One of the most distinctive models ever produced by Lionel has to be the Allis-Chalmers condenser car. Believe it or not, this car does have a prototype, and the Lionel model is a very good representation.
The prototype for this car, ACMX 400, was built in 1957 and hauled heat condensers used in nuclear power plants. It is a specialized type of car known as a well-hole flatcar.
The load was suspended in a large hole in the center of the car to transfer weight to the trucks, maintain a low center of gravity, reduce the total weight of the car and load, and provide as low a clearance as possible. In addition to the excess height with the load, this car was nearly 12 feet wide in the center which could also cause clearance problems on some lines, or in yards and passing tracks.
The Allis-Chalmers company had a variety of diverse operations. The company is best known for its line of agricultural machinery and tractors. Allis-Chalmers also had a heavy-industrial wing which built products for the power and mining industries. The company cut back its operations through the 1980s, and ended all U.S. production in 1999.
Although the car no longer appears in the Official Railway Equipment Register by 1988, there are reports that it does survive at the site of the old Allis-Chalmers plant in Milwaukee. Other cars, each equally unique, went to successor Voith Hydro in York, PA.
While this particular car is quite unique, this type of car is not. Several railroads and companies have built variations of this open-well car for a variety of odd and oversize loads. Common loads include round or cylindrical products which would require a lot of additional bracing on a flat-decked car. Large gears, hydro-electric turbines, even tunnel-boring machine parts have been carried in cars like this.
Aside from being slightly shorter than the prototype’s 52′ length, the Lionel model first introduced in 1958 was very faithful to the overall look and design of this unique car. The orange Allis-Chalmers car and load were originally sold through 1961. The most recent issue came in our recent Rock Island freight set. One of these cars would make not only an interesting addition to your roster, it could create some special train handling opportunities as well!