model train set on track

John Parker TCA CM-143, Oral History and First Recipient of the President’s Award

e*Train Issue: Jun 2018   |   Posted in:

Parker Higby (06-60401) and Carol McGinnis (HE95-41066)    Summer 2018 

John Parker, TCA# CM-143 has a storied past and much of it is intertwined with his love of toy trains.  He is a Charter Member of TCA and a Charter Member of the Western Division.  He married Patricia (Pat) in 1957 and lived in Los Angeles, Oxnard, Camarillo, and then moved to Orange County in 1968. John and Pat raised two daughters, Cathy (William) Brown and Linda Parker; and has three grandchildren, Michael and Jeffrey Brown and Jillian Bakke. 

John was interviewed for the National Toy Train Library Oral History Project by TCA member Parker Higby, # 06-60401.  Parker visited John at his home in Anaheim Hills.  John already had a lot written down, so he spoke directly about his experiences and his love of all things toy trains.

The way that John got started with trains was through his father when he was 5 years old.  His dad was an electrical contractor and was in and out of wholesale hardware stores in central Los Angeles on a regular basis.  In 1936 he found an American Flyer standard gauge freight set.  The consist was a 4680 locomotive, a 4671 tender, and five freight cars.  All of this came at a bargain price and was purchased for John for Christmas.  

John found out many years later that American Flyer had dropped the standard gauge line, so this was quite a find, “an obsolete collector’s item from day one!”  What they did come to realize was that looking for cars, or track, or switches to go with the set was difficult.  John’s brother got the standard gauge American Flyer 4644 set with a locomotive and two coaches.  This one was purchased in the early war years (WWII).  John was pushed into searching for stuff to go with his set from the beginning. 

He built a 4×8 layout when he was about 12 years old, making the track from sliding door track.  The layout eventually expanded to fill his grandmother’s two car garage in the mid 1940s.  He kept searching for standard gauge trains, cars, etc., at prices that a youngster could afford, keeping him out of the local shops in Hollywood.

So, time marches on.  John finished college (four years at UCLA) and was promptly drafted into the U.S. Army for the Korean War.  He completed basic training at Fort Ord, Monterey Bay, CA and was transferred to Ft. Eustis, Newport News, in Virginia where he served in the Transportation Corp, which probably saved his life.  Travel at that time was not as convenient as it is now-a-days.  He went from LA to his home, and from there to New York City.  Utilizing the cheapest airfare available meant that he spent New Year’s Eve in NYC, then hopped a train to Richmond, VA with a change to the C&O into Lew Howell, VA. 

Spending some time in NYC, John went shopping at a local hobby store near City Hall.  In the shop was a pile of Lionel standard gauge trains that they were dumping for $1 to $2 a car.  So he picked out a 390, a green 318 passenger set, and a half dozen 500 series freight cars all in very nice shape.  They were all packed into a large box and off he goes to the subway and back to his hotel.  How in the world he was able to handle his full duffle bag and a large box of standard gauge trains remains a mystery to him to this day.

The next day he boarded the standing-room-only Pennsy train at Penn Station in NYC.  Finally when they reached New Jersey, a seat opened up.  Somehow he managed to keep everything together all the way to Ft. Eustis.  Through travel, check in, etc, the box of trains survived, to be squirreled away in the company store room until John is discharged in November of 1955!  He did get a chance on night duty one night to take them out a play with them when he was in charge of the keys to everything.  He spent 20 months at Ft. Eustis before he managed to drive home.

So, one might ask, “At what point did I become a collector?”  “I think that it was when we learned that there was a shop in Knott’s Berry Farm that dealt in old trains.”  Making the trip down, John met Evan Middleton (TCA #CM-2, 1st Vice-President of TCA) prior to being drafted into the Army.  Following his return from the service and after several visits and purchases of standard gauge, Evan invited John to a small train collectors meeting in San Diego.  There John met Frank Cox (TCA #CM-13).  “I was asked if I would like to join then and I did, becoming member #143 of TCA.”  Here he was, in his 20’s and a member.  Ralph Pauly (TCA #CM-45) told him years later that they used to refer to him as “the kid”!

Newly married in February 1956, John and Pat moved to Oxnard and after a year, or so, had a track house on the south end of the house.  John built a standard gauge layout so that it ran over the hoods of the cars in the garage.  A couple of his young neighbors were very happy with that.  During that period of time a good friend, Dick Young, would stop by to show off his neat, used Jaguar.  They would take a drive up to Ventura. Riding along watching the store fronts near Ventura Mission, John spotted a standard gauge 390 Blue Comet set in a plumbing shop window. 

The following Monday, when the store opened, John was there, and not at work!  He discovered that they also had an Ives 3257 Transcontinental Limited that he was able to purchase for $35 out of the grocery money.  The Blue Comet, that was on consignment, was beyond his price range.

During the 1960’s John kept in touch with Jack Jordan (TCA #65-1332) of Oxnard and with Creel Husted (TCA #59-376) of Carpertaria.  Together they found trains all over the place.  Jack knew how to deal with Goodwill.  He would get the train stuff shipped up to Oxnard on a regular basis where John and Creel would buy it up by the boxload. 

In the course of John’s TCA involvement, he met Lou Redman (TCA #CM-3) whose mother, Althea, lived in the Arcadia area which brought him to Southern California on a frequent basis.  And, John got involved in putting on the 1966 convention in Santa Monica.  Lou would be on the phone telling him how it should be done.  They got to be good friends and Lou prompted John to make it out to York meets, which he did on a regular basis for many years.  In 1981, at Lou’s urging, John became the TCA National Secretary, starting at the St. Louis Convention and serving for several years.  He became President-Elect and then President in 1989. 

The last time John saw Lou was in January of 2002 when he came to visit his brother, Roy, who lived in Orange County, CA.  Lou and Roy stopped by John’s house and they had planned to see Ward Kimball (TCA #CM-31) later in the day.  Roy brought in a little train set and showed it to John and Lou.  As it turned out making the connection with Ward did not happen so the pair went over to the Nixon Library.  John, finding the train set, decided to go over to the library to see if he could catch up to them and return the train.  John caught up with them in the Nixon parking lot, which ended up being the last time John saw Lou.  Two weeks later Lou died suddenly back home in Pittsburgh.  John went to the funeral and got caught in a snow storm.  He got better acquainted with Jm Burke (TCA #68-2321) in the course of it all. 

The most significant thing that trains have ever done for John’s family was when Bill Brown came along with his father, Jerry Brown (TCA #62-696) who was a train collector.  Bill, and John’s oldest daughter, Kathy, had met at several conventions and train meets when they were in their teens.  Bill came up to John at a train meet in 1987 and asked him about Kathy.  After giving his phone number to John, Kathy called Bill later that night.  They went out to dinner and things went well, as a bit later, in 1989, they were married.  Now, twenty three years later, the family has two grandsons who are both at UCLA. 

“So, the trains brought us all together, and my son-in-law is very much of a train collector now, having a great deal of his father’s collection.”  Jerry Brown is the manufacturer who made a standard gauge streamliner.

The President’s Award:  by Joe Fanara 82- 17381

John Parker being presented the first President’s Award by TCA President Joe Fanara

The President’s Award this year, 2018, was presented to John Parker CM-143 for recognition of his contributions and outstanding service to the TCA. John served as Historian, National Convention Chair, as well as President-Elect and President of TCA. The President’s Award is a recognition approved by the Board of Directors at the 2017 Convention which is to be presented at each National Convention following nominations and selection by the Executive Committee.

John is 86 years old and it is hard for him to get around.  He was not able to make a Convention appearance in Warwick, RI. So, the Executive Committee decided to have me, as President, present the award to John at the Western Division meet in May, 2018. John’s daughters, Linda, Cathy, Cathy’s husband Bill, and his granddaughter Jillian, brought him to the presentation.

When he found out this was going to happen, he was very excited that TCA members remembered the things that he had done over 64 years in membership and 40 years of leadership of TCA. Needless to say, he was excited that morning.

The Parker Family:  Bill Brown, John Parker, Jillian Bakke, Cathy Brown and Linda Parker

Prior to the presentation of the award, I sat and had a long conversation with John about what it was like back in the early years. He told me some stories about how he came to be President and how his term of office was shortened by political and legal circumstances of the time.

We truly enjoyed talking with many of the older members. John was extremely excited and proud that the TCA President came all the way from Rhode Island to give him his award. He had tears, as well as every member of his family, myself, and members sitting in the audience.

It was a heart-warming experience and it made me very honored and proud to present this Award to Mr. John Parker on behalf of the TCA.