SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, CA, APRIL 12, 2019 – Turner Auctions + Appraisals is pleased to present the Bill Drake Collection of Model Trains on Sunday, April 28, 2019, at 10:30 am PDT. Featuring 290 lots acquired over 65 years, the assemblage features an exceptional range of model trains, with something to tempt all collectors. While the collection is predominantly American Flyer S Gauge, there is wide diversity of manufacturers and eras – from pre-World War II, as early as the 1920s, to modern day. Several related items from other collectors and reference books round out the sale.
Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Bill Drake received his first toy train at age 4 or 5 and "has been accumulating ever since," he says. A Christmas gift from his family, his first train set was a Schilling battery powered set (see lot 202); subsequent additions happily came as birthday and Christmas presents. While American Flyer is perhaps still his favorite model train, his collection amassed through the decades has been augmented by numerous other manufacturers, both domestic and international, resulting in a collection that at its peak numbered over 1,000 locomotives, 2000+ freight cars and several hundred passenger cars. Today his trains are showcased in a train room built from scratch measuring 13' x 18,' housed in a former garage space.
An electrical engineer by training, Mr. Drake graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering and applied science. Coincidentally, his acceptance to the Pasadena university arrived the same day he had finished shoveling deep, heavy snow from his parents' long and wide Minnesota driveway, motivating him to try Southern California's warmer climes. His interest in electronics and engineering came partly from his father, Willis Drake, a founder of Control Data Corporation and engineer as well. Seymour Cray, designer of the first mainframe and fellow Control Data engineer, was also a mentor to young Bill: he not only got him interested in computers and electronics, he was a model train enthusiast as well.
After graduating, Mr. Drake began a long and peripatetic career in control systems for utilities and oil companies. His work for leading technology corporations and private firms took him and his family from Southern California to Oregon, Washington D.C., Virginia, St. Louis and Northern California, where he and his wife Krystin live now. Many of his business travels were outside the U.S., including the U.K., France, Germany, Spain and Japan. Often he went a day early to avoid jet lag, but frequently spent the day looking instead for places that sold old toy trains. His collection has come from many sources here and abroad, including antique stores, train meets and eBay.
Both as a young boy and a seasoned engineer, Mr. Drake has always been intrigued by trains in general. This passion grew as he discovered a new model, a foreign example, or a new feature – a whistle, a "smoke & chug," sound effects, headlight, a new coupler, or a model that emitted smoke. As he says, "the engineer in me" always got excited the first year an innovation was introduced or when he saw something new. Curious to know how the trains worked then fixing them up, he enjoyed collecting "one of everything." Over the years, learning the provenance and stories of his acquisitions has been part of the pleasure.
While his collection has remained mostly private, others have also benefitted. He and his son Kirk established a website, TrainDr.com, that helps people identify what they have, provides service manuals and repair notes, and assists with troubleshooting and needed parts. His collection was also exhibited once: when Mrs. Drake, a founder of the Conejo Valley Art Museum in Thousand Oaks, California, learned that a planned art exhibitor had cancelled, she asked her husband to show his trains. The train exhibit was a big success, generating more money and visitors than art!
Mr. Drake retired in November 2017, although he continues to consult occasionally on wireless devices. The Drakes' collecting – his trains, her Barbie dolls, and their Arts & Crafts lamps and pottery – has slowed considerably: they simply have run out of room. Now, as Mr. Drake downsizes his model train collection, offloading duplicates, triplicates and some PikeMaster, other aficionados are sure to happily acquire Mr. Drake's trains that are leaving the station.
By Turner Auctions + Appraisals LLC
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