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Model Engineering Works

History

Model Engineering Works Standard gauge 2-rail Colorado Midland #25 4-6-0 Loco and tender circa 1965 Model Engineering Works was founded in the fall of 1945 by Dick and Hannah Wheeler in Niagara Falls, New York. Richard O. 'Dick' Wheeler (1916 - 2009) was a development engineer with the Carborundum Company. Dick was trained as a mechanical engineer at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, and graduated in 1936. He had also been a model railroader for many years. He was given the opportunity of creating two railroad displays at the 1938 New York World’s Fair. One was called 'Railroads at Work' and the other was 'Building a Railroad.' He was also interested in manufacturing processes. The inevitable intersection of all these pastimes was what led Dick into the manufacture of model trains and kits. The company, and its owners, eventually moved to Monrovia, California in 1949. Model Engineering Works was a pioneer in the field of reproduction train parts having produced many reproduction parts for vintage US made trains including pre-war tinplate Lionel, Dorfan, Ives and American Flyer, in 'O' and standard/wide gauge. The MEW replacement driver sets and die-cast wheels were heavily relied upon by many operators and restorers of the tinplate trains of the pre-war era.

Model Engineering Works HO scale Brass 703.7 Cleveland Union Terminal P-1A Box Motor Electric The first Model Engineering Works (MEW) product was a ground throw switch stand. It was cast in a hand mold on Dick's kitchen table. Then came other accessories, kits for rolling stock, and finally detailed locomotives, mostly in HO and OO gauge. MEW grew to include enough products in its line to issue a catalog. Dick Wheeler eventually added die casting, centrifugal casting, lost wax casting, plastic molding, stamping and printing equipment, and a complete machine shop to produce tools and dies. Dick supervised the development and tooling of new products as well as production. Hannah handled the office and shipping departments. People that knew Dick Wheeler have shared stories of visiting the Model Engineering Works shed located behind a drive-in dairy in Monrovia, CA. It was not a sophisticated operation. Most of the cast parts were made by Dick himself. In the wave of his successful HO modeling business, the nostalgia of larger toy trains and the Standard gauge tinplate toy trains of his youth returned. In 1949 Dick bought an old Ives #3243R locomotive for $10 and so began his toy train collection. He had received one just like it for Christmas as a child in 1922.

Model Engineering Works HO scale brass Self Propelled Mack Railcar Rail bus California Western RR The Skunk Line

In the late 1950's/early 1960's, Model Engineering Works offered a reproduction Lionel Standard gauge #2 trolley in brass that was manufactured and imported from overseas. Fewer than 100 of these trolleys were produced. One specimen was on display in Dick Wheeler's collection for over 50+ years.

Model Engineering Works HO scale brass Japanese import Self Propelled Hall-Scott Nevada Copper Belt RR #21 Gas-Electric Motor Car MEW engaged in the importation of mostly HO gauge limited run brass models of steam and electric locomotives, interurbans and gasoline motor cars that were custom built in the orient by the likes of Katsumi. Other items offered included large scale flat car and 1890 wood gondola kits and cast Diamond Archbar railroad car trucks mounted to a piece of track that were sold as paperweights. Mantel Piece Models was a division of MEW that issued 7/16" full scale models designed for display on mantel pieces, bookcases, coffee tables or desks. The gauge was actually 2⅛" or what was more commonly known as Standard gauge. The Mantel Piece Models had insulated wheels for 2-rail operation on solid track such as Gargraves Standard gauge T-rail. These trains would not operate on tinplate tubular track because of the use of scale wheel flanges. The most notable model in this line was the Colorado Midland #25 4-6-0 loco created in 1965, whose prototype was built by Schenectady Locomotive Works in 1887. The model came in unpainted brass. It was equipped with a 12 volt DC permanent magnet 'O' gauge motor with worm drive and featured details including brake shoes on all wheels, and chains on the tender trucks. The loco with tender sold for $225. Plans for this 1887 ten-wheeler originally appeared in the February 1964 issue of Model Railroader magazine. The front drivers of the first 25 locos ordered had no flanges, and their minimum operating radius was approximately 5'. On the second order of 25 locos, the center drivers were blind in lieu of the front pair. In addition, there were smaller-diameter pilot wheels, permitting the pony truck to swing under the frame, thus achieving a 3½' radius.

Model Engineering Works HO scale brass import Alco Steeple Cab Electric Sacramento Northern RR circa 1968 by Katsumi Model Engineering Works HO scale brass import Sacramento Northern RR Interurban Car #1005

Model Engineering Works catalogs advertised a 44 Ton Diesel Electric switcher kit, a GE Steeple Cab electric, an operating powered log loading crane, a log buggie, 12 yard side dump car, double truck shortie caboose, a passenger caboose, high-ball period passenger cars (baggage, mail, combine and coach), New York Central 'T' class heavy electric locos, and a Baldwin-Westinghouse 49 ton box cab electric, all brass imports in HO scale. Also carried were Iron Horse miniatures which consisted of various trackside accessories including a railway mail crane, Hayes derail set, scale Ranapo switch stands (both high and low), ground throw switch stand, harp switch stand, and removable marker lamps. The company was well known among HO layout builders for its Hi-speed HO Tracklayer tool and their Gold Medal Tracklayer spikes. The High Speed Tracklayer tool was utilized to fasten HO track to wooden roadbed and was much easier to use than the standard method of inserting individual spikes one at a time while maintaining the track gauge. The company motto was 'Unique Miniatures', and this appeared on the cover of the catalogs and below the company name.

Model Engineering Works HO scale NYC T Class Heavy Electric The Monrovia Northern Railroad was a Standard gauge Garden Railroad run by Dick Wheeler on his elaborate terrace pike in Monrovia Canyon from the early 1960's to about 2000. He started building it around 1958. He ran Standard gauge Lionel, Ives, and American Flyer trains as well as a variety of custom-built equipment centered on the brass 4-6-0 Colorado Midland #25 that he designed and imported from Japan for Model Engineering Works (MEW).

Model Engineering Works brass 0-6-0 Colorado Midland RR Steam Switcher Locomotive and tender circa 1966 500 produced Dick Wheeler was a longtime and charter member of the Train Collectors Association and was one of the organizing founders of its first division, the Western Division, in 1954. The organizing meeting was actually held at Dick's home at 801 Oakdale Road in Monrovia CA. In 1967 he served as president of the division. In April 1976 Dick was one of the participants in the TCA National Headquarters and Museum ground breaking ceremonies in Strasburg, PA. In 2010, selected items from Dick Wheeler's 500-piece collection of antique tinplate toy trains and hand built HO brass models were displayed at the California State University's C.E. Smith Museum of Anthropology. Dick’s son-in-law George Miller was a professor at Cal State University East Bay in Hayward, CA. Professor Miller never had much interest in toy trains until his wife received their inheritance of trains after Dick’s passing. George said it was Dick Wheeler’s blessing to him. The exhibit was titled 'All Aboard! The Impact of Trains on American Culture.'

Model Engineering Works HO Scale brass import Colorado Midland RR 4-6-0 Ten Wheeler circa 1964 500 produced

Not much is known about the fate of Model Engineering Works after Dick Wheeler's passing. At one point the parts business operated out of Kansas City, MO, and then out of Prescott, AZ. MEW's line of parts for classic tinplate trains remained available over the years through eBay.com and more recently via Henning's Trains of Lansdale, PA, who purchased Model Engineering Works in late 2015.

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