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Lionel Lines: 1946

Lionel Lines: 1946

From circa 1946 comes this 35mm Kodachrome of Jim and Jack Hardman and their Christmas train set in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. View full size.

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Today’s Top 5

Speaking of Smoke

I believe the little log cabin on the lower left may actually be an incense burner. A friend of mine had one. The roof came off and you could put a little cone of incense in and the smoke wafted out the chimney.

Smoke 'em if ya got 'em

And now a few words about Lionel "Smoke".

The first version of that turbine had a smoke bulb, and used a pill that worked poorly, and corroded the engine. The bulb would heat up, and melt the pill. It lasted a year, and then was replaced by the smoke pellets.

The pellet was paraffin that went down the stack where it melted on a small heater coil -- wire wrapped around a piece of mica.

I've heard the aspirin trick, but don't think it was as satisfying as the real pellet.

3-in-1 Oil? Yikes, it would work, but it would run thru the engine. (More on that later)

The problem with the postwar Lionel smoking engines is that there was no "off" switch. You had to keep feeding it pellets, or the element would burn out. But if you overfed it, it would stop smoking as well. If you find one today, most times you can get them to smoke by scraping the sides of the stack.

Lionel stopped making the pellets in 1974. But wait! There's more! A hobby shop in Atlanta (they are online) has reproduced the paraffin pellets for your 1954 smoker!

These days Lionel makes smoking engines that have a resistor down the stack and some fiberglass batting and a small well. These engines smoke when a smoke fluid (mineral oil, some of it now scented) is dropped down the stack, AND there is an on-off switch, to preserve that resistor when there is no smoke fluid.

n.b. The postwar pellet smoke units can use the modern fluid, but with no reservoir; use only a few drops or it will run out the bottom.

Now everybody with trains in the attic, basement or under the bed, get them out for Christmas, oil them and run them.

I was an American Flyer kid

But I appreciate and enjoy all toy trains. My dad got me a basic AF set up as a kid. Over the many years I've added quite bit to it, and made a few custom S gauge trains too. Wonderful fun for kids of all ages.

What's that smell?

When I was a young boy, my father liked to take us on hours-long Sunday drives. I found these almost unbearable, sandwiched between my two older sisters (yes, I was raised with three mothers) and my mother riding shotgun and trying to keep order in the back seat.

Unbeknownst to me or anyone else, I failed to completely turn off the train transformer before we embarked on our excursion. It was on low, not enough to supply power to move the locomotive, but enough to keep the transformer powered up. We arrived back home and were greeted by the pungent odor of an oily sort.

My father and I hurried to the basement to be almost bowled over by the aroma. Fortunately, there was no damage, only a huge Lionel transformer hot enough to cook an egg.

I no longer have that train set. It was put into storage right after this, because it COULD have caught fire and we would have come home to something I still cannot imagine. To this day when I am finished with a train set, the transformer is unplugged from the wall.

Neat train set

That family must be fairly well off because that train set cost a tidy little bit. I had a Lionel set in the mid 50s but all it had was a figure eight.

Future employers

20-plus years later I worked part-time after school and a few summers for these brothers, and their small (about 40 employees) industrial adhesives business in nearby Belleville. It had been a family business for 3 or 4 generations, and they were quite friendly with the employees and generous with the perks.

Red Baby Ruth

Growing up in the 1960s I inherited a Lionel set that my brothers used when they were younger. It also had a Baby Ruth boxcar (my favorite) but it was a dark red color. I can only assume it was of later vintage than these pale orange ones shown.

Wish I knew what happened to that set.

The Red Pill

We had an American Flyer. They only used two rails, and appeared more realistic than the three-rail Lionel sets.

The smoke generator took a red pill that was filled with some liquid that was squirted down the smokestack. The pill was made of some sort of rubber and had a narrow end that was to be cut off so the liquid could be directed without spilling. It resembled a CO2 cartridge, but was significantly smaller, about an inch long.

Smokin' the Train

Long ago my iron horse Lionel engine would smoke after you dropped an aspirin down the stack.

1946 set 2111WS

This is a 1946 set from Lionel numbered 2111WS. The Baby Ruth boxcar is an extra not included in this set as sold. What is important to Lionel collectors is that the work caboose is a two tone grey that is normally attributed to a different set in 1946, No. 2115WS. The caboose in the near foreground is prewar, which implies that the young engineer in the picture, or his older brothers, had trains from before WWII.

Here is the set, fourth from the top. Click to enlarge.

Hazy Memories

I remember the train sets with the smoke tablets, but I also seem to remember having a set that had the smoke caused by drops of 3-in-1 Oil put into the smokestack. Or maybe one of my friends came up with that approach.

Ah, them was the days

I had that same 2-6-4 engine, the dump car, the crane car, and the work caboose. My dad had a friend who collected Lionel stuff and we made an annual trip to his house across town and always came home with a pair of switches, some track or a couple of cars.

Had a lot of fun with that stuff. Ended up giving it to my nephew.

Thanks for the photo.

Sales were good

Lionel sold thousands of that locomotive, a copy of the Baldwin/Westinghouse Steam Turbine. Baldwin only sold one; it looked like this when it left the shops. BTW this layout is O-Gauge, not 0-27. A circle of track is 31 inches, 0-27 is 27. I'm waiting for someone to do a count of all the Lionel accessories in this photo; there are a lot!

My Lionel Train

My 027 gauge set from 1947 doesn't have the log car but I did have a refrigerated boxcar that unloaded small cubes of merchandise and it used the five parallel tracks to activate the unloading process. This track section is also used to activate the knuckle couplers to disconnect a car.

My locomotive (#2020) appears to be the same as the one here. It is a replica of a Pennsylvania Railroad steam turbine locomotive.

One more trivia item. This locomotive/tender combination is also seen in the TV Series "Young Sheldon" when he is playing with his train in the family garage.


I still remember the stench of the transformer. After about a hour of play, it got so hot Mom would be screaming to "turn it off before you set the house on fire!"

"The Blue Haze"

My first train was a used Marx set that the older boy across the alley from us was selling for $10 because his family was moving. It was the little black Commodore Vanderbilt streamlined tinplate engine, with three tin freight cars and a caboose, and a set of four little green tinplate passenger coaches. The 027 gauge diamond track layout was mounted on a 4x8 sheet of plywood, and I would run that thing on the floor after school and on weekends until the whole basement was a blue haze. And yes, as others have said, I can still smell the ozone, and I loved it! It was a smell that meant FUN! And that little Marx engine ran like crazy and lasted a long, long time! I'll bet my mom wished it would finally burn up, but it didn't. The little engine wore out the brushes until it wouldn't run anymore!

Without a Net

The ever-useful Ping-Pong table. Its surface served at so many different functions.

No Ping-Pong

until next year!

I can smell the smoke pill from the engine

Ozone and the smell of the artificial smoke pill is still in my mind's nose from my 1955 Lionel train set.


There's a plastic tray for a hopper car to dump its load into but I don't see the special magnetic section of track that activates it; on the other hand there's one section that seems to have five rails rather than three, which perhaps is an early version of it.

Those are standard O-27 curves. If you have a whole-room floor layout, you can get O-72 curves, which have double the turn radius.

The three rails fill out voids in the track left by having few ties; American Flyer had the disadvantage that the track looked very empty by contrast.

Olfactory memory

The smell of ozone still takes me back to Christmastime on the living room floor with our oft-shorting electric train set. Nobody ever thought to get a photo of anyone in the act of playing with it, but at least there's this color shot from December 1954, complete with old sofa cushions for hills.

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