Frank Mann

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Frank Mann with biplane at Waco, Texas.

Frank Calvin Mann (1908–1992) was an engineer who was known for his participation in several of Howard Hughes's projects including the Spruce Goose. He was an avid live steamer. Mann built two large 1.5 inch scale steam locomotives, one of which resides in the Smithsonian Museum.


Model train builder operates locomotive line in his backyard

Ebony, December 1968

To build a better mousetrap has never been the ambition of Frank Mann of Pacoima, California, but this retired aerospace engineer has built from scratch a live steam model railroad valued at $500,000. A perfect replica down to the smallest detail, it includes a complete freight train, a passenger train with "vista dome" and Pullman cars, a repair shed, two railroad stations and a complex of tracks and switches. The prize of his collection is a giant working model of the "Texan," the famous locomotive that was used by the Santa Fe Railroad to haul long trains across the plains. Not only is the model considered by experts to be the largest of its type in the world, but it was also constructed in record time. Mann fashioned the complex engine in his backyard shop in only 27 weeks, working 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

Gifted with a knack for all things mechanical, Mann tackled his first model locomotive back in 1961. He realized that there were thousands of parts to be made by hand or turned out on a lathe, but before a single part could be made he needed blueprints to work from. These he provided himself. Starting with a few sketches found in an encyclopedia, Mann spent weeks bent over his drawing board, working out each phase of the plans with slide rule and calipers. "With a good set of plans," he recalls, "the rest was easy. I just followed directions."

His fellow hobbyists in the Los Angeles Live Steamer Club, a group devoted to model railroads, were amazed at his handiwork. A charter member of the club had been the late Walt Disney, who once gave Mann a railroad switch as a gesture of friendship. Presently the switch is a working part of Mann's backyard line, but eventually he hopes to make it into a memorial to Disney.

Mann's greatest thrill, however, has come not from the awe of other enthusiasts, but from the loads of laughing youngsters, of all races and creeds, whom he has given free rides on his line. His railroad is so popular that it might have repaid him, several times over, the thousands of dollars he put in it-if he had accepted money. But he never has. As he says: "Doing good for other people has made me rich in other ways."

Sweet Little Santa Fe

Sweet Little Santa Fe

Frank Taylor

Popular Mechanics, November 1970

A retired aerospace engineer who believes that "a half-done job is no job at all," Frank Mann completed a 1/8-scale locomotive in 27 weeks from plans he drew. He made all parts on his lathe, made most of the switches and laid all the track in his back yard in Pacoima, California. He prizes a switch given him by the late Walt Disney, a fellow member of the Los Angeles Live Steamers Club. A former fighter pilot, Mann now plans to build a four-place, prop-driven delta-wing plane.

5001 Rebuild

Danny Click posted an update on the rebuild of Frank's 5001 by Vance Nickerson, Facebook September 2018:

Vance Nickerson shared a few pictures of the Big Santa Fe Texas project. He’s been carefully bringing this live steam treasure back to life all summer long. Note the first air pressure test below and the beautiful back-head plumbing completed. High temp HD Stainless steel throttle ball valve is installed in the smoke box and plumbed. And a side view of the left side injector and plumbing. Those injectors are huge! Vance claims that they should flood the boiler in about 5 seconds! :-)