model train set on track

Hudson Products

e*Train Issue: May 2009   |   Posted in: ,

Fall in the Northeastern part of the USA is renowned for its cacophony of colorful leaves. Trees in magnificent hues of brilliant reds, golds, yellows, and oranges dominate the landscape and attract visitors from all corners of the world. Such may be the case in many Northeastern towns and cities, but it is not the fall foliage that brings thousands of visitors to the very first Capitol City of the United States. New York? Philadelphia? Boston? No, none of these, and not unless you’ve studied the “footnotes” of American History would you know that that city is in South Central Pennsylvania. Every lover of Toy Trains knows it well. It has caused the reverence and awe we all hold for a famous and sedate Christmas Carol to be altered into “O Little Town of York, PA.” York, four-letter word that gets the attention of about 20,000 people, is to train collecting what Mecca is to a Moslem, St. Peter’s Basilica to a Roman Catholic, or Westminster Abbey to an Anglican. It is the “home” for the truly devout fanatic of ferriequinology – the lover and follower of trains; in this case, toy trains. It is here on a sunny Friday morning in October of 1979 that this tale began.

Having just joined the ranks of the three major toy train clubs in 1976, I was eager to make up for all the things I’d missed since putting them all away to pursue college, a wife, and a career, not necessarily in that order. As a youngster I’d been raised on trains. Lionel and Marx trains had been a Christmas staple since 1943. Real trains were a passion of my grandfather and the Lackawanna’s main line was only a short walk from our Morristown, NJ home. In 1947 the Freedom Train came to Morristown and I can remember it, probably better than yesterday. That Red, White, and Blue Diesel, the first one I’d ever seen, was like a beacon planting in my impressionable brain the word “Train.” I used to scour through those Lionel and Flyer catalogs, but I also knew there wasn’t enough money for a farming family to buy all that I wanted. The orange and blue boxes I did get, however, held some mighty treasures. Orange and Blue – the colors were mystical, and at Christmastime they were more hallowed than red and green!

With that as a background, let’s fast forward to October of 1979. Having joined the train collecting fraternity a scant three years earlier and armed with the one ingredient I didn’t possess earlier in life, namely “disposable income,” I was determined to play “catch up.” Hudson Products from Massachusetts I knew of, even in those days, as a controversial firm. They were the first O gauge company to offer what today is fairly commonplace – a high dollar locomotive. At a time when regular expensive Lionel locos by MPC were hovering around $250-$300 each, here was a company making an obvious copy of the most revered Lionel loco of all time, the 700E Scale Hudson. In addition to this obvious flaunting in the face of tradition, they had the audacity to put a four-digit price tag upon it. Why the controversy? Not yet involved in TCA politics, I can remember going to Atlantic Division (then the Delaware Valley Chapter of Eastern Division) and METCA Meets and listening to the hierarchy disdainfully castigating this firm. They were making exact copies of the 700E and its parts and, because the patent rights had expired, there was nothing Lionel/MPC could do about it. The parts couldn’t be told from the originals and it was feared that some unscrupulous collectors would fraudulently “fix up” some otherwise worthless 700E’s and make a big profit at the expense of the unknowing, eager, new member of the hobby. As a side note, 1976, the year I joined, was the year of the big explosion of membership in TCA, so there was probably good reason to think that inexperienced people like me could be readily duped. “At the very least,” said those in the know, “this preponderance of reproduction parts would be the ruination of the hobby as we know it.” That, for the purposes of this discussion, is another philosophical avenue upon which I choose not to tread.

There they were, Hudson Products, all set up on Friday morning in the Blue Hall, directly in front of the doors on the southwest corner, right near what was for years the Registration Area. They even had an operating layout, a loop of O-gauge track powered, I think, by a 1033 transformer. Piled up behind the track were boxes and boxes of orange and white late ’70’s MPC boxes. In the middle of the loop was a professionally made sign advertising what they were selling; words which went roughly “own a beautiful Lionel Collectors Set decorated in the company colors. Only $149.50 for the 5 pieces.” As I said, this is approximately what their promo poster said, but for sure, I do know the $149.50 is accurate. There was also something bout its being a “limited edition” with only 150 sets being produced. That was Friday morning and I knew it wasn’t original Lionel Production, so I moved on, although each time I passed by that area, I felt more and more drawn to this very attractively decorated set. The five pieces? Two were MPC F-3 shells, a Chemical Tank Car, a Woodside Box Car, and an N5C Porthole Caboose. They were done in a stunning orange, blue, and white, the same shade of orange and blue so ingrained into my subconscious as a child. Even though it wasn’t a real Lionel, it cried, “Lionel.” I resisted temptation and spent my time elsewhere, probably socializing – something I am prone to do a lot of at the York meets.

Well, as you may have surmised, Temptation won! On Saturday afternoon as I was leaving, I stopped at their table. The boxes were nearly all gone and I was told that the last complete set they had was the one, which was running around the track. I told them to wrap it up, hoping that they’d forget and include the F-3 chassis attached to the shells. Hope soon evaporated as the shells were removed from the dual motor Post-War F-3 chassis and the accompanying non-powered dummy unit. All five pieces were placed in empty MPC boxes, which have long since been misplaced or used on some other trains. I do not recall whether or not the boxes had the names of the items that originally came in them. As I said, they were obviously redecorated Lionel/MPC stock and their true genus just didn’t seem important to a new collector.

Upon arriving ome in Turnersville, NJ, I do remember going to my F-3 collection and removing the chassis from METCA’s AA Central of New Jersey F-3’s. Why them, specifically? Easy! The bases and pilot had already been painted a deep blue that matched these Hudson Products productions perfectly. The irony of this is that the person who sold this set to me recommended painting the bases a dark blue. The powered units that I used had started life as an MPC; B&O single motor F-3. Since the early MPC F units didn’t run particularly well, it is highly understandable why Hudson Products had chosen a Post-War Lionel Double Motor unit to show off their wares during the two days of York. Shortly afterwards they were safely deposited on a shelf in my train room.

Some time later that fall there were two train meets in Northern New Jersey. These always gave me a good excuse to pay a visit to my parents in Convent and The Train Station in Mountain Lakes. In Garwood, NJ, Elliott Smith ran a small, but powerful show in a VFW Hall. Further up the road in Garfield, there was a METCA Meet at the Boys’ Club Hall. Lo and behold, what did I find on one table at Elliott’s meet but extra Hudson Products Box and Tank Cars. They were selling for $29.95 each; a hefty price when one considers the cost of normal issue MPC rolling stock at the time. (It was inexpensive, to say the least.) At any rate, I bought one of each. Passing that table again later in the show, I noticed that the Hudson Products’ cars were all gone. That is the last I ever remember seeing any pieces of this set available for separate sale at any meet. Several years later a “want ad” appeared in the LCCA journal advertising for any extra Hudson Product cars. I do not remember the person’s name, but do recollect that he was from Texas. Needless to say, I sold my extra two cars for a fairly good profit!

As I reconstruct the litany of this set, I am unable to recall any real advertising, either within the hobby clubs or nationally in publications such as Model Railroader or Railroad Model Craftsman. Their real “cash car,” the Lionel 700E remake was heavily promoted and advertised. It’s almost as if this item, which probably could have had greater appeal because of both the price and the attractiveness of it, seems to have been made for the train shows only, with the Eastern Division TCA York show being their main thrust.

Later that year I remember being informed that MPC/Lionel was going to file suit against Hudson Products for trademark infringement. That news was passed on to me by a highly reliable source in our hobby, a name that everyone reading this would instantly recognize. The information was obviously correct, for some months later I received from Hudson Products an 8½” x 22¼” full color brochure (see bottom article) that made quite certain that there was no connection between the Lionel name and Hudson Products. Hudson Products had changed their name to “Custom Products Company,” but retained their same address in Attleboro, Massachusetts. A disclaimer on the poster said, “The customized train set using the LIONEL trademark does not originate with The Lionel Corporation or its licensee, Fundimensions.” I was also to learn that part of this settlement was that Hudson Products would cease and desist producing this set, but would be allowed to dispose of existing stock. Since I was told at York that I was buying the last full set they had, number 150, I must conclude that I indeed did buy the last set they sold.

Many years later Bob Mintz, e-Train Editor, purchased at a convention in Dearborn Michigan in the summer of 2000, a single Box Car. In the box, and shown above, was yet another disclaimer about this set’s origins from the manufacturers of it. Bob inquired on the Toy Train Mailing List about whether anyone could provide him with information about this car and the disclaimer. That somewhat innocent posting turned out to be the catalyst for this article.

From what existing Lionel stock was this Hudson Products set made? I cannot be sure enough to be 100% accurate. I can, however, develop a scenario based upon the set that I have. To do this I “rummaged” through the MPC sales stock of Gerry’s Tools and Trains in Scottsdale, Arizona and used extensively the Greenberg Guide to Lionel Trains, 1970-1991, Volume 1, first printing. Keep in mind that all of these cars had to have been MPC production that pre-dated the fall of 1979. Anything made later would not have been available for such redecoration.

Let’s start at the beginning. In this case that would be the F-3 cabs. These are gray plastic MPC issued shells, easily distinguishable because they are “bare bones” – i.e., no grab irons on the front, no steps on the side near the cab entrance, no ventilator grills on the front, but with cheap plastic simulated diesel horns. The combination of orange, blue, and white paint complemented by pressure sensitive decals and paste-on printed-paper strips is stunning! Far better looking than anything Lionel/MPC produced during that era.

The woodside boxcar was a Lionel hybrid of the Woodside reefer and the normal sized boxcar. They are probably best remembered as the cars used in the “Tobacco Road” series. The redecorated one in my set was a 7711 El Producto. How may I be so sure? The red plastic roof assembly matches colors precisely with a regular issue El Producto car. Furthermore, the doors on that car are of yellow plastic and painted over by Lionel. Mine too are yellow painted blue by Hudson Products.

The major telltale, however, is the aforementioned red plastic roof and ends assembly. Hudson Products only painted over the outside part visible to the consumer. The interior was left untouched. To the best of my knowledge, the particular shade of red, somewhat light and pinkish in texture, was used only on the El Producto cars.

The tank car in my set began as an MPC piece that has become quite collectible. On one support under the tank is a paint chip revealing a distinctive splotch of white plastic. The only MPC Tank/Chemical car of that era that I can find with white plastic in the same place is from the 9324 Tootsie Roll Tank Car.

The N5C caboose is the biggest mystery concerning its origins, for it could have been either of two that had been made up to that time. It has a Type III mold and is made from gray plastic. I would surmise from those “hints” that it was originally either a 9185 GTW or a 9186 Conrail N5C.

As was said earlier, the decals, printed press-on paper using Lionel lettering styles and text, and the orange/blue/white paint was superb. The question arises as to why Lionel/MPC/General Mills took umbrage to this lower-priced set instead of the 700E. To that I can only take a guess. There was, at the time, a difference in the years that a patent could be protected from the amount of time available for a copyright. A copyright was good for 28 years and renewable for another 28 years, for a total of 56 years. That would have given Lionel protection clear back to 1923. My memory is fuzzy on the patent law, but somewhere in the far reaches of my brain comes the number of 35 and non-renewable, which would, if correct, leave the 700E patent from 1937 wide open to copy. The graphics on the Hudson Products set would have come under the copyright laws of the time, thus the cease-and-desist order. A few years later, Lionel, under Richard Kughn’s ownership, began issuing cars and engines in the company colors of Orange/Blue/White without worry about patent or copyright infringements.

Early in 1980 I received in the mail the poster previously mentioned. It hangs directly under the Hudson Products F-3’s that proclaim for all to see “The Lionel Corporation – New York, Chicago, San Francisco.” Although not totally 100% authentic Lionel, it is, in my opinion, one of the most stunning pieces in my collection – a remembrance of my youth and the Orange/Blue/White of an American Icon of the 20th Century!

Click here to read Hudson Products Pt 2! Another set was located and hear the story!