Remember Mel Thornburgh ?

Discussion in 'Scratchin' & Bashin'' started by Dave Harris, Aug 24, 2008.

  1. Dave Harris

    Dave Harris Member

    Does anybody here remember Mel Thornburgh?
    In the 40 & 50s he was featured in MR often. Always with a series of articles about scratch building Brass Locos. Mel was an amazing man , his work was impeccable, he made pretty much EVERY part of the loco , except the wheels, gears & motors. He used no commercial details -- bells, compressors etc, instead hand fabricating them all.
    On top of that Mel owned NO power tools , not even an electric drill -- he turned any machined part with a hand driven "eggbeater" drill & a file!!! He also had no workshop, using his kitchen table to build on.
    The man & his work always amazed me -- a few years back I bought a collection of MR magazines that had the complete set of his build of a K4 Pacific that was featured starting in 1949 & going thru part of 1950.
    I decided to build this engine pretty much as he did, except for being willing to call electricity "my friend" & to use a few (very few) commercial detail parts.
    The loco is about 75% complete now & has been sidelined for a number of years, now that I am going to have a place to work again after a long dry spell ,I have responded ( sort of) to the recent "finish one up challange" . I know the challange was for over the summer but I'm going to get this loco done anyway.
    One thing I regret now is that I took no pics of the process , too late to remedy that, best I could do now would be to show where it is today, if anyone is interested. Guess I'd have to find where the boiler front has dissapeared to before I did even that.
  2. Dave Harris

    Dave Harris Member

    Oh Yes, one more thing --- Mel soldered with a REAL soldering "iron" --- a big copper thing heated with an old plumbers type white gas torch!! I can't even picture how he could have turned out the wonderous work he did using a clumsy, messy thing like that!!
  3. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    I certainly recall reference to his articles, although my earliest MRs dated from the very late '50s. There were many people who had skills that would make today's typical r-t-r model railroader blanch, and I remain more impressed with what they could do than I am with the wonderful offerings available nowadays in my LHS. That's certainly not intended to denigrate what manufacturers are offering today's hobbyist, but these guys could crank out a car or loco that no one else would have, at a level of detail unheard of for commercially available stuff, seemingly from a "shop" more suited to a real-life blacksmith. While that high level of skill didn't extend across the entire spectrum of modellers, I think that there were proportionally more who at least attempted to move beyond that which was readily available. Of course, there was also less available than nowadays, so those wanting a particular model often had to "roll their own".
    I'm sure that I'm not the only one who would be interested in seeing some photos of that loco, both as it is and as you work towards its completion. I know that I certainly enjoyed seeing those tenders which you built. ;):-D

  4. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    The last article (series) I remember was Thornburgh builds a Wabash Mogul, which started in MR's 25th Anniversary Issue, January 1959. I don't know how many segments, but I think it lasted most of the year. (I was missing most of the issues en before they got mouldy.)
    I also recall John Page's reminiscences of visiting Mel and asking him how he made marker lights in the drill. Mel whipped one up and JP was so astonished that he asked to see another one.
    I understand that a large number of his models were built for and reside in the B&O museum in Baltimore.
  5. Dave Harris

    Dave Harris Member

    I have the complete set of articles about this loco build ( had to ! :rolleyes:) & I would be happy to make more copies if you would like to see how he did it & also how well he taught in them.
    He built several models, I remember one billed on the cover as "Mel builds a 4-4-0 American in HO" -- prior to this apparently he built in O scale. One thing that is impressive is that no last name was needed -- just "MEL" .
    He was not the only one like him ---- well maybe he was -- what with shunning power tools & all, but in the 40's & 50's there were a lot of building articles that pretty well presupposed that the Modelers of that day were expected to be able to "keep up" .
    One series that always intrigued me was "The Kitchen Table Locomotives", I don't remember who did them, but they were built from WOOD! I think this was during the war (WWII of course) when materials were at a premium -- not cost wise premium --unavailable premium. I have toyed with building one but never commited to it, as I recall they did have motors & real mechanisms, not sure if they were sctatch built as well or adapted from some other loco. The entire superstructure was made of wood, one of them had a boiler made from a piece he cut off a shovel handle from where he worked!
    Might have been Bill Shoop that did them , he did several conversion stories -- making two 0-6 -0's into a 2-6-6-2 --- things like that.

    Here are a raft of pictures of the K4 as it now stands . I'll try to explain some of it as I post them.
    First order of explanation--- I have NO IDEA NOW why I put the cab on BEFORE I put windows in it , can't even think of a good excuse, guarantee it's going to test my skill with a dremel & a cutoff disk to get them in now. You will notice that the fire box & cab are not brass -- I became aware that the Limeys ----oopps --- I mean our beloved brothers in the UK do a lot in Nickel silver so I thought I'd give it a go -- turned out to be a jolly good show chappies!

    Mels attention to detail knew no limits, the little round gizmo on the exhaust pipe just above the cylinder was a "snifter valve" whatever that is, but he modeled it, I never heard of one but I built it too.
    Compare the side rods from one side to the other, one is finished -the other has to be completed, Mel cut out the blanks finished them to size & then soldered strips on them to form the flutes, I thought about using a Special Shapes "I" beam brass stock but elected to do it his way!
    Mel also made his trailing trucks from scratch-- so did I -- If I could have found one that matched I probably would have used it -- that was a devilish build!
    So far about the only thing you see so far that are commercial detail parts are the washout plugs & the stack --- Oh yeah the pilot, I had one lying about so I skipped that job.

    Attached Files:

  6. Dave Harris

    Dave Harris Member

    I did not know that Mel built models for the museum, I am glad that much of his work still exists.
    It seems I remember the comments by John Page.
    I know before I got my Unimat I made many parts in an electric drill, first time I did it I thought I was quite smart -- then I found it was nothing new & THEN--- I read about Mel & his eggbeater & THAT really took the wind out of my sails! :cry:
  7. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    At the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds there is a garden railroad that is about the size of a football field. The locomotives on it were originally built by 2 brothers in the 1930's who were machine shop teachers at Pomona High School. The cars were built by their students. The locomotives were entirely scratch built including the motors and gear drives. Over the years, as the original locomotives broke down, they were taken off the tracks until nothing ran on it and the people in charge of the fairgrounds decided to remove the entire thing and put in another pavillian. Fortunately one of the local garden railroad clubs stepped in to take over responsibility for the garden and railroad. They took up the old track and put down G scale track and now we have an operating large scale garden railroad. When you take the "behind the scenes tour" of the layout at the county fair, the building that houses the control system for the railroad contains shelves displaying the original models built by the 2 brothers. I think the original models are about 1 1/2 to 2 times as large as LGB, but the detail and craftsmanship is mind boggling.

    An interesting side note to the story, I belong to a modular club in ho scale. Many of the guys in the club joined so that they can run long trains. I saw a guy at the garden railroad one year who I knew from the Del Oro Pacific modular club at local train shows. In talking to him, I found out that he joined the garden railroad club that fixed up and maintains the layout so that he could run long trains! It seems that none of the train shows ever had enough space allocated to the Del Oro Pacific for them to be able to run long trains at a train show!
  8. Dave Harris

    Dave Harris Member

    Rats!!. Last night ,right when I hit the post button to put up the rest of the pics of this engine was when the server change hit!

    Here they are .
    I even made the little bitty padalock on the tool box that Mel put on his.The brake shoes & cylinder on the lead truck were made according to Mels instructions. The Pennsy number plate & headlight are castings, but Mel made his own. You can see how well his built up side rods turn out in one of these pictures.
    As I finish this project up , I think I will use a few more commercial detail parts, generator, bell , whistle , compressor etc. as I have reached a point where time is more vaulable to me than proving to myself I can do any given job. I'm even debating if I should build or try to locate a correct tender for it.

    Attached Files:

  9. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Some nice work there, Dave, but I have to agree with you about the time factor: there's immense satisfaction to be had when you accomplish a task for the first time, but eventually that "need" is satisfied, and "time" becomes more important.
    What limited building I do is mainly to get a model that I want: I hope that it will be somewhat unique (in a good way :rolleyes::p ) and I take pleasure in learning new skills or accomplishing something that I've not done before, but my aim is to build to fulfill a "need" to make my railroad function the way I want it to.

  10. Dave Harris

    Dave Harris Member

    I'm happy you undersood what I was trying to express. I like to build models a lot more than I do operate a railroad. I had planned on building another railroad ( one that won't get torn down because of adding a baby to the family & needing the room!) when I move to Colorado next spring to retire.
    I had for years been part of a "club" that was not really a club here in LV. It consisted of a group of guys that were all builders who teamed up to build the Toole Springs & Western in Frank Burkes home. It was his railroad but we all contributed to its success , tho the layout operated very well we seldom did more than turn it on & set a train to running around while we worked on the latest addition. The Ramona Bay Fishermans Co-op Cannery I showed off on here a while back was one thing I built for that layout.
    Franks been gone a number of years now & last month his wife too, so the TS& W is now history ,only found in the pages of RMC where it was featured a couple of times.
    My son, who lives in Colorado where I am going to be, just informed me that the little berg where I will be going has just started a model railroad club in a city owned building --so ---- Perhaps I can have my cake & eat it too! I'd rather build things than do a complete railroad ---- I think. "We'll see"--- to quote a line from the CIA guy in Charlie Wilsons War. That was a GREAT movie by the way.
  11. sumpter250

    sumpter250 multiscale modelbuilder

    Mel Thornburgh ! Now there's a name I haven't heard in an age! He did an article on scratchbuilding an O scale B&O C-16a 0-4-0 switcher with slope back tender. two of the four, C-16, 0-4-0T's had their tanks removed, and tenders added, to become C-16a's.
  12. ocalicreek

    ocalicreek Member

    Dave - Fantastic work! I've been 'finishing one up' for a few years now (Mantua Shifter redetailing project) but to see one that's been shelved for so long gives me both hope and dread! But seriously, I'm glad to see you are revisiting the hobby afresh and with renewed vigor.

    Speaking of you happen to have an MR from 1951 about upgrading the Mantua Shifter? It was spliced into that "MEL" series on building an O scale 0-4-0. The article was by a different author...can't recall what the Model Train Mag index said at the moment, but if you've got it and are willing to scan and share that'd be great!

  13. Dave Harris

    Dave Harris Member

    I've got it --somewhere for sure . I'll check & see IF I have it in the houe OR in a huge rental storage unit where I have Box after Box of magazines, most all Model Railroader from the late 30s on ----many years complete --along with airplane mags, car mags & even some real books --about 300 books . I hope I have it where it is accessible, I'll let you know in a day or so.
  14. dwedens

    dwedens gojo

    Mel Thornburgh article MR February 1947

    I was reading this thread because I'm trying to find an article in an old Model Railroader magazine that referenced some work done by my Dad (Delmar Edens). My Dad liked to paint human figures (clothes, faces, etc) and I'm told (via the forum) that Mel Thornburgh did an article in the February 1947 Model Railroader magazine titled "Modeling Human Figures". So, I'm wondering if someone can find this article for would be greatly appreciated.
  15. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    I don't have much going that far back (I was only 2 months old then) but Kalmbach has apparently released all 75 years of MR on a CD or DVD for a measly $200.
  16. sumpter250

    sumpter250 multiscale modelbuilder

    " 75 years of MR on a CD or DVD for a measly $200. "

    That's 900 issues, at $0.23 / issue, so, while $200.00 may seem like a lot, it's really quite reasonable.

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