The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Monday, June 22, 2009

More on Carl Appel

About a year ago I posted about the Norfolk and Ohio layout of Carl Appel, perhaps the greatest American OO gauge layout ever built.

Since then I have come into possession a copy of his obituary that was published in Model Railroader. I was hoping with this post to be able to say what issue it was from exactly, as it came to me as a clipping. However, this issue falls in a period when I did not subscribe to the magazine and I don’t have access to the issue. My guess is probably September of 1997 [See UPDATE]. If you were curious to see Mr. Appel, this photo is from the article by Jim Hediger. He wrote,
Carl Appel, one of the hobby’s pioneers, died on June 24, 1997. He was 94….

Appel’s extensive OO scale Norfolk & Ohio RR was featured in the August 1948 and November 1958 issues of MODEL RAILROADER. It was one of the first home layouts to realistically reproduce a specific prototype location (the Norfolk & Western terminal at Lynchburg, Va.). Appel was an expert scratchbuilder, completing nearly a dozen N&W steam locomotives which featured sprung drivers and tiny ball bearings on the axles and in the gearboxes. Longtime MR editor Linn Westcott described these models as "exceptional."
They also note that “Carl Appel was the fourth-generation owner of Appel Jewelers, Allentown, Pa.’s, oldest family business which was founded in 1847.” Periodically a model or two from his layout comes up on eBay, always items to keep your eye peeled for.

UPDATE: The piece quoted above on Carl Appel was published in the October, 1997 issue of Model Railroader on page 22. The photo is a scan of the photo published in MR.

Giving more detail, his local newspaper obituary is found online here. He attended Lehigh University and had a degree in electrical engineering, taking over the family jewelry business when his father retired in 1930. From that article,
Employee Robert Bungerz, who has been with the store for 14 years, remembered Appel as dedicated to his father's business and
" ... an absolutely phenomenal employer and a big jokester," But Bungerz noted "His (Appel's) true love was his model railroading."
He did have one other strong hobby interest though, and that was big game hunting.
A member of the African Safari Club, Philadelphia, Appel had a great interest in big game hunting. He and his wife went on a number of Africa and Indian safaris in the 1950s and 60s, including Tanganyika and East Africa. In his later years he became a leading advocate for game conservation and for the elimination of the use of ivory.
He had an outstanding collection of big game trophies, which included animals from Africa, India and Canada. 
Returning to the models he made, from the level of detail in the scratch built steam engines in particular it makes total sense he was a jeweler with an engineering degree! It is to be hoped that those models are still out there somewhere, a legacy of his love of American OO.


Anonymous said...

I was visited today by a gentleman who was a neighbor of and worked for Carl Appel and worked on some of the trains. He was interested in finding out what happened to Carl Appel's trains when Mr. Appel passed away, or when his wife passed away more recently. The retirement community this gentleman lives in is building a train room and he had heard that some of Mr. Appel's old collection was being sold at an auction. Is there any information that I can pass on to him? Thank you!

John Ericson said...

Great to hear from you. There must be a "mother lode" of items from the Appel layout out there somewhere but a number of items have passed through eBay in recent years. He was quite a craftsman and an important figure in American OO trains. Would love to know more of the memories of his neighbor on Carl Appel.

Anonymous said...

I will pass on your interest to the gentleman. I think he is in his early 80's, so he may not have access to, or use a computer. Would the items on eBay be specified as part of Mr. Appel's collection?

John Ericson said...

I have never seen them listed as such, and there have not been any actually in some time. The key marker is if they are lettered for the Norfolk and Ohio which was his road.

Anonymous said...

According to my friend Robert Bungerz, who you have quoted from Mr. Appel's obituary, and who handled the estate, three of his best engines were given to one each of Carl's grandsons, and quite a bit was given to another young friend from Allentown. The remainder was sold at auction in Philadelphia in October of 2006 by auctioneer Ted Maurer. Sadly, the layout which had fallen into great disrepair, had to be destroyed after repeated attempts to find a suitable museum or other facility to take possession of it, fell through when the house was sold. Robert himself has many photographs of the actual layout and of Carl building many of the engines at his workbench, which he cherishes.

ruxtonite said...

Good morning all.
Thought I would visit Facebook American oo at Jack Bartman's suggestion.
There is still a large quantity of Carl Appel's lay out and also trains alive and well. His buildings bridges also. I believe Ed Morlok purchased these items and kept them in his possession until about almost ten years ago when he passed away. Ed Morlok should be admired for the passion he had for keeping American oo alive. And John, I admire you as well! Keep up the good work! I have not been a Facebook member, and thought I would check it out. Hopefully the gentlemen that made the previous post will see this. It would be great to see some of those pictures of carl and his layout!