Happy Labor Day

1 09 2014

Happy Labor Day from all of us at Lionel!

The roots of the national Labor Day holiday actually have a strong connection to railroads. You can learn more about the connection in this earlier blog post!

Enjoy your holiday!



Freight Car Friday – 1905 Common Design Hoppers

29 08 2014

We recently looked at the Pennsylvania Railroad’s GLa hoppers, the inspiration for Lionel’s upcoming new models. These well-designed cars were also the inspiration for many prototype railroads as well.


The 1905 Common Design cars came from a variety of builders, but all shared similar traits and heritage. The plans shown here are from Standard Steel Car.

With an urgent need for an enormous quantity of steel coal cars, the Pennsylvania Railroad had to farm out production across several builders. No single company at the time could have produced all of the cars needed fast enough to meet the railroad’s demands. A consequence of these actions was that most of the major steel car builders now had copies of the new design which they were more than happy to repurpose for other customers.

The cars which followed are today collectively referred to as the “1905 Common Design.” 1905 because this was the year the new hopper designs were first delivered. “Common Design” because they had all emerged from the same drawings and shared in common most of the major design elements. They were not however a truly uniform “Standard Design” such as the later USRA cars which were all built to exactly the same plans. Despite overwhelming similarities to the PRR’s GLa, different builders and customers did make subtle changes to their cars. Still, there is enough uniformity within this family that it is worth linking them together through the common design description.

The 1905 cars found homes on railroads of all sizes, from the B&O to the P&WV.

The 1905 cars found homes on railroads of all sizes, from the B&O to the P&WV.

Production of cars of this general size lasted for several decades. Most of the major Eastern and Midwestern roads had at least a few, if not a few thousand, on their roster. For most, these would be their first all-steel hoppers, replacing wood hoppers or gondolas.

In most cases, cars differed in major dimensions from the PRR GLa by five inches or less in any category. Construction details were also very similar. The most common and obvious differences were changes in the end sills and posts, brake wheel and grab iron or ladder placements, and hopper door hardware.

These cars fell neatly in a time of freight car construction where new standards for construction and safety equipment were being refined and made universal. The Railroad Safety Appliance Act had started the process in 1893, but revisions in the law were still being made as late as 1910. Through collective organizations like the Master Car Builders’ Association, standards for everything from hand-holds to the printing of dimensional data and reporting marks were being standardized across all common-carrier railroads. The 1905 Common Design hoppers both reflect those changes and helped implement them as railroads realized the benefits of shared designs.

These standards allowed a more safe and efficient interchange of cars between railroads. The improvements in these steel cars over the older wooden cars meant greater payloads and longer service lives. Many of these cars would serve the railroads as late as the 1940s.

The 1905 hoppers are an important chapter in freight car history, but they are far from the end of the story. These cars cleared a path for similar developments with other car designs in the years leading up to World War I. It was during the War that the cars would take the next step towards a truly standard design under the auspices of the USRA. We’ll look at those cars and see their roots in these 1905 Common Design and the PRR’s GLa in the coming weeks.

New Product Spotlight – American Flyer Diesel Sounds Boxcars

25 08 2014

Are some of your American Flyer locomotives sounding a bit too quiet? Now you can add realistic diesel RailSounds to any American Flyer train simply by coupling up to one of the new RailSounds boxcars!

6-48870 Great Northern - Steam

6-48870 Great Northern – Steam

These boxcars feature the same great RailSounds you’ll find in our new diesels and steam locomotives. Simply couple the boxcar behind your locomotive and enjoy the same rich sounds you’ll get from our current releases in a train from any era. Diesel engine / steam chuff sounds are in sync with the speed of the train and the horn / whistle and bell is controllable by your conventional transformer.

6-48871 Erie - Steam

6-48871 Erie – Steam

Boxcars feature a holder for a 9 volt battery. Installing a battery will allow your sounds to continue even as you pass over switches, crossings or dirty track. A volume control knob is also included in the car so you can adjust the sound to your taste.

6-49064 New Haven - Diesel

6-49064 New Haven – Diesel

The diesel boxcars are available in New Haven and Union Pacific. Steam sounds cars come decorated for Erie and Great Northern. All feature metal frames, opening doors, and die-cast metal trucks with operating couplers and will negotiate an S-36 curve. Cars retail for $169.99. See your favorite American Flyer dealer to order yours today!

6-49065 Union Pacific - Diesel

6-49065 Union Pacific – Diesel

Freight Car Friday – Gunderson Freight Cars

22 08 2014

Nelson Gunderson arrived on the shores of what would become the state of Washington with literally nothing but the clothes on his back after his ship wrecked off the coast. It is ironic that the company which would later bear the Gunderson name would become such a powerful player in, of all things, transportation.

New Image

Gunderson’s most prevalent contribution to the freight car scene today are its numerous double-stack well cars. These cars have come a long way from their first prototypes.

The company that grew into a leader in railcar production, among other things, started with Nelson’s sons Al and Chet. The brothers’ first business ventures surrounded wheels, rims, and automotive parts. In 1936, they began building trailers for the logging industry. In 1941, they built their first ship – a tug boat for a ferry on the Columbia River.

During WWII, Gunderson built a variety of supplies and parts for the Navy. Their first payment for building landing craft at a newly constructed plant arrived just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. In addition to contracts, the war also brought challenges in obtaining materials and labor. Gunderson began welding schools to train the workforce it needed during the war – a practice that was retained and even expanded in peacetime.


With decks that convert from 2 to 3 levels, the MultiMax represents the cutting edge in auto transport.

Following the war, maritime production continued at the heart of Gunderson’s business. A substantial truck construction, sales and maintenance division remained as well. The company also ventured into water and fuel tanks, dry docks, leaves and canal gates, and structural steel. There were many experiments, failed attempts and missed opportunities along the way, but Gunderson always found success when they needed it and never failed to stop looking for the next opportunity.

Gunderson’s big break in the railroad industry came with an order for 150 steel underframes for the Southern Pacific in the 1950s. The company quickly realized that these “small” projects (compared to shipping barges, tug boats and tankers at least) were profitable and fast – meaning lots of repeat business. The SP liked the product they were getting and continued to up the order – by the end the project had grown to more than 2000 frames.

twin stackIn 1960, Gunderson went from supplying underframes to building the entire car with an order of 200 drop-bottom gondolas for the Union Pacific. The drop-bottom gon is not an easy car to build and when the newcomer to the industry pulled it off, the railroads took notice. Soon Gunderson was expanding their car shops and taking in orders.

The Gunderson’s brothers left the company in the 1960s, with the corporation itself sold to FMC. But the name was changed to the Marine and Rail Equipment Division (MRED) but its reputation for quality continued. Car production expanded through the 1960s and 1970s. The company was an early proponent of welded car construction. It also capitalized greatly on the boxcar boom of the 1970s. FMC production peaked 6.027 freight cars in 1979.


The boxcar boom and bust of the 1970s and 80s helped boost and nearly broke the builder. Thirty years later, the cars and company are both survivors.

In 1980 however, the bottom dropped out of the boxcar market. In 1982, the company built a total of just 25 railcars. Rather than throw in the towel, FMC simply continued its tradition of looking for the next big thing. It found it in the intermodal market.

FMC introduced an innovative new intermodal car in partnership with the Santa Fe. Itel later bought the rights to the car and more than 700 more were built for them. These new cars featured 10 articulated platforms, each of which was little more than a frame and a pad for a trailer’s tires. The lightweight car reduced weight and the articulated joints reduced the amount of coupler slack in the train.


Gunderson’s centerbeam flatcars were for the lumber industry what well cars were for intermodal.

In 1984, FMC partnered with Greenbrier to design and build a new double stack well car. As all of this was taking shape, FMC sold off the division. Greenbrier would be the primary shareholder. The Gunderson name was formally returned the company after the transaction with permission from the family. At first there was strong resistance from the railroads to the new double stack cars. Concerns over a high center of gravity and the requirement of higher clearances created real operating challenges for the railroads. With pressure from the container shipping companies however, the railroads began buying the cars. One look at the railroad scene today is all the proof you need of their success.

In addition to intermodal equipment, Gunderson was an early builder of new center partition flat cars or “center beams” for the lumber industry. The new cars greatly reduced loading and unloading times as well as damages while increasing capacity compared to conventional boxcars.

The Gunderson AutoMax is the largest auto rack on the rails.

The Gunderson AutoMax is the largest auto rack on the rails.

And so from the lows of 1982, by 1987 the company commanded a 50% share of the total freight car market for well cars and centerbeam flats. Soon new boxcar and gondola designs were added. In the 1990s, the Husky Stack well car emerged as the new mainstay of their intermodal sales. The Auto-Max articulated autorack came along in 1997. In 1999, the company marked the milestone of its 100,000th railcar.

Today Gunderson continues as part of Greenbrier’s larger family of railcar builders. It’s marine operations also continue to build a variety of craft – completing the circle nearly broken off the shores of Washington more than 130 years ago.


New Product Spotlight – LEGACY SD70MAC

18 08 2014

As AC traction motor technology improved in the 1990s, the SD70MAC emerged as ideal power for heavy trains.

Prototype Background

6-81134 Burlington Northern

6-81134 Burlington Northern

Billed as the biggest technological development since the switch from steam to diesel, improvements in AC traction motor technology promised major changes in how railroads ran trains and assigned power.

Diesels with conventional DC traction motors can develop a lot of power at low speed, but only for a short period of time before the motors will overheat. AC traction motors on the other hand can run at full power without overheating for a long time. This gives AC motored locomotives an advantage in hauling heavy drag freights like coal trains. After testing EMD’s SD60MAC prototypes, Burlington Northern determined they could replace five aging SD40-2 and C30-7 locomotives with just three new SD70MACs on their Powder River Basin coal trains. Burlington Northern’s initial order for 350 SD70MACs brought AC traction to the spotlight in a big way.

6-81138 BNSF

6-81138 BNSF

Along with the AC motors, the SD70MAC featured improved anti-slip control which greatly improved the locomotives’ adhesion. In other words, the SD70MAC didn’t pull more because it was more powerful, it pulled more because it made better use of the power it produced. The SD70MACs could dig in and pull when conventional locomotives just spun their wheels. It wasn’t long before other railroads were trying out AC as well.

6-81141 Conrail

6-81141 Conrail

While Burlington Northern and most of the other railroads which purchased the SD70MAC did so for coal and other heavy drag freight trains, the locomotives often wander into other service corridors as well. Unit grain trains and general merchandise are common assignments. Perhaps most unusual are those on the Alaska Railroad which sometimes find themselves pulling passengers.

Lionel’s Model

Our latest release brings the model up to date with today’s LEGACY control and other great features, including:

  • LEGACY Control System – able to run on LEGACY, TMCC or Conventional control layouts
  • Odyssey II Speed Control with On / Off switch
  • LEGACYRailSounds including
    • CrewTalk andTowerCom dialog

      6-81153 CSX

      6-81153 CSX

    • 6 Official railroad speeds
    • 8 Diesel RPM levels
    • Quilling Horn
    • Bell (single hit and continuous)
    • Sequence Control
    • Current speed and fuel dialog
    • Refueling sounds
  • Dual maintenance-free motors
  • Traction Tires
  • Refined Conventional Control mode with lower starting speeds
  • Front and Rear ElectroCouplers
  • Fan-driven smoke with adjustable output
  • ARR

    6-81153 Alaska

    IR Transmitter (works with the new SensorTrack)

  • Directional lighting
  • Marker Lights
  • Lighted cab interior with crew
  • Many separately applied metal detail parts
  • Metal frame, pilots, trucks and fuel tank
  • Minimum Curve – O31

Another notable improvement over previous SD70MAC runs, we’ve lowered the fuel tank to a more realistic appearance.

The SD70MAC is being built to order. They were presented in two road numbers for Alaska, Burlington Northern, BNSF, CSX, and Kansas City Southern (one in the gray and one in the Southern Belle scheme). A Conrail SD70MAC is available as part of the Big Blue Auto Parts Boxcar Set and as a single number for separate sale. Look to see them later this year at your local Lionel dealer with a suggested retail price of $549.99.

Freight Car Friday – Pullman Standard 86′ Boxcars

15 08 2014

We’ve covered auto parts boxcars on Freight Car Friday before, but with the new Pullman Standard 86′ cars coming later this year from Lionel, let’s take a closer look at their specific prototype.

Pullman Standard began production of its 86′ 6″ high cube boxcars in 1964 at its Bessemer, AL facility. They were not the first to release a car of this size, but with the efficiencies of the large boxcars proven and auto makers and railroads demanding cars to the new standard, Pullman Standard jumped on the idea.

Pullman Standard built 14 boxcars for the SLSF in 1967. 10 other railroads received similar cars at the time.

Pullman Standard built 14 boxcars for the SLSF in 1967. 10 other railroads received similar cars at the time.

Production of the large cars came in batches. Typically, one railroad would put in a large order. Additional orders from additional roads would then get tacked on to this production run, sometimes these orders could be even larger than the initial one. Doing this allowed Pullman Standard to save costs by ordering raw materials in larger quantity and reduced downtime in having to stage assembly lines for different products. It was not uncommon for five or more railroads to receive cars at the same time.

Conrail operated the largest fleet of autoparts boxcars with cars coming from its own predecessors and many purchased from other carriers. This is a former PRR car built by Pullman in 1966.

Conrail operated the largest fleet of auto parts boxcars with cars coming from its own predecessors and many purchased from other carriers. This X60G class is a former PRR car built by Pullman in 1966.

While there would be some small changes in the details of these cars over the length of their production, within the order blocks construction was very standard. So cars built at the same time for different railroads will share the same details. Interestingly, this often included the stenciling for data on the finished car. Comparing builders photos shows that once the stencils were cut, workers kept using them – even if it meant a different font or size from what the railroad normally specified.

Many of the cars chosen by Lionel for the first run came from the same production run. Our Frisco cars for example carry the Pennsylvania’s “X-60G” class and the “CUSHIONED CAR” graphics are clearly made from the stenciling used on the PRR cars. The Frisco cars were part of order 9275H, the PRR ordered 10 identical cars on order 9275B. Our Santa Fe and Milwaukee Road cars were also part of this big 1967 order.

The Milwaukee Road ordered 5 cars at the same time as the Frisco car seen above. This too was an "X60G."

The Milwaukee Road ordered 5 cars at the same time as the Frisco car seen above. This too was an “X60G.”

The first order of the cars went to the Pennsylvania, with 152 being assembled in November – December 1964. Add on orders quickly followed for the New York Central and N&W into January. These were all 4-door cars like the Lionel models. As soon as these orders were filled, production shifted to 8-door cars in January, 1965, with the PRR again showing the lead order (50 cars). Add on orders for identical cars came from the B&O, Milwaukee Road, Rock Island, Missouri Pacific, Texas and Pacific, New York Central, Rio Grande, Union Pacific and Southern. Look for Lionel models of these 8-door versions in the future! In total, Pullman put out 476 cars by the end February of 1965.

The Grand Trunk served many auto plants. In addition to cars purchased new, the GT also acquired cars from DT&I.

The Grand Trunk served many auto plants. In addition to cars purchased new, the GT also acquired cars from DT&I. The Lionel models represent prototypes built for DT&I in 1966.

By the time production ended in 1969, the Bessemer plant had turned out 2,689 total boxcars. 2,125 of these were the four-door model with just 564 of the eight-door cars built. The 8-door cars were preferred by General Motors for their Chevrolet and Oldsmobile lines. Ford and Chrysler both specified 4-door cars for their pools and the 4-door cars could be found at some GM plants as well.

The late 1960s were colorful years on American railroads and these boxcars fit right in with that craze. As these cars operated in regular pools between specific plants, it was not uncommon to see cars from several different railroads mixed together in the same train. And as the familiar names on the sides of the cars disappeared into mergers, new bold paint schemes came forward to take their place. The sales of these cars between companies have led to some interesting pedigrees – cars built for the New York Central now work for Union Pacific, while Norfolk Southern and CSX both roster cars originally from the Santa Fe.

Higher Cube? CSX has rebuilt some former Conrail cars to make them even taller! This rebuilt car serving its fourth owner and wearing NYC reporting marks for the second time

Higher Cube? CSX has rebuilt some former Conrail cars to make them even taller! Don’t be fooled by the NYC reporting marks; Pullman Standard built this car for the Pennsylvania.

Today, these cars continue to show up on freight trains in auto parts and other service roles. Some have been repainted four or more times through mergers and sale. Others continue to display their heritage to this day, albeit in well-weathered form. No longer the biggest things on rails, these High-Cube boxcars are still as impressive as they were when they hit the scene nearly 50 years ago.


New Product Spotlight – 86′ High Cube Boxcars

11 08 2014

After Lionel released our 89′ enclosed autoracks in 2013, it wasn’t long at all before the requests started coming in for an 86′ high cube auto parts boxcar to go with them. Bright, colorful and big, these boxcars are sure to make a statement on any O Gauge layout.

Santa Fe

Big boxcars provided ample room for big logos – roads like the Santa Fe certainly took advantage!

We’ve already covered auto parts cars here on the blog, and we’ll look at the Pullman Standard prototypes for our models in greater detail later this week with our next Freight Car Friday article. Rest assured you don’t need to model a sprawling auto assembly plant to enjoy these big cars on your layout. They can be found mixed in with smaller boxcars and autoracks in mixed freight trains or dedicated trains serving the assembly plants. You’ll also find the cars in appliance service and more recently some have even been put to work hauling trash.


Conrail had the largest fleet of 86′ boxcars. The set and 2-pack each include 2 of their most common paint scheme variations.

Common since the late 1960s, you’ll find these cars in an amazing variety of color and lettering schemes. This year’s catalog offerings are only the beginning of the roadname possibilities! The bold graphics of the 1970s, combined with the huge canvas of the boxcars’ sides quickly made these some of the most impactful cars on the rails. Even with today’s more subdued colors and graphics, the cars remain impressive.

draft gear

The cars will come with a separate draft gear box for realistic conversion to scale couplers.

Lionel’s 86′ boxcars come from all new tooling. Like the 89′ autoracks, these cars feature our kinematic couplers which allow the behemoths to negotiate an O54 curve while coupled to other cars or the locomotive yet still maintaining a normal coupler spacing on straight track.

In addition to the operating kinematic couplers, these cars will come with a provision for conversion to scale couplers as well. Each car will come with a pair of cushioned draft gear details which hold the couplers and replicate the prototypes extensions. Simply unscrew and remove the kinematic couplers and the new pockets will key into the floor of the car easily. Note that the cars will not stay coupled on an O54 curve with the scale couplers mounted to the floor.

Another plus for modelers, based on the many requests we’ve received, is that the bold graphics on the sides of these cars won’t include a “Built by Lionel” date. Those have been moved to the underside of the car leaving only the prototypical markings which were carefully researched from prototype photos – right down to correct “heritage” numbers in the corner of the Conrail models.


Bright colors and classic paint schemes are part of the charm of these big cars.

Although the sides of the cars seem rather plain from a distance, there are plenty of details to capture. Ladders, door hangers, grab irons and end platforms and many underbody details are all separately applied metal parts.

The cars will also feature sprung die-cast trucks with rotating roller bearing caps for reliable performance and that extra touch of realism.

The new cars will be available in 2-packs, as single cars and as part of the Big Blue High Cube Boxcar Set. Available roadnames include:

  • Santa Fe (6-81703 2-pack, 6-81708 single car)
  • Conrail (6-81095 2-pack and two in the 6-81094 Big Blue High Cube Boxcar Set. Both the two pack and the set feature one car each in the large and medium-sized logo schemes.)


    Maximize your fun with the Big Blue High Cube Set, including a special paint scheme and working EOT.

  • Grand Trunk Western (6-81704 2 pack and in the 6-81094 Set)
  • Milwaukee Road (6-81705 2-pack, 6-81710 single car)
  • New York Central (6-81707 2-pack, 6-81712 single car)
  • Norfolk Southern (6-81090 2-pack and a special “Thoroughbred” single car in the 6-81094 set)
  • Frisco (6-81706 2-pack, 6-81711 single car)

The boxcar set includes a new working EOT mounted to the coupler. (3-D printed, preproduction sample shown.)

Single cars have a suggested retail of $94.99, 2-packs a retail of $189.99. The Big Blue High Cube Boxcar set includes four of these cars including one with a newly tooled working EOT device mounted on the coupler of the last car and a Conrail LEGACY SD70MAC. Retail price on the set is $969.99. See your Lionel dealer to order yours today!


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