model train set on track

Going, Going, Gondolas – Part I

e*Train Issue: Jul 2002   |   Posted in:

by Mike Stella

Is there a less glamorous Lionel freight car than the gondola? Everybody might have one or two gondolas in their collection, but does anybody really collect them? How many different ones are there and does anybody care?

I met a fellow collector, about 25 years ago, at my first big West Coast train meet that only wanted Lionel items with the New York Central roadname. He asked if I knew that there were 152 different NYC gondolas? Well, I’m still collecting, and I’m still looking, but I don’t think I have found all those variations… yet.

Gondolas are easy to collect, not expensive at all, plentiful compared to many other freight cars, and a challenge to locate in every color and style. I want to start this short series on collecting gondolas with the very first postwar offering: The #2452 Pennsylvania Railroad version.

This first car from 1945 was the forerunner of all postwar plastic cars. It comes with “whirly wheels,” “thick axles,” and “flying shoes.” It is unique in that the large square hole cut in the floor (to be used in next years Electronic Set) has a pronounced jagged edge. It looks like the folks at Lionel did some cutting by hand. I do not know if every #2452 in every 1945 set comes this way but mine did.

The next gondola is the same in everyway, except the jagged edge is now smooth, like stamped from a machine. This second #2452 still has the thick axles with whirly wheels and the flying shoe pickups. It wasn’t long before Lionel began to find ways to cheapen the postwar line.

The #2452 gondola became a #2452X with the loss of both brake wheels. Lionel stamped the bottom of these cars with a silver #2452X so future collectors would know not to simply add a couple of brake wheels. This third gondola still has the flying shoes but the axles are now much thinner and the individual car wheels have lost that prototypical “whirl.”

My fourth gondola in this series finds the 2452X with the coil coupler now standard. All #2452Xs are still stamped in silver on the bottom.

The fifth gondola is identical to its immediate predecessors. The only exception is that the large square hole is no longer needed. It has been replaced with a round hole about 1 inch in diameter.

A lettering change creates the sixth car in this series as the “G27” has a very noticeable increase in size. It is the last 2452X and retains the round hole, coil couplers, and silver stamping of its immediate predecessors.

Coil couplers gave way to magnetic couplers across the entire Lionel line and the 2400 series cars became 6400 series so the Pennsylvania gondola became #6452. The “X” was dropped as no longer being needed to distinguish this from earlier cars and there was no longer any need to stamp the number on the bottom.

This series might have ended here except somebody goofed and changed the number to #6462, the same as was used on the longer NYC series gondolas. These cars were then stamped on the bottom with the correct #6452 so as not to confuse the buying public.

The last car in this Pennsylvania series is the #4452 from the Electronic Set that was cataloged from 1946 to 1950, but, probably, only made in the initial run. The #4452, finally, shows us why that big square hole was cut out of the bottom as an electronic receiver fits snugly inside. The color coded electronic decal tells the operator which colored button to press on the control unit to operate the coil couplers on this gondola.

These 9 cars complete Part I of this collecting series on gondolas. Part II will take a look at the early 6462s.

Please Note: Part of the reason I enjoy writing articles about collecting trains is that I learn new things about the hobby from readers like you. If you would like to share your experiences, or notice any errors or omissions in any of my posts, please write to me, Mike Stella, directly at: [email protected].

(Click here to read Pt II)