Dick McCoy (1907-2005)
The company McCoy Products Co of Culver City, California, a west-side satellite community of greater Los Angeles, is inseperably linked with the legendary Dick McCoy, whose name surely needs no introduction to most model engine enthusiasts. A biography of Dick McCoy was published in issue number 103 of the Engine Collector's Journal, December 1992. For this, we must thank ECJ Editor and Publisher, Tim Dannels. Tim's work was used in preparing this Tribute Page.
Damon L. McCoy, always known as "Dick", was born on June 9th, 1907 in Orleans, Indiana. His family moved to Walnut, California in 1918 where Dick's father worked on a ranch for 5 years before moving to Pomona, California (27 miles to the east of Los Angeles) to work as a bus driver. Dick attended La Puente High School in Pomona, graduating in 1925 at age 18. After graduation, Dick held a number of different jobs, initially with the same bus company that his father drove for and then with Pomona Pumps before returning once more to the bus company to work as a mechanic. Later still, the family moved to Los Angeles for a time before deciding that the big city life wasn't for them and returning to Pomona. Dick's father opened a gas station in Pomona, at which Dick worked as a mechanic.
In 1937 at the age of 30, Dick started working as a lathe operator at the H.W. Loud Machine Shop in Pomona. At the time this was a small 17 employee operation which manufactured tooling for the oil industry as well as aircraft parts for customers such as Lockheed, Douglas and Boeing among others. The business soon began to grow, at which point Dick was promoted to night foreman and later to chief of quality control. He was to remain with Loud's for almost 20 years.
It was during the latter half of the 1930's that Dick cemented his lifelong connection with model engines. It may surprise some readers to learn that Dick was never personally involved to any significant degree with model aircraft—he was almost exclusively a model car enthusiast. His only recorded venture into aeromodelling came in 1939 when at the age of 32 he built a free flight model powered by an Ohlsson 23. In Dick's own words, it was a disaster and thereafter he decided to keep his wheels firmly on the ground by concentrating solely on cars.
Prior to this unhappy experience, Dick had already begun racing model cars using Atwood and Super Cyclone engines. However, he observed that none of the engines then available were designed specifically with model car use in mind, and he formed the idea that he could do better. This led him to begin experimenting with his own ideas on model engine design, and by the end of 1941 he had developed his own .60 cuin racing engine, with which he began to win a lot of races.
Naturally, other enthusiasts quickly formed a desire to acquire their own examples of the all-conquering McCoy engines and cars, and Dick managed to produce around 35 examples of this design. However, with a bit of a war getting going (the USA having become engaged in World War 2 in December 1941), other matters soon claimed the attention of most of the model car racing fraternity.
Dick was no exception to this—he was of course fully committed to defense production at Loud's during the wartime period. In fact, he actually took on an extra after-hours job in Pomona in 1942, spending his evenings training both men and women to work as machinists for the war effort. This took up an extra three hours each night at $2.50 per hour, but this was really good money because Dick was apparently only earning $0.75 per hour at Louds!
The success of Dick's pre-war efforts with his .60 cuin racing engine had not gone unnoticed. Fred Schott of the Duro-matic Products Company in Hollywood, California, had looked at this engine and liked what he saw. Duro-Matic had got its start of making welding torches but diversified into more general production for the war effort during WW2. Schott looked ahead to the day when the war would end and anticipated a big demand for Dick's race-winning engine at that time. He protected his interest by signing an agreement with Dick to manufacture his engines and cars following the conclusion of hostilities.
Fred Schott wasn't the only person interested in Dick's designs—he was also approached by Ray Snow, the designer and manufacturer of the Hornet racing engines from Fresno, California. The Hornet was the only contemporary motor that could give Dick's own designs a run for their money, and Ray wanted Dick to team up with him in a manufacturing venture to produce the world's fastest model racing engines. The idea appealed to Dick, but Fred Schott informed him that such a partnership would constitute a violation of his prior agreement with Duro-matic. Accordingly, Dick had to decline Ray Snow's overtures, and the post-war McCoy engines were manufactured by Duro-matic in accordance with the prior agreement.
However, Dick didn't lose by this, although Ray Snow may well have done. Following the conclusion of the war, the management at Duro-matic was strengthened by the arrival of Charles D. Miller as General Manager, and the company's first model product was the McCoy race car, sold without engine. At the time, the Hornet was still the most popular race car engine, but Dick specifically designed the first post-war McCoy 60 model for use in the Duro-matic racer as an alternative to the Hornet. This was a very successful approach, and Duro-matic were soon turning out 250 engines per day, eventually driving Ray Snow out of the model engine business.
The business arrangement with Fred Schott and Charles Miller, who succeeded Schott as Duro-matic President in 1947, proved to be a durable one, lasting for over 25 years and continuing through the mid-1950's acquisition of the Duro-matic Products Company by the Testor Manufacturing Corporation right up to the early 1970's. During this time, Dick McCoy was awarded 16 patents for his engines and cars. He continued working as a design consultant for the McCoy engines long after the acquisition by Testor, carrying on until 1971 when the introduction of the Series 21 McCoy models against Dick's recommendation (he thought that they ran well but were too heavy) effectively ended this long-standing arrangement.
It's an interesting fact that Dick was never at any time an actual employee of the Duro-matic company or of the successor Testor Corporation. He lent his name to the engines and served as their engine designer and production advisor, being paid pro rata for his services as they were provided, but was not directly involved in their manufacturing activities. His full-time job until 1956 remained with Loud's, which had by then been reorganized as the HW Loud Machine Works Inc and had grown to over 1000 employees and a number of branch plants. At the time of his 1956 departure from their employ at the age of 49 years, Dick had no fewer than 50 inspectors working under him!
After leaving Loud's, Dick worked with a small precision engineering company called C&H Products which had been started in 1953 by his sons Carl and Harold, operating from a machine shop in the basement at home. When Carl and Harold went into the Navy for two years in 1956, Dick retired from Loud's to keep C&H Products going during his sons' absence. The company was re-incorporated as C&H Inc after Carl and Harold completed their Navy service. It eventually grew into one of the world's largest glow-plug manufacturing concerns in addition to manufacturing a variety of engine parts for others under contract. Dick established his own machine shop at home and remained active into his 90's, finally passing away on December 30th, 2005 at the grand old age of 98 years.
See also: Model Engine News, February 2006.