Fontaine Fox and Two Toonerville Trolleys
By John S. Halajko TCA 84-20653, Carl Condon TCA 88-28294, and Leon B. Duminiak TCA 02-54067
Let’s turn the clock back to the early Twentieth Century. The major media outlets were radio, newspapers and motion pictures and Lionel Trains was in its infancy. Fontaine Talbot Fox was busy writing and illustrating life in an imaginary town of Toonerville. This was his unique universe where everything was just a little bit crooked. This work made it into many major newspapers and motion pictures.
Each cartoon episode of life in Toonerville was a very special glimpse of a farming community with its blend of over 53 different characters. Wikipedia shares a 1928 St. Louis Post Dispatch Drawing of the “full cast” of Toonerville.
Transportation through the town and farmland was provided by the driver, Skipper, who ran the Toonerville Trolley. This well-known trolley image spawned a popular windup floor toy which was later converted to rails, much like Thomas the Tank Engine of today spawned train sets and toys. The wind up version was built in the early 1920’s.
Rich-Art later produced the trolley in O gauge, Standard gauge, and #1 gauge in the late 1980s. The Rich-Art Toonerville Collection was inspired by Ward Kimball, TCA #CM-31. For more details on the Rich-Art Company, see the Classic Toy Trains magazine, March 1997 issue.
Let’s take a closer look at the original windup next to the Rich-Art version. Note the 1922 Copyright on the wind up trolley body, the electric overhead pickup, and the stove pipe.
Note that the windup key does not come out and powers the spring and the linkage under the frame that connects to Skipper to produce his motion. This allows motion which is created by the spring windup motor. Look at how the bottom left wheel is off center. This causes the trolley to rock while moving along the track.
Note that on the Wind Up unit the Skipper’s arm (and leg) are pinned. This makes the Skipper move as the wind up motor turns.
Note that the Skipper and trolley platforms are very different between the Wind Up Trolley and the Rich-Art Trolley version. (Carl forgot to install the smokestack which goes into the slot on the roof.)
Note that there is a single third rail pickup. This makes it difficult for the trolley to negotiate switches.
The # under “TROLLEY” is absent on Rich-Art Version.
The Skipper takes the trolley down the track to the turntable. Note the need to elevate the track when setup is or the floor or not imbedded in the layout. Many happy memories are created with each cycle of the turntable.
On the Rich-Art collection notice the Trolley front headlight and the tripper shoe under the headlight. This trip shoe is used to operate the turntable (red box on the right.)
A young 7-year-old actor, Joe Yule Jr., son of the vaudeville comedian, Joe Yule, took on the role as Mickey McGuire in the series of shorts. The film company even had his name changed to Mickey McGuire, to avoid royalty payments to Fontaine Fox. Fox prevailed, however, and would not allow McGuire to perform under the name Mickey McGuire once the short films ended. So, at that point the actor changed his name once more, this time to Mickey Rooney!
Very little has been written on the Operation of Motorized Units like this trolley. In 2022 the authors will begin a series of articles on the Operation of Motorized Units on a large layout.
- Photos of the windup version are courtesy of Hitching Post Antiques, Tecumseh, MI.
- Photos of Rich Art trolley courtesy of Carl Condon.
- Photos of Rich-Art characters and station courtesy of Carol R. McGinnis. TCA #HE95-41066.
- Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fontaine_Fox#Life_before_Toonerville