model train set on track

How modern is the “Modern Era”?

e*Train Issue: Dec 2003   |   Posted in: ,

By Mike Stella

I have been looking over my Lionel catalogs from the early 1970s. I started collecting Lionel in 1970 and these were the first trains I purchased new. It took several years for me to find my first club to join and by then everybody was calling these new trains MPC. I don’t think there were many members that actually “collected” MPC back in those first years. I don’t really think there are many toy train folks that collect it today.

Your loss, my gain.

I strongly believe that a great disservice is being perpetrated on the “O” gauge community by those publishers that refer to anything made by Lionel after 1969 as “Modern Era.” To my way of thinking, “Modern Era” trains are those being made today, not those made over 30 years ago!

Too many people that control the toy train print media are simply too lazy and probably too ignorant to set a few new dividing lines when it comes to Lionel production. The “Postwar Era” ended in 1969 when the rights to manufacture Lionel trains was sold to General Mills.

The “MPC ERA” begins in 1970 and runs into 1986 and includes production by Fundimensions and the short-lived Kenner group. This 17 year period is filled with sometimes remarkable products, thousands of items both new in design and remakes of classic Postwar. You can see many trends emerging, retooling of many items, changes in the way graphics were applied. This 17 year period in the history of Lionel deserves to be emancipated from the Lionel of today, a Lionel that is no longer even American. The “MPC ERA” ended when Lionel was sold to Richard Kughn. I would like to see all Lionel collectors and operators join in honoring this man by naming the next 10 years in Lionel production as “The Richard Kughn ERA.”

It is very easy to separate the Lionel trains made in this era from all previous eras because Lionel went to a 5 digit numbering system. Innovations continued. A partnership with Mike Wolf was started and then ended. A showroom layout was once again available to visit. And once more, thousands of new Lionel trains were manufactured for the collectors and operators.

More modern? To be sure, but what we considered as modern Lionel 10 to 15 years ago is practically ignored today. Again, your loss and my gain. I still manage to purchase some new (Modern Era) Lionel today mainly because I joined the Century Club II. But I cannot consider myself a “Modern Era” collector as I find little interest in the vast majority of today’s production by Lionel or any of the other importers of Asian toys. I do consider myself a Postwar collector, an MPC collector, and a partial LTI (Richard Kughn era) collector. I know there are a few MPC collectors out there… they keep outbidding me on eBay. I think the time will soon arrive when the “MPC ERA” and “The RICHARD KUGHN ERA” take their rightful place alongside the Postwar and Prewar eras.