23 April 2013

Mystery Train from the Old Navy Yard

Seeking out old Lionel trains (and cars) has become a habit of mine recently. I decided to get started back after Christmas when I realized that there are too few people running Lionel or Marx or other O gauge electric trains. In fact, it almost seems like the hobby has been in decline since the 1980s. So I decided to keep this tradition alive somewhat.
However, it often appears that though there is plenty of old working model trains out there- the collectors have created a somewhat inflated value of these trains and accessories. It just makes the hobby more exclusive because toy trains have become equated with gold- notwithstanding the trains and accessories made of gold, if there are any. So what I often see is anything with a Lionel on it automatically becomes something of value even if it is come or unexceptionally built.
The trains of the Post-WWII period (and those before) were exceptionally made for the most part. But there was plenty of low cost yet durable pieces produced. Are they valuable?
Perhaps. If they were not played with or taken out of the box- they have some value. What amazes me is the whole original box which drive the value up. Crazy but there is some sort of demand for this artifact.
I like to run them. Boxes don't interest me. Neither does rarity. But both play into this aspect of the hobby. Learning how to fix and refurb this things is of more value.
So we come to today's featured item- a little Lionel switcher engine. These little workhorses would be the main motive force in a rail yard- pulling and shunting freight cars and organizing train consists.
But what switcher is this? None of the catalogues have anything like this black one.


Blurry 51 Switcher Painted Black

So we do a little research and refurb.
This item came from my father's set of Lionel trains. I brought it home to see if I could get it working. The center set of wheels appeared to be seized. Typically you be able to move them.
I did a little surgery on this engine- took it apart and cleaned armature with alcohol, oiled the axles, lubed the gears. It is decent piece with a simple motor and a plastic shell. No lights. On the side below the windows I could make out "Navy Yard, New York 51." The shell was definitely repainted as I could see the original light blue color on the inside. So this must be Navy Yard Vulcan Switcher which was produced in 1956-1957. It is hiding under some paint and the side rods are missing.
My father had painted it to match the color of the switchers he saw at Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Railway (aka The Omaha) shops near his home in St. Paul. My great grandfather worked there so there was an affinity for that railway. Lionel and most toy train manufacturers at the time did not have a massive stable of railroads for which they made their equipment. In fact, Lionel has only produced 1 uncatalogued car with the Omaha road name- LIONEL 6-52110- in 1997 for the Lionel Collectors Convention. If you want a Omaha Road train, you needed to model it yourself. Thus this is what my father did.
Underside of old 51- you can see some of the old color
After the surgery, I got 51 on the track. He hesitated a bit when the track was powered, then sputtered forward, then stopped, then forward. Eventually 51 started running with a little noise- slowly at first then faster after the second loop. The switcher has 3 settings- forward, neutral, and reverse. His top speed is not very much and I believe it is recommend that he haul only a few cars. Right now this is one of the more reliable engines in my yard. It goes through the switches and crossovers perfectly and never derails.
Lionel made a few variations of this engine- this article on E-Train shows them all and some more. In good condition these units are rather collectible and can run a little over $100. But I think that dead ones could be resurrected and made for running at less cost.

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