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January 26th- On the Shoulders of Giants- Part 3

posted Jan 29, 2017, 5:48 AM by Sue Line RailRoad   [ updated Feb 20, 2017, 8:28 AM ]

This week I want to share with you another Giant in the Hobby- the late Malcolm Vordenbaum (See below, left) of Wichita Falls, Texas. 

Malcolm Vordenbaum, the “Dutchman” lived with his wife Ferne Vordenbaum along with his beloved model railroad the “Caruth and Central” (See below) named for the street corner he lived on when he lived in Dallas, Texas. 

Malcolm Vordenbaum was a giant of building, which often, much to Ferne Vordenbaum’s chagrin involved her kitchen table.  In fact most of the towns on the Sue Line including Brandon, Robinson, Shattuck, Sue City, Robert’s Crossing, Leming, Maryville and Lake Hamilton along with the yards at Union Street and Busy were built on her kitchen table. I would draw out the centerlines of the track plan on ½ inch Homasote and transport them to Wichita Falls. Malcolm Vordenbaum would lovingly build the track work hand laying all the track and turnouts and then return the Homasote to me to install on the Sue Line.

Malcolm Vordenbaum was in construction by trade and many of the old buildings in downtown Dallas, Texas, Malcolm Vordenbaum worked on. Sadly, many of these have been torn down. Malcolm Vordenbaum was a superintendent for J.E. Morgan & Sons Construction Co. (home office in El Paso).  The family moved to Wichita Falls in 1957 for Malcolm Vordenbaum to go into business with his father and brother M.A. Vordenbaum and Sons General Contractors. This was the largest construction company in Wichita Falls when they dissolved in order to retire.

Malcolm Vordenbaum also built model bridges from scratch. I am fortunate to have two of them on the Sue Line. Mary Ann Bridge (See below, left- named after his daughter) and Ferne Bridge (See below, right- named after his wife). 

The latter won first place in a National Model Railroad Association Lone Star region in June 1955. It was never placed into use until Malcolm Vordenbaum gave it to me for the Sue Line. In return, I wanted to honor Malcolm Vordenbaum and name an industry after him. I chose a backdrop building and named it the “Vordenbaum Erection Company” (See below). 

There was of course, a double meaning there. Shortly after the building was named Malcolm Vordenbaum made a visit to the Sue Line. While there he was taking videos of the layout and of course included “his” building. Malcolm Vordenbaum reported that after his return to Wichita Falls, one evening he was showing his videos to a young couple who was visiting his home. Malcolm Vordenbaum reports that after seeing the video, the couple never returned!

During World War II, Malcolm Vordenbaum was in the Seabees, a naval construction unit. After the War, Malcolm Vordenbaum was asked to be an extra on the 1944 movie “The Fighting Seabees” starring John Wayne and Susan Hayward. Malcolm Vordenbaum was very proud of this and was especially proud that he had a cameo appearance in the movie. At the end of the film after John Wayne has been killed, Malcolm Vordenbaum can be seen on a ridge shooting down at the enemy.  Malcolm Vordenbaum had taped TEXAS on his back and moved right and left. Malcolm Vordenbaum and another sailor were chosen to crown Susan Hayward, a young starlet at the time, as Queen of the Seabees.  They spent a day at Smiley Barnett's ranch making publicity photos.  

Malcolm Vordenbaum loved the Boys and Girls Club and left the bulk of his railroad and train collection to that organization. Malcolm Vordenbaum also loved Texas A&M University. He had a freight car on his layout which was painted up maroon and gray for Texas A&M on one side and purple and gold for LSU on  the other side. Each time I visited, I would find that car in the display case and turn it LSU side out. Each time I revisited it was in the display case Texas A&M side out. The Vordenbaum paper mill building in Lake Hamilton is painted maroon and gray in his honor.

Malcolm Vordenbaum was friends with Emmitt Smith the famous running back for the Dallas Cowboys. Emmitt Smith made several trips to Malcolm Vordenbaum’s layout. On one trip, Malcolm Vordenbaum mentioned to Emmitt Smith that due to a divorce I was going through at that time that the Sue Line might be available for sale. Emmitt Smith made a trip to Shreveport. After seeing the Sue Line felt it was too big for his building.

Malcolm Vordenbaum was not much for fancy electronics. Rheostats and toggle switches were the “modern electronics he used. Turnouts were thrown by a series of “mysterious” white pushbuttons (See below).

Although Malcolm Vordenbaum had plenty of track on his railroad, he did NOT do scenery. He did not believe in taking time from track work or running his trains to do scenery. There were only a very few structures on his layout and only one barren “tree” (See below).  

After his death, I was fortunate enough to get that one and only tree and I can say that I have “all the scenery from his layout”. I wonder if anyone else can say that?



Several of the above photographs are from the collection of Sue Line Crew member Mose Crews who graciously supplied them for this posting.

Mary An Slater, daughter of Malcolm Vordenbaum provided the corrections 

which are incorporated in this post.