model train set on track

Much fuss about Gus!

e*Train Issue: Sep 2022   |   Posted in: ,

By Carol Redman McGinnis, TCA# HE95-41066 e*Train Fall 2022

W.C. (Gus) Johnson, Capt. U.S.Navy  TCA # CM-29 was known as Navy, as an artist, and as a scholar.  He would trace out the outline of a train car, locomotive, station, or whatever caught his fancy.  These detailed drawings would become a part of his process for building and rebuilding models.  He would then paint and restore the items.  He used blueprints, diagrams, prototypes, and photos.  He was described as “very talented” and would often sign his trains in Japanese. 

The story goes that Dan Danielson, Joe Weatherly, Gus, and others would gather in Joe’s basement three to four times a week back “in the day.”  There they would talk trains.  Gus was not one to share about his past but did love sharing about toy trains.

  One of Gus’ sketches on yellow lined paper

Gus was quite a character.  He was also a historian, an artist, a restorer, and a good friend.  He was a man of many talents.  W.C. Johnson, Capt. was Willard Carroll Johnson, US Navy Retired.  He was born in Tacoma, Washington on February 22, 1908 and passed away in Arlington, Virginia on March 9, 1971.  He went to the University of Washington where he got a BBA, and then to the University of Hawaii where he got a Masters.  

Another drawing

During World War II he was stationed as a Lieutenant aboard the submarine tender the USS Canopus.  On May 7, 1943 it was captured by the Japanese and he became a POW.  He survived the death march on Bataan, was interned in a POW camp, and liberated on September 9, 1945.  While interned he was known to get ahold of paper, cardboard, or anything he could find to keep his mind busy.  He drew pictures from memory of things and places that he remembered.  He kept the moral up of those around him as he would talk about languages, economics, history, and in doing so would entertain the prisoners.  He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery

He continued drawing into later life.  And he did an excellent job of restoring vintage tinplate which he painted free hand and then his buddy, Joe Weatherly, TCA# 60-472, would do the electronics.  

  Letter from the Office of J. Edgar Hoover

A box of some of the drawings that Gus created, and some other artifacts, came up in an auction several months ago.  John B., TCA# 95-42373, was the winner of the lot. Just a few pictures are shown here, but they clearly detail of the variety and interests that Gus had.  Whether any of these were done while in the prison camp is unknown.  He also restored trains, and Dan D., TCA# 65-1226, has a couple of examples in his collection.  Gus illustrated some books and wrote at least two: one a cookbook and the other a 118-page book about the prison camp. The 118-page book, with drawings from his recollections, was “An Incredible Journey from Tacoma to the Far East: The Amazing Story of Capt. W.C. Johnson

There is a discussion of his book and his work by Joseph Govednik, Museum Director of the Cowlitz County Historic Museum at From Tacoma to the Far East: An Artistic Journal of an Incredible Pacific Journey | Willard Carrol Johnson.| By Foss Waterway Seaport, that includes some of Gus’ pictures drawn in captivity.  It is amazing to see the details of his drawings. Living in Tacoma, Washington a copy of the book made its way to the archives of this popular museum.  Joseph G. shares that “it is a testament to how the museum collections and the artifacts within the museum can tell an incredible amazing story.”   

It just goes to show that TCA is, and was, made up of remarkable individuals!