New Product Spotlight – Western Union Telegraph Freight Set

2 06 2014

In a world where instant communication has become a center point to daily life, it is easy to understand the impact the railroads and telegraph had on  the world 150 years earlier. For the first time in recorded history, news could travel faster than the speed of a horse.

Western Unon Set

The Western Union Telegraph set combines the best of new technologies from two different eras!

The fact that both railroads and the telegraph emerged and matured as technologies nearly simultaneously was fortunate. The telegraph companies enjoyed the shared rights of way for their communications lines and stations as convenient hubs. The railroads, quickly adopting the telegraph for their own needs, had the critical tool necessary for allowing the rails to operate efficiently, safely and at greater capacity. The public stood the most to gain as a trip to the station could yield everything from overnight packages to the latest news and gossip off the wire.

Western Union had completed their first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861. By the 1870s the company had emerged as a leader in communications, absorbing many smaller companies as it expanded. In 1884, Western Union was one of the eleven companies used by Dow Jones for their first market average listing. (Nine of the others were railroads.)

western union

The station became the center of a much faster-paced life in town as the hub for both train and telegraph.

Building and maintaining thousands of miles of telegraph wire was not an easy task. Locating along rail lines offered advantages here for the telegraph companies as well. Like the railroads, Western Union maintained work trains which were dispatched to inspect and repair the lines. Although they sometimes used equipment from the railroads, Western Union also owned locomotives of their own.

Lionel’s latest train set captures the enduring style of the trains from this historic era and the excitement of both of these “new” technologies. Ironically, a set which pays tribute to communications by wire is operated with wireless remote control! With the LionChief™ remote, you simply plug the power pack into the wall and the track and you’re ready to go.

This is our first LionChief™ set featuring the “General” 4-4-0 locomotive. The set also includes two flatcars with removable loads and a baggage car, a 40″x60″ oval of FasTrack™, a wall-pack power supply and the hand-held LionChief™ remote control.

The locomotive features:

  • Remote control operation
  • Puffing smoke
  • Operating headlight
  • RailSounds RC™ with steam background sounds and steam chuffing in sync with locomotive speed, and remote-activated whistle, bell and announcements
  • On/Off switch for steam sounds
  • Powerful maintenance-free motor
  • Traction tires
  • Separately applied details
  • Operating coupler on tender
  • Die-cast archbar tender trucks

Rolling stock features:

  • Die-cast archbar trucks with operating couplers
  • Removable vats and tarped load on flatcars
  • Interior illumination in baggage car

The remote control has a speed control and direction knob and separate push buttons for the whistle, bell and announcements. It requires three AAA batteries, not included.

This new set is scheduled for delivery this Fall and has a suggested retail price of $369.99. So “dash” on over to your favorite dealer to place your order!

Freight Car Friday – Trinity Rail

30 05 2014

Trinity is one of today’s leading freight car builders. Despite not building their own equipment until the late 1960s, the company has been on an amazing path of growth over the past fifty years and through its acquisitions has one of the most experienced pedigrees in the business.

TILX 566304

Part of Trinity’s lease fleet, TILX 56304 traces its design back to earlier Pullman Standard designs.

Trinity didn’t start with railcars. The modern Trinity Industries formed in 1958 from a merger of the Dallas Tank Company and Trinity Steel. The company’s major focus was on tanks for the petroleum and natural gas industry as well as supporting equipment. This included building tanks for rail car use.

After supplying components, Trinity went all-in for their first complete tank car in 1977. Building the complete car offered better profit margins and the company expanded its construction aggressively. By 1980 they were among the top five builders in the US. While building their own line, the company expanded through the acquisition of other car builders through the highly turbulent markets of the 1980s.

Trincool Reefer

Reefers may not be as common as tank cars, but Trinity’s TRINCool reefers are certainly among the most recognizable modern freight cars.

This impressive list includes:

  • Pullman Standard – 1983
  • Greenville – 1986
  • Standard Forgings of Chicago – 1986
  • Ortner – 1987
  • Transcisco Industries – 1996
  • McConway and Torley – 1998
  • Thrall – 2001
Tank Car

Tank cars remain an important part of Trinity’s business and should be for years to come.

In addition to building rail cars, Trinity has been a leasing cars to the railroads and private companies since 1979. Rail car construction tends to run in hot / cold cycles. Having the lease operation provides a financial buffer for the lean years. Their lease cars, with TILX reporting marks, are a common sight on trains all across North America today.

bulkhead flatcar

Many of Trinity’s products retain a strong resemblance to their predecessors like this bulkhead flat inherited from Thrall.

As you would expect, many of Trinity’s cars look very similar to the designs previously built by the companies they have absorbed. This includes iconic designs like Pullman Standard’s boxcars, Ortner’s rapid-discharge hoppers and Thrall’s well cars. The contemporary Trinity product line includes autoracks, hoppers, boxcars, flatcars, tank cars, gondolas, covered hoppers, coil cars, and well cars. You would be hard pressed to find a freight train on a mainline in North America today that doesn’t include some of their products.

rapid discharge car

Trinity’s acquisition of Ortner gave them access to a proven rapid-discharge car design for aggregate service.

With the growth in crude oil and ethanol shipments in the past decade, Trinity’s roots in tank manufacturing are proving to be a great asset. Tank cars make up more than half of all new car orders today. With new regulations for cars due later this year however, expect to see some changes to the designs. You can also expect Trinity to adapt quickly to meet what might amount to unprecedented demand for the new cars. Earlier this month the company announced plans to reopen a plant in Cartersville, Georgia to build new tank cars.

While the tank car boom should prove lucrative for the company over the next several years, Trinity has hedged its bets for the long term with their other product lines and the leasing operations. In addition to their railcar operations, Trinity Industries still maintains its other industrial operations including tanks and piping, structural and marine products. By all forecasts, we should be seeing Trinity’s cars on the rails for decades to come.

Freight Car Friday – Pullman Standard

25 04 2014

Perhaps the most famous name in freight cars, Pullman Standard’s history of freight car design and construction is one of the oldest and richest in the industry. While the Pullman name will forever be associated with passenger trains, Pullman Standard also built many of the most common freight cars found on North American rails.

Corporate Background

Million boxcar

PS-1,000,000! Showcasing the production capabilities of Pullman Standard, this nondescript car is the one millionth to roll off the line – or at least one of the contenders for the title. This car is preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum.

Pullman Standard was formed through the consolidation of two of the largest car builders of their day. Pullman purchased a controlling interest in the Standard Steel Car Company in 1929. Pullman subsequently organized its own manufacturing divisions into one subsidiary and then merged the two assets together in 1934.

In addition to these two big names, there were many smaller companies which had already been incorporated into both Pullman and Standard Steel. Pullman had acquired Haskell & Barker in 1922 and Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad in 1928.

On the Standard Steel side of the family tree were the Middletown Car Works (acquired in 1909), South Baltimore Car & Foundry (c. 1910), Keith Car and Manufacturing (c. 1912), Osgood Bradley (c. 1913), Richmond Car Works (c. 1928), Siems-Stembel (c. 1928) and Canton Car Co (c. 1934 – after Pullman ownership but before consolidation.) This gave Standard Steel Car manufacturing facilities in seven states.


When introduced in 1947, the covered hopper was still a relatively rare design. Pullman Standard’s PS-2 became the first widely adopted standard.

For most of the years between the company’s consolidation in 1934 and the sale of its assets in 1982, Pullman Standard would build more freight cars than anyone else in North America. Operations from its predecessors were gradually consolidated and some new plants were built.

Pullman Standard’s production officially came to an end in 1982. The parent Pullman, Inc sold Pullman Standard’s car building assets to Trinity Industries. Pullman Standard also had a large freight car leasing subsidiary. This was sold to ITEL rail car, which is today a part of General Electric.

Freight Car Design and Production


The PS-1 was one of the most prolific freight cars of the 1950s.

In its early history, Pullman was slow to adopt to new steel car construction and was building the majority of its cars from wood as late as 1907. Haskell and Barker too was predominantly a wood car builder with its steel car shop not built until 1910. It is interesting to note that at the time Haskell was acquired, they were building more freight cars than Pullman itself. Standard Steel Car on the other hand was an early pioneer of the all-steel freight car since its incorporation in 1902.

There was nothing sluggish about Pullman Standard’s engineering and construction following the consolidation however. Among modelers, the company is certainly best known for its standard car designs which originated in the late 1940s. While there had been earlier examples of common designs proposed by railroad associations, the USRA and others, Pullman Standard’s standards quickly became the most widespread in use and represented a complete product line few other builders could match.

WP gon

The PS-5 was a versatile gondola and set the standard for “Mill Gons.”

The Pullman Standard designs included the PS-1 boxcar, PS-2 covered hopper, PS-3 hopper, PS-4 flatcar, and PS-5 gondola. While there were standards for each car type, there were still plenty of options for customers to choose from. For example, boxcars came in 40 and 50 foot lengths, there were different sizes of doors, and interiors could be fitted with a variety of load restraints, moveable bulkheads, floors, etc. But the cars all shared a familial look thanks to common parts and design features.

Production of Pullman Standard’s cars took place at record paces. In fact, production was so chaotic among the various plants that three “1,000,000th” commemorative boxcars were produced!

MILW Flatcar

The PS-4 flatcars hauled everything from timber to trailers.

As time progressed, more and more options were introduced and the PS- designations became just a part of the overall product name. Thanks to the limits of patentable parts of most freight car designs, the designs of these cars were also adopted by other car builders with very little change.

In 1951, Pullman Standard acquired the Trailmobile Company and operated it as a subsidiary which would become a leading builder of truck trailers. Many of these trailers would regularly ride on Pullman Standard flatcars in the growing intermodal markets in decades to follow.

60' Grand Trunk

Lionel’s 60′ boxcar represents typical Pullman Standard construction techniques of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Pullman Standard didn’t stop building passenger equipment either. The company continued to supply railroads with passenger equipment up until 1982. Its last passenger car was an Amtrak Superliner sleeper. The cars significance was honored by naming it the George Mortimer Pullman.

Milwaukee Road

The PS-2CD covered hoppers’ design allowed easier unloading by eliminating the center sill through the hoppers.

Although even the youngest Pullman Standard cars are now into their third decade of service, many can still be seen in today’s freight trains. Additional historic examples can be found preserved in railroad museums all across the country.

As common as they have been in the real world, so too have Pullman Standard’s products been a large part of the Lionel line. Scale versions of the PS-1 boxcar, 60′ boxcar, PS-2 2003 and PS-2CD covered hoppers, the PS-4 flatcar, PS-5 gondola and most recently the 86′ boxcar are all modeled directly from Pullman Standard plans. Don’t forget the waffle-side boxcar and of course all of those passenger cars in your fleet as well! The Pullman Standard legacy is sure to live on for a long time to come.

Freight Car Friday – Horse Cars

6 12 2013

When Lionel fans think of horse cars, stock cars and even a flat car probably come to mind. Railroads did transport horses, but these prized animals usually received much better treatment than other livestock.

Off to the Races

horse car

The Santa Fe once had a large fleet of horse cars. This one served the MOW department before preservation in Barstow, CA.

Railroads had a long history with horse racing. Some even sponsored races. Today, CSX and Norfolk Southern both still send special trains to the Kentucky Derby each year.

In addition to attending the races, the railroads were once the primary means for getting the horses there as well. Several railroads rostered special horse cars dedicated to these speedy equines.  The largest and best known fleets belonged to the Pennsylvania and Santa Fe.

Horse Cars looked more like baggage cars than stock cars. They were designed to be handled in passenger trains for the shortest travel times possible. These were very valuable loads and were treated accordingly.

end doors

End doors were common on horse cars to accommodate large props.

Most cars featured at three sets of large side doors. End doors at one end of the car were also a common feature. These were used primarily for the stalls and in some cases props used at the events. Horses used the side doors.

The interior of the cars could be arranged in different ways depending on the number of horses being moved. Stalls were typically arranged parallel to the tracks and when possible, horses were put 3 or 4 across in the car. The narrow space reduced their chances of falling over as the train rocked from side to side.

Saratoga Springs

The Pennsylvania named their cars after racetracks. “Saratoga Springs” is preserved at Strasburg, PA.

In addition to the horses there was room for water tanks and hay and of course a traveling attendant to tend to their needs. One has to imagine that this was a much more comfortable ride than those poultry car drovers experienced!

At their peak, these cars stayed quite busy hauling race horses. Not only did the railroad serve a region with numerous tracks and stables, but owners could also charter the PRR’s cars for use anywhere in the country – even between two points the Pennsy didn’t serve.

Beginning in the 1950s, trucks and even airplanes became the preferred travel method for race horses. Most of the railroad horse cars were converted into standard head-end cars for baggage, mail storage, etc. A few wound up in company service and a handful have found a home in museums across the United States today.