Freight Car Friday – Pennsylvania Railroad N5c “Caboose”

12 10 2012

While cabooses don’t usually fall into the category of freight cars, the Pennsylvania Railroad’s distinctive N5c class is one of the most iconic Lionel prototypes of all time. Though Pennsy folks will be sure to tell you, it’s not a caboose – it’s a cabin car.

PRR N5C caboose

The Pennsy’s N5c, with its porthole windows, has been a Lionel classic for more than 60 years.

When the railroad found itself in need of more cabin cars to meet the increased traffic demands during World War II, restrictions caused by that same war had a profound visual effect on the design. Prior to the war, the railroad had built hundreds of class N5, N5a and N5b cabin cars. The N5c was similar in size and interior configuration but had two major external differences.

The most obvious and famous of these was the substitution of round porthole windows on the sides and ends of the cars. These were necessitated by wartime production standards and utilized glass from shops already set up to cut windows for naval ships.


The “Shadow Keystone” was one of the more attractive schemes applied by the Pennsy.

The second feature improved comforts for the crew inside. The ends of the cupola on top of the roof were extended diagonally outward and the smoke stack from the coal stove was run through the cupola instead of directly out the roof. This provided extra heat for the crew in the cupola on cold days and also a more streamlined look on the exterior.

The Pennsy built 200 N5c’s before production ended. They certainly weren’t the last or most common class of cabin cars on the railroad, but they were the most unusual. And thanks to Lionel – among the best known caboose designs in the country!

1953 model

This classic Lionel model, made in 1953, shows the Pennsy’s previous paint scheme. It still looks good nearly 60 years later.

While Lionel and other manufacturers have reproduced this car in many scales and many paint schemes, there was plenty of variety on the prototype as well. When built, the cars featured a rather simple paint scheme with a very brownish red paint and basic PENNSYLVANIA lettering. In 1954, the “shadow keystone” and brighter red paint scheme was introduced.

Red turned to orange in the 1960s, then Penn Central green and finally Conrail blue a decade later. But there were other variations as well. Five cars were painted brown by Penn Central and Conrail for dedicated service on Pennsylvania Power and Light unit coal trains. On the Pennsy, some cars were painted with yellow cupolas. These signified that the cars were in “pool service” and could be interchanged between divisions.

Lionel Lines

Lionel Lines seems as at home on this distinctive car as Pennsylvania.

Some, but certainly not all, of the cars were equipped with the Pennsy’s distinctive Trainphone radio antennae. In the 1960s, more modern radios replaced these. Conrail further modified the roofs of all of the cars by removing roofwalks and lowering ladders. Cupola windows were also replaced and many had the distinctive portholes plated over.

The cars largely faded from the rails in the mid-1980s as cabooses overall were eliminated. Among the older cars included in the Conrail caboose roster, the N5c was an early casualty. During these retirements, dozens of the distinctive cars were purchased by museums, short lines, private collectors or communities looking for a landmark to place in a local park. And one certainly has to think that the high percentage of these cars in preservation may have just a little to do with fond memories of them running around beneath the Christmas tree.

New Product Spotlight – LEGACY RS-11s

28 05 2012

While EMD’s GP-7 and GP-9 may have dominated sales, ALCo’s RS-11 had a style and sound all its own – and twice the power to boot! Produced for railroads across North America, some of these “steel dragons” are still roaming today on shortlines.


6-34732 Lehigh Valley had one of the more colorful fleets of RS-11s.

ALCo introduced the RS-11 in February, 1956 as the next advance in their line from the RS-3. The RS-11 featured similar styling but with a full height hood to house its 12-cylinder 251B diesel engine. The locomotive produced 1800 horsepower – quite an advance for the time for a single-engine diesel-electric. It’s tractive effort was also greater than the GP-9. Like EMD’s GPs, a steam boiler for passenger service was an option on the RS-11.

NW RS-11

6-38539 Norfolk and Western had the largest roster of RS-11s.

While ALCo’s new model was stronger, more fuel-efficient and offered faster acceleration than its EMD counterpart, it arrived too late for many of the railroads who had already invested heavily in diesels to replace steam locomotives. Alco still found good customers in the railroads who had not yet completely dieselized. No surprise then that its biggest customer was Norfolk and Western who bought 99. (They later gained another 65 from the Nickel Plate.) The Pennsylvania and Northern Pacific were also big buyers. Many other roads sampled the locomotives, buying small orders to supplement their roster.

6-38468 Seaboard

6-38468 The Seaboard’s paint scheme is hard to beat.

Production continued for five years in the US, and another three in Canada. The locomotives developed a reputation for strength and reliability and helped secure future orders for ALCo, who would remain a thorn in the side of EMD for decades to come.

Lionel’s Latest RS-11s

Our 2012 release of RS-11s come with LEGACY and in three roadnumbers per roadname (two powered, one dummy.) Features include:

    • LEGACY control – capable of running on TMCC and conventional as well
    • Odyssey II Speed Control for 2 Maintenance free motors
    • LEGACY Railsounds including
      6-38454 PRR

      6-38454 Pennsy units include Trainphone antennae.

      • Crewtalk and TowerCom communications
      • Six official railroad speeds
      • Eight diesel RPM levels
      • Quilling Horn along with appropriate warning sounds
      • 6-38452

        6-38452 Or you can fast forward to the PC era if you prefer the “mating worms.”

        Bell with single hit or continuous sounds

      • Sequence Control to narrate an entire trip
      • Fuel and speed announcements and refueling sounds
    • Fan-driven smoke unit with adjustable output
    • Lighting Effects including

      6-38466 New Haven had a few RS-11s to contribute to the Penn Central fleet too.

      • Directional LED headlight and back-up light
      • Marker lights front and rear
      • Number boards
      • Cab interior
    • Traction tires

6-38460 Nickel Plate’s tiger stripes look good on everything from RS-11s to modern GEVO’s.

  • Die cast metal pilot, trucks and fuel tank
  • Detailed cab interior with window glass and engineer and fireman figures
  • Separately applied grills many more details
  • ElectroCouplers on front and rear
  • MSRP: $479.99

Non-Powered Locomotives Feature

  • 6-38464

    6-38464 Although the Alaska never owned any RS-11s, they would have been a nice complement to their roster of ex-Army ALCos.

    Die cast metal pilot, trucks and fuel tank

  • Detailed cab interior with window glass
  • Select separately applied details
  • Magnetic couplers on front and rear
  • MSRP: $239.99

All locomotives will run on an O-31 curve. Listen for that familiar ALCo gurgle in your dealers soon, these are on their way. For a longer look and listen to these locomotives, check out our Customer Service product video.