Saying goodby to Chuck Yungkurth

Tom Madden

The memorial gathering for hobby icon and long-time STMFC member Chuck Yungkurth was held at the Colorado Railroad Museum on Tuesday morning. Chuck and his wife, Mary, moved to Colorado in 1999, four years after he retired from IBM in the Binghamton NY area. Mary died in 2012. Chuck was 86 when he died in May, and as a result outlived almost all of his hobby and professional contemporaries from his New York days. Aside from his family, all the attendees were from Colorado. Only a few of us had known Chuck before he moved here. The CRRM picnic pavilion was the perfect spot for the event, and it was a gorgeous day.


Chuck’s sons and daughters shared memories of growing up with a father fixated on model railroading – particularly the smells of sawdust, solder, paint and photo processing chemicals emanating from the basement in those simpler times. Others of us contributed our own Chuck stories. I mentioned how he had told me his engineering knowledge and expertise in structure design prevented him from appreciating excellent modelwork if the structure itself had design flaws, or was inadequate for the purpose the modeler had chosen. A spindly trestle which would have looked great under a logging Shay just didn’t cut the mustard if a Big Boy was posed on it. Diagonals going the wrong way, compression and tension members reversed, piers and footings mislocated – he instantly recognized these. I asked him if he ever mentioned these flaws to the modeler. He said, “Only if asked, and I’ll only answer honestly if I know the modeler. And I’ll only answer really honestly if I know the modeler really well.”


This ability to withhold gratuitous criticism marked Chuck as a real gentleman, and he learned that through experience. A family album on display contained one of those “local boy makes good” clippings, the kind your parents put in the local paper to embarrass you when you’ve finally done something noteworthy that doesn’t embarrass them. The clipping was from 1955, featured a yearbook head shot of a young Chuck, and went on at some length about his having an article on constructing a Vanderbilt tank car published in MODEL TRAINS magazine at the age of 25. That means Chuck’s contributions to the hobby spanned 60 years. I didn’t mention it at the gathering, but Chuck told me on more than one occasion about letters, emails or phone calls from “fans” wanting to engage him in in-depth discussions of something he wrote or drew half a century ago. Or, worse, wanting to call to his attention some error they thought they had uncovered in a similarly ancient article of his. Or wanting him to justify why he had taken approach “A” to modeling when approach “B” was obviously better. Chuck was proud of his body of work, and this attention frustrated him. “They have no idea of context, of what we had to work with. I barely remember the article, let alone what I was thinking. They think they’re finding errors, but they weren’t errors at the time. Must be an ego thing.”


Here on the STMFC we traffic in information. Much of it is put forth in response to requests, some is the result of research or modeling projects, the rest is offered in the hope that others might find it useful or interesting. On very rare occasions there comes an unsolicited critical blast about some model, or manufacturer, or concept and you wonder, what was that about? In reflecting on Chuck and my friendship with him, when I see such a diatribe on any forum I no longer wonder.


It’s an ego thing.

Tom "Always in a reflective mood after memorials" Madden

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