In 1959, Marx attempted to cash in on the popularity of TV westerns by creating an 1860s style locomotive. Today, the Marx William Crooks locomotive is one of the rarer and more desirable Marx locomotives. You don’t often hear the words “rare” and “Marx” together.
The Marx locomotive was a recognizable model of the real William Crooks locomotive, a St. Paul and Pacific 1861-era engine that still exists today.
Condition is always key to the William Crooks. The elaborate design didn’t take well to the plastics Marx had at the time. The result is that the locomotive was brittle and broke easily. It’s hard to find a William Crooks in pristine condition, with no repairs to the body.
The motor, of course, worked the same way as any other Marx motor. If a William Crooks doesn’t run, it doesn’t take much work to get one running. My instructions for fixing a Marx 999 work on the Crooks motor too.
Another issue was the popularity. Electric trains were a huge fad in the early 1950s, but by the late 1950s, public interest was shifting to other things.
Marx had a lot of success with licensing, but its choice for a William Crooks train wasn’t one of the more successful ones. Marx put the William Crooks engine in a set themed after the TV show Tales of Wells Fargo. The show had a five-year run, but it wasn’t Gunsmoke or Bonanza. The timing was OK, as 1959 was the peak year for TV westerns, but could have been better. The public’s insatiable desire for electric trains was past its peak.
The set, which it sold through Montgomery Ward for $19.95, probably would have sold better if Marx had released it a couple of years earlier. Then again, a couple of years earlier, Marx was selling tons of trains without doing anything special at all.
Classic Toy Trains featured the Tales of Wells Fargo set in its June 1992 issue.
Marx only made the Tales of Wells Fargo set in 1959-1960, a very short run for Marx. So the Tales of Wells Fargo set is scarce, by Marx standards at least. It came with a plastic tender lettered “Tales of Wells Fargo” and tin passenger cars.
In 1962, Marx dusted off the tooling and put a windup motor in it. The easiest way to spot a windup in an online listing is to look for siderods on the motor. If it doesn’t have siderods, it’s probably a windup. It came with a tin tender lettered 1st. Divn. St. P. & P.R.R.
In 1973, Marx released a heritage train set, sold through Sears. It featured a simplified William Crooks without the leading 4-wheel truck and the smoke unit, and a shorter smoke stack. It came with a plastic tender lettered 1st. Divn. St. P. & P.R.R. and old-style plastic train cars.
So none of the variants of the William Crooks locomotive lasted more than two years. Most other Marx locomotives had production runs lasting 15-20 years.
The last Greenberg price guide values the William Crooks at $100 in excellent condition. Although train prices generally are dropping these days, that price is low today.
A busted-up William Crooks locomotive that needs restoration still normally sells for north of $50. A truly pristine William Crooks can sell for more than $250. Usually when people think of Marx, they think of a $10 plastic locomotive like the 490. So by Marx standards, the William Crooks is very valuable indeed.