Thursday, July 28, 2005

Interview - John A Daniel

Great men make great trains. That's the first thing that enters your mind when you spend some time speaking with John A Daniel. He's sincere, honest and an all around great guy. One of his Hiawatha's is pictured right. JAD made trains through much of the mid and early 70's. It's designs were unique and outstanding. One thing about JAD Trains; when you see them, you want to play with them and you wish you had more. They are toys that really capture the spirit of standard gauge.

I wanted to talk to the man that started and built some great toys.

I asked him a couple of questions today and I heard some suprising answers:

My questions are preceded by a dash -

- Why did you start making Standard Gauge (JAD)?

I started making standard gauge for a couple of reasons. The biggest reason is because I wanted to see what standard gauge would have looked like had Lionel continued on the path of making it after the 30's. I took trains that I thought would be consistent with what Lionel would have chosen and made them. Thus the GG1, Hiawatha and a few 20th Century Limiteds and M10000's.

- Wow! That's one heck of a lineup. Did they sell well?

Yes, they sold well, I couldn't put them together fast enough. The GG1 and Hiawatha sold about 350 to 400 sets. The 20th Century Limited and M10000 sold about 15 sets.

- Did people not want the M10000 and 20th Century?

No, not at all, they were just hard to build. I guess you could call them rare.

- I have never seen the 20th Century Set. Actually, I did see one on eBay a few weeks ago. I think it went for around $1200.

That much!

- Yes but it didn't have an engine.

I actually made an engine with that set. It was a Hiawatha painted a nice light grey with a red stripe.

- That had to look amazing.

Yes, the set (with the red streamlined cars and the Grey Hiawatha) looked gorgeous. Like I said, I only made about 15.

- So there are some rare JAD sets?

Yes, I'd have to say the M10000 and Century sets are rare due to the low production. I also made some Hiawatha's in different color schemes. I made some all white one's and all black one's. They really were something to see.

- I would love to just see a complete 20th Century Limited Set!

Me too!

- So what are you up to now? Are you considering any further train manufacture?

Nah, I got out of the trains because it was so labor intensive. To put out a really top quality product is a tremendous amount of work. I had to bend much of the sheet metal in our shop (the old Casablanca Fan Co building). I also put 5 coats of paint on every train that left here. Multiply that times 300 sets. Well, you get the idea.

I am also a big collector of just about everything. I have been featured twice on The Incurable Collector. I wish they still had that show on the air.

- Me too, it was one of my favorites. I was really not happy when A&E took it off. I wrote in several times and they told me it didn't have any ratings and that they were trying to shorten it to a half hour show. All the information on the show could not be presented in that format. It was also on A&E, they show some really outlandish things on A&E (biographies of Marilyn Monroe, etc.) Somehow the Incurable Collector didn't have the same following.

I think it just needed to be in a venue that had more people. Almost like an ABC, CBS or even HGTV.

- What else do you collect?

I collect trains (obviously), Toys, Antique Antique Toy Automatons, African Tribal Art. I have about 11 to 13 running collections. I just built a new building to hold more of my collections.

- Holy Moly! That's tremendous! Come on, are you sure you don't want to put together anymore trains?

It just takes too much out of me. I love doing it and I loved the trains we produced but it is just too much in too little time.

- What's your favorite train ever produced?

My favorite trains are from Dorfan!

- Like the 1134?

No, I like Crocodiles. I have 5 T-Repro Croc's in the box. You ever see the original T-Repro and Dorfan advertising? That was my set (an original Dorfan Croc and cars). Norm Thomas used my original Dorfan set to advertise in the TCA Quarterly, he didn't have the demo or production units yet from his supplier.

The Croc set runs like a dream. It's fun to watch as well, the color and the quality of the originals is just outstanding.

- I miss Norm Thomas, I really enjoyed his catalogs and I have quite a few of his products.

Yes, I have almost all of Norm's stuff. T-Repro's stuff was top notch. I have tons of it, all boxed and waiting to see my layout.

- You were smart, I wish I had the cash to buy more of it when he was selling it.

Well, Buddy L, Lionel and everyone probably didn't help the guy out. Competing by litigating never works. The guy made great stuff. I knew that when I was looking at it. I even tend to like the terra cotta and green colors better than the late red and ivory.

- I have been working on some of your GG1's. They can get kind of finicky as they get older.

They were made to be taken apart and taken care of. The motor's need to be oiled and the sides can detoriorate given the right conditions. As with most trains, they need TLC. Remember they are all old enough to drink (over 26 years old).

- It seems like fewer and fewer standard gauge trains are getting made. Yet there are still many, many people that are interested in them. If auctions are any indication, I have never seen a standard gauge train left on a table at an auction. Even the unusual stuff at shows goes very quick. Do you think more manufacturers will enter the market.

- Well, that's kind of the way it has always been. It's unlikely more folks will start building. The issue is labor. Building standard gauge, specifically great product is an art form. And it is labor intensive. It is hard work for anyone. And if you aren't making bags of cash, it is hard to justify all the time. But the trains are great!

- Couldn't agree more John. You are everything I thought you would be. Great men, make great trains. Many thanks for your time!

PS John had also mentioned that JAD did a "Black Diamond" version of a GG1 with cars (black sides, red top). He indicated that this set was pretty rare as well, under 25 were made.

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