Freight Car Friday – Santa Fe’s Water Tank Cars

27 06 2014

Railroads carry an amazing variety of liquids in their tank cars. As the summer season starts, it’s a reminder that one of the most basic tank car commodities can also be the most important – water.

water tank

An old Santa Fe water car stands ready in Victorville, California as a BNSF stack train hurries past on its way to Long Beach in 2014.

As railroads built their empires, particularly through the arid southwestern parts of the United States, the lack of suitable water quickly became a concern for thirsty workers and steam locomotives. In the earliest days, water cars were nothing more than large tanks mounted on flatcars. Once tank car designs became more common near the start of the 20th Century, new steel water tank cars came into service.

The lack of water wasn’t only a concern for the railroads during their construction phase. If the line hoped to encourage settlement and businesses to open along the new route, a fresh water supply was a critical necessity. When springs or natural sources couldn’t be found, the railroad was the most expeditious and reliable pipeline. Even as railroad’s improved the capacity of steam locomotive tenders and reduced the need for water stops, and even long after diesels replaced the need altogether, many of these towns still depended on tank cars for their own survival.


Lionel reproduced an earlier version of one of the Santa Fe’s water cars in 2009.

The Santa Fe had one of the largest and most visible fleets of water cars for public service. Filled at reservoirs and public water supplies, the tank cars were taken to remote towns in the eastern California and Arizona deserts where they were spotted by the local freight train at each town’s siding. Several cars would be kept on hand for quick delivery to ensure towns didn’t run dry.

Many of these tank cars survive and remain in service to this day. In addition to supplying the public, the cars can still be used for company service as well. The cars could also be pressed into service for any number of emergency operations. Adding one of these cars to your model railroad’s roster could provide some interesting operations.

New Product Spotlight – LionChief Plus Diesels

12 05 2014

Lionel’s new LionChief Plus steam locomotives have quickly earned a reputation for their power, features and easy operation. Soon diesel fans will have comparable choices for their railroads as well! The new LionChief Plus GP-7 and RS-3 will offer amazing performance and value on two of the most common early road-switcher locomotives.

Prototype History


LionChief Plus RS-3 pre-production sample.

In the 1940s, a new type of diesel locomotive was coming to the rails. Alco was the first to introduce the “road switcher” with its RS-1 model in 1941. The locomotive was essentially a stretched switcher with a small hood added to the back of the cab and larger trucks. The short hood offered room for a steam generator or dynamic brakes.

The new road switcher was a true jack-of-all-trades, capable of handling freight or passenger trains on the mainline, branch lines or in the yard. The narrow hoods offered better visibility from the cab in either direction and easier access for maintenance. Although few could have predicted it in 1941, the basic standard for the future of the diesel locomotive had been born.


LionChief Plus GP7 pre-production sample

EMD countered the RS-1 with its “General Purpose” GP7 in 1949. The new “Geeps” were just what the railroads needed to replace their steam locomotives and orders were strong. In 1950 Alco unveiled their third version, the RS-3. EMD’s updated GP9 came in 1954. Together, the new road switchers made it possible for railroads to replace nearly all of their steam locomotives by the end of the decade. While EMD greatly outsold the competition, both models have maintained a good reputation and many examples of each can still be found at work today.


6-38779 New York Central RS-3

LionChief Plus Locomotives

Like the prototypes, the new LionChief Plus diesels should be the perfect fit on many railroads – though thankfully in our world there is no need to retire your steam!

With its LionChief™ Remote they can run on layouts powered by the LionChief™ wall pack, a conventional transformer (set to 18V) or a Command Control system. Flip a switch on the locomotive and you can run it conventionally with a transformer as well. (For more information on the LionChief™ Plus control system and how it relates to others, see this earlier blog.)


6-38827 Burlington GP7

It’s not just the control system that sets the new LionChief™ Plus locomotives apart. Like the LionChief Plus steam locomotives, these new diesels are excellent pullers. Our test samples had no trouble taking 35 scale freight cars on our layout, including up a FasTrack grade.

These new diesels are packed with features including:

  • User selected operation – Conventional AC transformer control or LionChief™ Wireless Remote (included)

    DRGW RS-3

    6-38819 Rio Grande RS-3

  • RailSounds RC™ with diesel revving and background sounds, horn, bell and user activated announcements
  • Fan-driven smoke operates low at idle and increases when the locomotive is in motion
  • Speed Control maintains a constant speed on curves and grades automatically
  • ElectroCouplers on each end controlled by the remote
  • Operating headlights

    UP GP7

    6-38825 Union Pacific GP7

  • Maintenance-free motors
  • Die-cast pilots and trucks
  • Stamped metal frame
  • Lighted cab interior
  • Engineer and fireman figures
  • Traction Tires

The LionChief™ Plus RS-3 will be available in Chicago and Northwestern, Denver and Rio Grande, New York Central and Pennsylvania.


6-38824 Northern Pacific GP7

The GP7 will come decorated for the Burlington, Northern Pacific, Santa Fe and Union Pacific. The LionChief remote is preprogrammed specifically for each locomotive. You can have one of each on your layout – or any number of the other LionChief™ or LionChief™ Plus locomotives – without a signal conflict.

The new locomotives will retail for $329.99. See your local Lionel dealer to place your order today. The diesels should be available by mid Summer.


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.

New Product Spotlight – Santa Fe Scout Set with LionChief Remote

17 06 2013

With the distinctive “Blat” of its single-chime horn and burbling throb of its Alco diesel, a Santa Fe RS-3 rolls into town with the local freight ready to go to work. From siding to siding, the train is busy picking up and setting out cars, serving the Santa Fe’s customers with prompt and friendly service.

Scout set

The Santa Fe Scout is a great way to start a model railroad adventure.

Just like that local is the starting point for many freight cars’ journeys, the new Santa Fe Scout Set can be the beginning of your railroad adventure. With everything you need to get started in our easy-to-assemble, easy-to-control ready to run set, the Santa Fe Scout is packed with value.

Equipped with our new LionChief Remote Control system, the Santa Fe RS-3 and set are ready to go right out of the box. Just snap together the FasTrack oval, plug in the power supply, put the train on the track and go. The locomotive comes to life with realistic sounds and smooth performance. The engine includes:

  • Walk-around radio control with the LionChief Remote
  • RailSounds RC with diesel revving, horn, bell and user activated crew dialog
  • On/Off switch for sound
  • Operating headlights
  • Lighted interior
  • Maintenance Free Motor
  • Operating couplers

The LionChief Remote is easy to use and filled with fun features.

The LionChief Remote is the most user-friendly control system Lionel has ever created. Easy enough for young engineers to learn and love, the whole family can have fun playing with this set together.

Trailing behind the locomotive are a gondola with a pair of removable containers, boxcar with opening doors and a caboose – perfect for a busy local freight that can be loaded and unloaded with many products. And as your business grows, the set is easy to expand with additional FasTrack, cars and accessories.

See your dealer to order one today. The fun starts with a list price of just $199.99. The set should be shipping shortly.