John Turnbull (31st May 1938 – 24th March 2020)
John was born in Plymouth, the son of Harry Turnbull, a trained mechanical engineer, and musician. His uncle, George Turnbull, had the first self-service garage ‘Turnbulls’ in Plymouth, with its unique roundtable self-service pumps, where he also sold Vauxhall cars. Transport was part of his family history. His love of cars continued much later in his life, with his collections of EFE, Corgi, amongst others.
After the first bombs fell on Plymouth on 6th July 1940, fearing for their safety, his parents moved to Bristol where his Harry worked for the Bristol Aeroplane Company. He was in the research and development department dealing with aero engine technology, at the time trying to upgrade or renew engines to improve the performance of the famous Bristol Beaufighter. When the Bristol Blitz started, his family, particularly his mother, was once again too frightened to stay and they moved, this time to Tavistock to get as far away from the bombing aspossible. John was privately educated at Miss Balkwell’s infant school and afterwards went to Tavistock Grammar School.
At the age of 15 John enlisted as a boy soldier at the Military School Harrogate, 1953-1956, where he learnt his trade as a surveyor in the Royal Engineers. In 1959, the Turnbull and Lyons families moved from Tavistock to Exeter and the fathers bumped into one another at a local pub. There, John was to meet his wife June Lyons in 1959.
After posting to NATO in 1965 and then to Barton Stacey in 1968, he decided to leave the Army and continue his life as a civilian, joining Hunterprint at Eastleigh as a Lithographic Artist, dealing with customers.
John loved spotting and photographing steam trains in particular but also shot diesel locomotives. June describes most of their days courting as mainly by the railway lines at Powderham. In 1962 they married and were very rarely apart thereafter.
John was father to Kevin and Karen and in 1974 was invited by the British Government to teach printing and photography in Lima in Peru. He was a very private man who enjoyed nothing more than sitting by a railway line taking train numbers. Having visited 26 countries, he was also a keen photographer and an avid collector.
In 1979 he was due to return to the UK with his family but decided to take the opportunity to take a 6-month tour of the USA and Canada. It was in the USA that he started his collection of brass locomotives, soon some of his favourite types. Perhaps, his most loved locomotive was the magnificent ‘Big Boy’. He would often refer to this - although the family had never seen it. It had been put away, along with the growing collection, which over the years had spread across his bungalow, occupying loft, garage and bedroom space.
After working for over 20 years in the printing trade, John set up his own printing business. He later retired and took up a small job working in The Model Shop in Totton, Southampton, taking models in lieu of payment. He of course loved working there, offering his knowledge to potential buyers. During that time Beattie’s Model Shop in Southampton closed down and he was quick to go in and buy much of their stock, some of his collection remaining in its main packing box, untouched and unopened. When he did open anything for inspection, he would always wear white cotton gloves. He often told his children “the box is as important as the model inside”.
As a former Sergeant in the Royal Engineers, he loved all military transport, particularly aeroplanes, often taking his family to Air Tattoos. He had amassed a large collection of these, although this was a more modern collection than the trains. Sadly, over the years John did not have the same enthusiasm for the diesel locomotive and he turned to his next love, cars, thence to buses and lorries - in fact all manner of transport!
On 24th March 2020, the day after lockdown, in what was to become a year that nobody would ever forget, John went up to the loft to get some items and to put some boxes away. Sadly, that was the last thing he did, as tragically he fell and died.
Following such a terrible tragedy, John’s family felt it would be fitting that his entire life’s collection should be auctioned and open to an international audience with other enthusiasts and collectors, and will hopefully form part of their treasured collections and maybe passed down to future generations. They hope it is loved and appreciated for many years to come.
June and Karen Turnbull, January 2021