Industries specialized in precision machining and were no strangers to this type of prototype development. Within a couple months they were turning out the first production Spitz Model A machines. Armand then sold them for $500 each. Up until the relocation to Oklahoma in 1951, Thomas Industries made the first 50 Model A series planetariums and about 40 of the Model A-1 series planetariums for Armand.

Thomas continued to produce trains until 1958 when Jim Thomas died suddenly of a heart attack at his home near Shawnee, OK on June 27th. He was 56 years of age. 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.

Thomas Industries 'O' gauge Loco Tender 1869 Combine and 2 1869 coaches

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