Do you remember the book 'Sir Machinery' by Thomas E. McGowen?

Hello All.
Do any of you remember Thomas E. McGowen’s great book- ‘Sir Machinery’?
Most of you were probably introduced to it in the 1970’s through the books promoted by Scholastic at your elementary or middle school. I was influenced a great deal by that wonderful book and in fact have finally located Mr. McGowen himself, aged 85, still living in Harwood Heights, Illinois. He wrote over 100 books for Follett and Scholastic, among other publishers. His works covered three genres: Young Adult Fantasy Fiction,Children’s Science, and an impressive number of well researched history books ranging from ancient history to the Korean War era. Sir Machinery was about an American scientist who rents an old Scottish castle to finalize his work on an advanced robot. The robot is prematurely awaken by a pair of courageous brownies who are on a quest, searching for aid in vanquishing an ancient evil. They mistake the robot for the only living Knight remaining in Scotland, and refer to him as ‘Sir MacHinery’ (a ‘gud’ Scottish name) after seeing the name MACHINERY stenciled on a wooden crate. They enlist a ragtag group of Scots, as well as Merlin himself, before marching off to the underworld to assist the robot in battling the ancient demon Urlug and his minions. Fantastic Stuff!

Mr. McGowen’s health suffers these days, and he was rather quite surprised that anyone still remembered him at all, let alone was ever influenced by his stories. All I could think of is that he deserved to know how cherished and impacting his stories were to our generation, and in particular, how comforting they were to a fatherless boy growing up in the isolated Appalachian mountains in the 1970’s (one TV channel, on a farm - lol).

In an effort to boost his spirits and bring light onto the subject of just how much his stories meant to thousands of children, I am trying to gather feedback from his old fans and also encourage them to send him their experiences about how ‘Sir Machinery’ influenced them.

I am in contact with his Grandson Nick, and together we are mustering together the effort in hopes that he will be able to see the unrealized extent to which he is, indeed, still remembered. At very least, I felt it was something long overdue Mr. McGowen, especially considering his bountiful contribution to children’s literature.

Any help, or even a letter from yourselves, would be well received, I’m sure. Please pass the request on to those you know who’ve read and loved Sir Machinery, as I have.

As a side note, I thought I’d mention that the book is currently under contract for a potential movie with a group of producers working with AMC (Crossing my fingers that it materializes).

Mr. McGowen’s mailing address is:


Any questions, my email is

Best Regards,
Rick Conard

Ha! I do remember Sir Machinery although I hadn’t thought of it in years. Thanks for the chortle.

It’s even possible that my copy still exists…My parents are older than Mr. McGowen and have never been known to throw anything away, including old kids’ books. I’ll have to look for it sometime. And I can relate to the OP’s experience, having been raised on an isolated farm with no TV (in Idaho, which some have called “Appalachia West”).

In re. Mr. McGowen’s book, it must have made an impression as I can still recall some scenes lo these 40+ years after reading it. In one scene I remember the “good guys” were pursuing the evil ones with a makeshift army of elves, dwarfs, brownies and other fantastical beings. The forces of evil sought to reduce their numbers by tempting them with a roomful of gold silver and jewels, along with all the equipment to form beautiful artworks with them. The force of dwarfs, who were fantastic craftsmen did indeed turn aside…not because of the monetary value, but because they were so inured with their art that their creative urges overcame their sense of justice. It was my first inkling that a dedicated artisan will forgo wealth, justice and all higher purposes in pursuit of their art.

I also seem to remember that in the end, the crackpot inventer of the robot turned out to be the reincarnation of King Arthur and slew Urlug himself after the evil one “killed” the good robot.

rconard131, that’s a nice thing you’re doing for Mr. McGowen. If you are still corresponding with the author, please feel free to quote any or all of this post to him if appropriate. I will indeed send him a letter as you have suggested.

Moved to Cafe Society.

General Questions Moderator

I do remember Sir MacHinery. Some years ago I went looking to try to retrieve a copy from Ebay. At the time they were going for around $100!. A cursory glance at shows that they’ve come down a good bit since then.

I remember it. My fifth-grade teacher read it aloud to the class. She would only read one chapter per day, though. I got impatient and borrowed her copy, so I could read the whole thing at once.

I remember the chapter where Merlin and the scientist were collaborating to build an arc lamp, to fry the goblins. (McGowen’s goblins were even more sensitive to light than Tolkien’s orcs.) One scientist, one wizard, but both working together to solve the problem.

Really quite a fun read for me as a boy. I haven’t read it since, but I remember it very fondly.

At the same time I was a big fan of John Bellairs.

Huh - I haven’t thought of that book in a long, long time. But I remember it well and fondly ( must have read a reprint in grade school, as I was born in '68 ). My best to Mr. McGowen who certainly brightened my childhood a tad :).

Hmmm. . . almost ten years ago. (And I misspelled his name!:o)

My thanks to Seldom, Earl, MBH, and Awldune, and others who’ve commented. I will send your comments to Tom and I appreciate your feedback. I spoke to him today and he was in good spirits and filled in the many large gaps I had regarding his bio.
Some interesting facts:
-He was born in N. Chicago during the roaring 20’s (1927)
-Served in WWII as a navy medic stationed on Treasure Island (off coast of CA)
-Was a Copywriter for a large advertising agency in the early 60’s (one of the original ‘Mad Men’ of his day).
-Wrote and published a total 73 books
-Became a full-time writer in the 60’s when approached by several publishers.
-A long-time author for Follett publishing
-Originally trained as an artist but illustrated only one of his own books: ‘The Only Glupmaker in the U.S. Navy’.
-Was influenced by the explosion of technology in the 40’s amd 50’s (atom bomb, computers, space exploration).
-Originally became interested in Fantasy and Science fiction by reading pulp Sci-Fi rags as a boy.
-Member of Die Schlachtenbummler - Chicago History Buff Organization
-Member of the Artist’s Guild
-Was bestowed many literary awards in Children’s and Young Adult Literature
-First came upon the concept of ‘Sir Machinery’ after glancing at the word Machinery and imagining the letter ‘H’ capitalized forming a Scottish surname (MacHinery).
-Dedicated ‘Sir Machinery’ to his first two children Alan and Gayle because Alan was interested in science (later to become a Hewlett-Packard programmer and holder of several U.S. patents) and Gayle was interested in Magic, and so he wrote the story to accommodate them both (Dad’s diplomacy!).
-Still married and living with his wife Loretta in Norridge, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
-Is considered a famous local author after writing a book about Norridge (sometimes referred to as Harwood Heights) called the ‘Island within a City’.
Recently celebrated his 85th birthday on May 6th, 2012.

Allow me to correct the wrong and missing information you have posted here.
-You say you spoke to Tom McGowen … If you spoke to somebody it was not Tom McGowen
-Tom McGowen was born and raised in Evanston Il.
-Became a full-time writer in the late 80’s after retirement as senior editor at World Book, Inc.
-Served in WWII as a navy medic stationed in the South Pacific Islands
-He’s won awards for Album of Prehistoric Man, Album of Whales, Radioactivity: From the Curies to the Atomic Age, The Magician’s Apprentice, The Great Monkey Trial: Science versus Fundamentalism in America, A Trial of Magic, Robespierre and the French Revolution in World History.
-Still married and living with his wife Lori in Florida
-Tom McGowen is in GOOD health and whomever you have made contact with is not him.
-The Harwood Heights address you have posted is not correct.
-There is no contact with this grandson Nick you speak of and we now fear there may by identity theft by this person.
-So if you think you are still corresponding with the author Tom McGowen you are not.

  • FYI no contract for a potential movie with a group of producers

The plot thickens!


My library doesn’t have it, but maybe they can do an interlibrary loan. Whoever the author was, it sounds like a good book.


I am very bothered by this comment. Most of all because I am not sure how the commenter’s information has been verified. I personally tracked Mr. McGowen down by several sources and all placed him residing in the suburbs of Harwood Heights/Norwood Illinois (living with his daughter Kathy, born after Alan, Gayle, and Maureen). In fact he was cited as a resident author by the local library there and was actually well known for writing a book about his suburb called: “Island Within A City” (wikipedia for Norridge Illinois). This info can be easily found on Wikipedia, here’s an except---- ‘Norridge is sometimes referred to as an “Island Within A City”, because along with nearby Harwood Heights, it is surrounded by Chicago on all sides.[1] A history book of the same name was written by Norridge author Tom McGowen.’ So, as you can see, it mentions Tom McGowen as an Norridge (Harwood Heights) author, not an author residing in Florida. Yes his wife may sometimes go by Lori, but it is a nickname (from Loretta). He does have a grandson called Nick - the name “Nicky” was used to dedicate his book “The Magician’s Apprentice”. As far as working at World Book, I omitted this because in my interview session (over an hour) Mr. McGowen he didn’t think his time there was very important. However, one has only to look at his long list of published books (over 70 books)from 1969 -1995 (and beyond), to see that he didn’t skip a year in producing a book, except one. That jives with his opinion that he began life as “full time” writer after only those first few books were published. Additionally, I verified the contact phone number, which is actually now owned by his daughter Kathy (Kathleen) Litrento ----maiden name: Kathy McGowen. Evanston, Illinois was listed online as his birthplace but other sources, including Mr McGowen himself, claims this was a mistake from long ago and that he, in fact, was born in N. Chicago, and has lived in Chicago most of his life. His time in the Navy lists him as serving in the Pacific but Mr. McGowen contends that this was an extremely brief period, and that the vast majority of his time was actually spent off the coast of California (Treasure Is.). In fact, his time in the service was, according to him, the inspiration for his book: "The Only Glupmaker in The U.S. Navy’ (Whitman 1966). The books you mention are, of course, correct but not complete. The list is very long. Yes, he and his wife are still alive but not, according to my sources living in Florida at the moment (although perhaps a relative lives there, and thus perhaps the confusion). As far as the potential movie - I only have been told this by Nick (Nicky) Litrento, his daughter Kathy’s son, and Mr. McGowen also said that he understood that something was in the works but didn’t wish to elaborate until something became firm (his agents are in New York are working on it I was told).
The Harwood heights address has been confirmed by U.S. postal snail mail (I sent a letter and received a phone call that it had been received).

This said, it was an exhaustive amount of work to track him down and I did so purely to make contact with a favorite childhood author whose work influenced me a great deal as a child. I have never personally met Mr. McGowen, but have had conversations with him and his family on the phone. I can say that in all my discussions with hm. or his family, I have never once been solicited for any financial help, private information, or anything remotely construed as a “scam”. So, I would not know why these contacts would tolerate my many boring questions when there is no advantage to them? Furthermore, my sense from the grandson (Nick Litrento) was one of compassion for his grandfather and was nothing more than a desire to get the word out and let the world know that he was still around, if they wanted to send him a letter (not money, etc.). So far I have not seen anything that would indicate tom-foolery (no pun intended), and until I do, I will have to assume all is fine (additionally, he knew too damn much…unless he was really…really…good). I will however double-check and update in a few days when I can contact trusted sources of mine in Chicago and see exactly where the confusing lies. Until then, sending a letter to a retired author couldn’t hurt (just don’t send cash!). I appreciate your concern, and if you have some way of verifying this please drop me an email at

I don’t know which, if either, is more accurate, but number of the points of contention seem to be on nitpickery, and stuff that could easily be “lost in translation.” Having said that, just a gut feeling is I don’t expect the responder to return, whether she’s right or not.

Yea, differences like Evanston v N. Chicago seem kinda needlessly nit-picky.

Number1girl’s email is apparently “gayl-email”. According to the OP McCown’s daughter was named Gayle. Same Gayle? Someone pretending to be the daughter? Some weird prank or scam?

But yea, subscribing to see where this goes.

Have you ever looked up the term, “stalker”?

Ok rconrad131 you say you made a phone call and spoke to Tom Mc Gowen call it again call it now. There won’t be an answer. You will hear the sound of a busy signal . Yes the old school busy signal. Need the number? Look it up on your phone bill it was less than a month ago on May 31 st as you stated.
I guarentee you that it is a disconnected number.
Also Earl Snake- Hips Tucker as far as nitpickery and lost in translation really ??? Don’t follow your gut the responder returns. Tom and Lori Mc Gowen are in Florida not Illinois. The address is wrong. Don’t mail letters to the address that is posted my mom and dad are not there… Also the name of the company that Tom Mc Gowen was the Advertising Mgr. back in the 1950’s not 60’s was Justrite Mfg. Co. in Chicago. Well done Simplicio same Gayle

I’m confused. Was Tom never at the address/phone # he describes, or did he just move to Florida? This narrative is quite disconnected.

Well, yeah. 60s vs. 80s, 50s vs 60s, Evanston vs. Chicago, all examples of something in the ballpark, but not exact. And by “lost in translation,” I’m referring to getting information that’s far removed from the source, either generational (in the case of the grandson), or by years (in the case of Mr. McGowen himself). And, yeah, my gut was wrong in this case. It really was just trying to tell me it was hungry and that was lost in translation to me!