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The Thorley Hoople Toy Company Trains

History

Thorley Hoople Toy Train Company Standard gauge #65 The Major Belle 4-4-0 in royal blue The Thorley Hoople Toy Company was a manufacturer of Standard gauge tinplate trains. The company was founded by George L. 'Tad' Cody, Jr. and based in Palo Alto, California. The line of toy trains produced were modeled after the steam locomotives and coaches that ran on American railroads during the 19th century. They were well built, beautifully detailed, handcrafted trains that, sadly, were only cataloged for a short period of time between 1965 and 1969. According to the 1967 catalog, which cost $1, the company also carried cast iron toys (horse drawn carriages) and cannons, in addition to the Standard gauge trains.

The Thorley Hoople Toy Co. came out with their Standard gauge 4-4-0 cabbage stack American type locomotive in 1965. A 4-6-0 followed in 1968. Trains could be purchased in sets that consisted of the locomotives, tender, and 3 or 4 open platform passenger cars. The locomotive and car bodies were made using 16 and 24 gauge cold rolled steel. The locomotives were primarily brass. The drive wheels were formed using sandcast brass and ran in machined bushings. The axle drive was through bronze, and a precision worm gear was powered by an 18-volt universal motor. The Thorley Hoople Toy Train Company Standard gauge Dr. George Cody 4-6-0 steam loco #89 boiler front, pilot and cylinders were made of aluminum. Superstructure fixtures of smoke stack, piping and domes were turned from solid bar stock. The boiler domes weighed almost a full pound each. A manual reverse was included and the locos could operate on any standard gauge layout. The 4-4-0 loco was numbered #65 to reflect the year it came out. The 4-6-0 loco was given the number #89 which represented its year of origin 1968, but with the '68' turned upside down. The 4-4-0 was given the name 'Major Belle' while the 4-6-0 was named 'Dr. George Cody'. The #65 locos came painted in either red or blue, and the #89 came in black. Some special order sets in custom color combinations of green and white were created.

Car construction features were of similar materials. Early cars had wood roofs, sheet steel sides, wood bottom, squared off windows, Archbar type sand cast truck frames and wheels, and hand fabricated brass plated wire end railings. Initial production and model sales uncovered issues with some of these manufacturing approaches and changes were made to improve the quality. The later cars have sheet metal tops, arched windows with embossing, lost wax die-cast truck frames and wheels, and lost wax cast handrails and end railings. All passenger cars had furnished interiors. The cars are roughly about the size of Lionel Blue Comet cars. The initial passenger car issues were the #51 coach, #52 Combination, #53 Baggage, and #56 Palace car. The later issues included the Governor Stanford and Bayshore coaches. These cars came in either yellow, blue, red or brown.

Thorley Hoople Toy Train Company Standard gauge Passenger Cars with red roofs - a combine car and 3 Bayshore day coaches with interiors

It was a very small operation and George Cody was the designer, manager, and secretary. The Thorley Hoople Company's Palo Alto facility was not a self contained industrial complex situated under one roof. Cody beleived that his company was more like the Harry Ives garage circa 1868. Ives toys were first made on contract using a multitude of local suppliers in the northeast region of the United States. In a similar way, all of the Thorley Hoople parts were made by an assortment of other manufacturers in their region. Charles Hotchkiss made some of the early Ives patterns and continued as a master modelmaker. His Hoople counterpart was John Grant who made the pilot models and casting patterns. Sheet steel punches and dies as well as wire dies and parts were made by Leo Kusber, Jr. son of the Leo Kusber, who thirty years earlier had made all the tooling and non-screw machine parts for Rollin Lobaugh. Barry Lysaght, a gifted wood carver, made the models for a whole train load of metal figures that rode the trains.

Thorley Hoople Toy Train Company Standard gauge baggage car Sets were produced in limited runs. A numbering sequence method was employed whereas a train numbered #1010 was the tenth train made. It was planned that each loco frame would be stamped serially. This was accomplished for the first 25 sets or so, and then it became overlooked. Hence, historically, only a few sets carry a stamped sequence number.

There were endless difficulties with the small spoked brass wheels. It cost double the estimated machining cost in the machine shop, as money was lost and it was a difficult time doing an adequate and consistent job. They retired their sand casting pattern and redesigned the wheel for manufacture by Frank Harvey in a large screw machine. Form tools were used for handling the face cut on wheels. Drills were used to bore the axle hole. The finished wheels were proclaimed to be the finest ever put on any tinplate train.

Tad Cody believed in the living-on of tinplate. Quotes from Mr. Cody's narrative in Thorley Hoople Train Company catalogues state:

"For over a hundred years men have manufactured photographs, models, drawings and stories of trains and about trains. Modelers have gone to lifetimes of effort to reproduce the most breathtaking detail of uncounted numbers of locomotives and cars. Some have built scenery to form a dioramic glimpse into a piece of history they have never seen. No matter how fine the detail there is never quite enouch and a feeling of 'almost' seems to persist".

"Yet a few models or toys by their lack of explicit detail convey as much or more of a real impression as that produced by the most refined model. Perhaps this is why the toy train or tinplate train has survived even though we seem to be able to reach ultimates of detail and scale."

Thorley Hoople Steam Passenger Set in Standard gauge Includes a #65 Major Belle 4-4-0 steam loco with Bayshore tender and 3 day coaches

Tad got involved in train production after he made the rounds at train meets and spoke with collectors and operators. He learned that there were many who wished Standard gauge trains were still being made. This "sparked" his imagination. It motivated him to plan and finally to manufacture archtype American tinplate trains - all American made. As a result, The Thorley Hoople Toy Company organized In 1965. The name Thorley came trom his Grandfather Cody, and the name Hoople from Major Hoople of comic strip fame. Tad believed only Major Hoople would be capable of projecting such a grandiose scheme - Standard gauge for the mid 1960's.

"It Is the purpose of this company to manufacture toy-train echoes of famous and fondly remembered trains," claims the first Thorley Hoople catalogue issued in 1966. "We are dedicated to making better trains and not cheaper trains. These are trains worthy of passing on to another generation." And from the second catalogue (1967), "....trains made of steel and brass, American trains made with pride In the United States." Tad knew that he could save money and reduce costs greatly if he opted to utilize cheaper materials such as plastic or zinc in his products. He also knew that he could have manufacturing performed overseas to save on costs as well. Instead of taking that route, he opted to adhere to an uncompromising approach and utilize quality materials and employ top of the line craftsmanship.

Thorley Hoople Toy Train Company Standard gauge yellow Bayshore Day Coach At the time of the company's closure, A Standard gauge GG-1 locomotive was in development to head a Circus train. John Grant was involved in engineering the truck articulation for a 23" long GG-1 and in solving the curve problems of 8-driver locomotives. A set of flat cars for the 'Overland Circus' was in development that would carry a series of Circus loads consisting of cast wagons, cast figures and cast circus animals to accompany the GG-1. The GG-1 was planned to bear Pennsylvania RR livery.

Because of the limited quantities of Thorley Hoople trains manufactured, and the small window of only 5 years of production, these trains are very rare and very valuable. They are highly sought after by collectors, and when located, sell for very high prices. Tad Cody TCA #64-1114, was tragically killed when he fell out of an open touring bus in Asia about 1994.

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