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Tom Thumb history


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#1 NJ Racer

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 09:57 AM

Mike McMasters, where did the name "Tom Thumb" for your raceway come from anyway?
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#2 Cheater

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 10:58 AM

Mike, this is a question I've had, too.

I seem to recall that Tom Thumb Miniature Raceways was a slot car raceway franchiser in the early '60s, and that at one time there were multiple Tom Thumb Raceways in various locations around the country. I'm not suggesting that you dad was the franchiser himself, but that Tom Thumb in Columbus was a TT franchise operation. Or is my brain fried from years of breathing soldering flux fumes?

Many Slotbloggers may be unaware of the history of General Tom Thumb (whose real name was Charles S. Stratton), who has been called P.T. Barnum's greatest attraction. His famous wedding on February 10, 1863, during the depths of the Civil War, was covered by virtually every newspaper in country.

General Tom Thumb

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Illustration from the Saturday, February 21, 1863 issue of "Harper's Weekly, A Journal of Civilization", "single copies 6 cents, $3.00 per year in advance".

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#3 tonyp

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 11:05 AM

The first track I ever went to was a TT in Union, NJ. They were also the East coast "dist" of Engleman tracks.

If you were opening a raceway in the area, TT was where you would go to learn the business.

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#4 chaparrAL

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 11:12 AM

For a while the Tom Thumb raceway in Evanston, IL was the only raceway in Chicago area having races, about 1974.


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#5 Cheater

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 11:16 AM

Mike,

On reflection, how come the Tom Thumb name combined with the obvious AMCR franchise? Did your dad go first with TT and then switch to the AMCR franchise?

Gregory Wells

Never forget that first place goes to the racer with the MOST laps, not the racer with the FASTEST lap


#6 MSwiss

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 11:16 AM

I'm guessing the name was inspired mostly by the thumb-operated controllers that dominated that early period of racing.

We had two Tom Thumbs in the Chicago area. One is still a very big hobby shop in Evanston.(I didn't see Al's post while typing.)

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#7 Tom Thumb Hobbies

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 11:20 AM

Mike McMasters, where did the name "Tom Thumb" for your raceway come from anyway?

I actually have all the documentation at home but IIRC the name Tom Thumb Raceway was a name popularized by American Model Car Raceways. It is the name they used on their mega raceways/showrooms in CA that they used to promote their tracks.

At the time it was so connected to slot racing (like U-Haul is to rental trucks) that it signified slot racing at its best. Anyone buying an AMCR track was allowed to use the "Tom Thumb" name fee-free and that was a significant bonus.

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#8 MSwiss

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 11:25 AM

Tom Thumb in Evanston had at least four tracks at one time. As they became a skateboard distributor, they started phasing them out.

The last two I remember definitely were American tracks, a red and an orange.

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#9 Tom Thumb Hobbies

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 11:30 AM

I'm guessing the name was inspired mostly by the thumb-operated controllers that dominated that early period of racing.

Actually I think that during the '50s and '60s "Tom Thumb" signified "miniature" and was based on the 25" tall General Tom Thumb circus attraction. I also think there was a fictional character in English lit that was VERY small.

I have seen pictures of Tom Thumb Golf (i.e. miniature golf) locations all over the south during the '60. In fact there is still one in Louisiana, I think. I occasionally get calls for Tom Thumb coffee mugs from people who think we are somehow associated.

I think the intent was to mean miniature racing.

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#10 markdshark

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 11:36 AM

In the '70s, there was a Tom Thumb Raceway in suburban Detroit. Unfortunately, one of the victims of the never-caught "Oakland County Child Killer" was found behind the raceway. The crime lead to the eventual closing of the track, and added to the general demise of Detroit area raceways, as parents stopped letting their kids go slot racing.
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#11 Cheater

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 11:37 AM

A little Googling informs that the Tom Thumb name seems to have originated from a thumb-sized hero of children's stories from the sixteenth century on.

Later on, it became a common moniker for a person of very small physical stature, i.e. a dwarf. Thus the oxymoronic "General Tom Thumb" stage name of Barnum's circus performer.

Gregory Wells

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#12 Rick

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 12:12 PM

In the 60's there were two Tom Thumb Raceways in the PGH area, but neither were Amercian Tracks. They both had Inglemen or Altec tracks, North Hills had a 330 footer and South Hills had a 220'. The one in North Hills closed firxt and they moved the 330 to South Hills, a busy business district and a boy got killed crossing the highway and South Hills closed shortly thereafter. There must not have been a lock on the name, Tom Thumb, from American. The local town track name was American Family Raceways and I think that was an American moniker? The American Family Raceways turned into American Family Hobbycraft when the fad faded and stayed in business until about 1999 when the orginal owner sold out. Shortly there after this slot car icon from our area closed.

The intersting story about AFR was that the original owner was shopping in the South Hills and stopped in at Tom Thumb, was floored seeing people paying for little bags of bits and the place was packed. He went home, signed a 20 year lease with a yet to be completed addition to the strip mall and bought a 220' Purple, 100' Orange, 85' Regal and a Tub Track. Larry can tell you a lot more of them as he raced for another team at the time and raced there many times. The raceway was top shelf and had a snack bar included. When slots faded he went full line hobby and was still top shelf for the next 25 years...

PS: As an aside Paul Meiers was ejected several times from the raceway for puting "stuff" on his tires. LMAO... as well as Larry.
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#13 Noose

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 12:35 PM

We had a Tom Thumb raceway here in Union, NJ in the 60s. All American tracks too.

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#14 tonyp

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 12:54 PM

Englemans, Same as Irvington with the copper tape instead of braid.

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#15 GTPJoe

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 01:04 PM

Guys,

You can add Manchester NH to the cities that had a Tom Thumb raceway.
It was built in the lower level of a department store that was right behind my house and had 3 tracks.
I had a 1/32 Strombecker track at home so when I walked in and saw the 3 commercial tracks for the first time my jaw hit the floor.
I was 12 then and have loved slots ever since!!

See ya!
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#16 MSwiss

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 02:03 PM

I think the intent was to mean miniature racing.

That makes more sense.

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#17 MrWeiler

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 03:34 PM

Tom Thumb in the Van Nuys area of LA was one of the American showcase raceways. The American promo pictures that have been posted in other threads were taken there. As I remember they had a king, orange, black, red, the strange hillclimb with crossovers and a couple of others. Also the King there still had the steering wheel system still installed for quite a long time after most others had removed theirs.

Boemker could tell you more about the place as it was close to his house and he raced there more often than I did, I only went there a few times as it was about 15 miles from my house and there were 6 or 7 raceways closer to my house at the time...Also I was a small fry at the time and didn't get good service there like I did at the mom & pop places so I mostly spent my money at tracks where my business was appreciated. (Ah!! the 60s in the San Fernando Valley!!!!) :)
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#18 don.siegel

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 03:56 PM

The Tom Thumb in Evanston had 6 or 7 tracks at one time, and was probably the biggest in the Chicago area; they still sell some slot stuff, HO and 1/32, but the tracks are long gone, and they mostly do skateboards, R/C and crafts. The owner owns the building, otherwise it probably would have disappeared long ago... Still, it's only a couple minutes from my brother's house, so I always like to go in, talk over old times with Glen and buy some K&S.

Here's an interesting little titbit from the May 65 issue of Model Car Science: an article on the Tom Thumb Family Hobby Center in San Fernando Valley, CA., 7 months old at the time (so probably opened in mid-64, given print deadlines). Looks like a showcase for American, and at the end of the article are these paragraphs:

"Credit for this amazing Center goes to Denny Dennison and Bert Lane, who prior to entering the field of model car racing, were merchandizing and public relations experts.

"These men felt the need for a center that would truly personify this sport, and also believed that some form of mature sophistication was needed ... and they have delivered it most vividly in the Tom Thumb Racing Center.

"Dennison and Lane also manufacture all of the race courses used at Tom Thumb and have set up plants in Los Angeles and Chicago to fulfill the needs and demands of the public for more and better race courses throughout the United States ... and the world."

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#19 Champion 507

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Posted 03 July 2009 - 11:48 PM

My family and I went to Florida in 1966 to watch a Gemini manned space launch from Cape Kennedy. A day or two before the launch we stayed in a Holiday Inn in (I think) Daytona Beach. As dad was driving us around to our room on the back side of the motel, lo and hehold, there was a Tom Thumb Racing center. :clapping: :dance4: :yahoo: :dance3: My mom bought me a stock Dynamic Bandit there. Sure wish I still had it. :cray: As best as I can recall, they had American red, orange and yellow tracks. I had taken my slot stuff with me on the trip. We stopped a night or two before we got to Daytona Beach in Tallahassee, FL and found a track there and I got to play there. Definitely a fun trip :D
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#20 Prof. Fate

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Posted 04 July 2009 - 01:37 PM

Hi,

In 1999 I moved to Pittsburgh and was a bit excited that there was an American Raceway in Natrona along with Rick's place. So, packed up the box, drove up the highway, and walked into the American place...

And they coldly informed me that they didn't ALLOW running on their track as it was "rare" and "collectible"!

So, mostly I ran at R-Geo.

I ONCE observed that the owners weren't in the American Raceways shop and tricked the part-timer into selling me time on the track.

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#21 Bill from NH

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Posted 04 July 2009 - 03:32 PM

"And they coldly informed me that they didn't ALLOW running on their track as it was "rare" and "collectible"!"


Fate, that's the funniest story I've heard all year! :laugh2: I wonder whatever happened to their rare & collectable track? Rick must know. :)

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#22 Rick

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Posted 04 July 2009 - 04:07 PM

Bill,

I am not 100% positive but I think it joined so many other rare and collectable tracks in the area for a weenie roast of sorts and offered up to the slot car gods for sacrifice? Jan Limpach came back one day and gathered up 4 of that last Steering Wheel controllers left. I was offered the step for fetching cars out of the bank. It's now a Blood Bank and Pizza Shop, they split the store in two.

The 220 Purple was sold in early 1970 and burnt up in a garage fire, The Regal moved around the area for a while. I owned the lap counter and Time Seller for the Regal for a long time, then sold it off when I closed the raceway. The one thing I regret was not going and getting all the American Racing Congress signage. They still had many of the original displays as Cox Gear and Lancer etc. I think they started business in early 1965?

I have been thinking about the Tom Thumb moniker since this thread started. I would think that Tom Thumb was so well associated with minature (anything) that no one could coin the phrase as their own and it was generic, meaning it was probably free for anyone to use. And slot car raceways were minature raceways...
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#23 elvis44102

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Posted 17 August 2017 - 06:28 PM

From about 1980 to '84 Jan put together a van with about ten R/C cars and a huge wood box filled with six car batteries and we traveled every weekend to auto shows east of the Missisipi renting kids the then-unknown R/C cars at two dollars for five minutes. He had ten R/C controllers built with a small wheel and Parma/Russkit handles bolted on. I'm guessing jan considered the steering wheels as controllers.

Incidently Jan's father was a machinist/tool and die maker who helped design/build the track for R/C cars and many slot car things (tire grinder).
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#24 Maximo

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Posted 18 August 2017 - 03:14 PM

I s there a thread on the history of H-Speed and Engleman tracks here somewhere?

 

 

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#25 Rob Voska

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Posted 19 August 2017 - 05:15 AM

 Also the King there still had the steering wheel system still installed for quite a long time after most others had removed theirs.

 

Makes one wonder if simplicity of that steering wheel (hey I can do that) is an attraction for new people.  Kinda like an arcade game......... compared to a scary controller designed by NASA.....


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