model train set on track

My Three Madisons

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

By Paul Olekson

When I first learned of these passenger cars, I was reading Lionel’s 1950’s paperback – Model Railroading. The chapter on passenger trains in the earliest printings referred to them as “Deluxe Pullmans”. Today they are usually called “Madison Cars”. Interestingly, in later printings the Lionel author added that they were collector’s items, and this was only 5 years after the cars were last produced.

I was only 10 or 11 years old and had few trains at the time. All I had was the 1959 freight set received on my fifth birthday. So I studied the low quality black and white photo on the yellowed pulp page for years. Even in the 1960’s, streamlined aluminum cars did not appeal to me. There were still so many real passenger cars in use looking like Lionel’s Deluxe Pullman that the modern style cars did not interest me.

At the time, even in my youth, my eye had an appreciation for the detail and relevance of the old style trains that the new “silver tubes” did not have. More than anything was the six wheel trucks. Lionel had not produced any trains since the early 1950’s that had six wheel trucks! They were not going to make any until the MPC era either.

Well, forward to 1985 and I find myself in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. There was this train shop owned by a man, as I remember who did not want to buy or sell anything unusual. But that’s another story.

I bought my first set of Madison cars there. This purchase began an unexpected 15 year adventure of separation, reunion, and discovery. How I studied those cars for blemishes and originality before paying for them! I had my wife drive the few miles home so I could look at them in the car. How excited I was to finally own three Deluxe Pullmans named Madison, Manhattan, and Irvington!

Days later and miles away from my precious cars (I was at work) it dawned on me that something was wrong. Some little alarm was going off in my head. I had only held these cars in my hands a hundred times the short while I had them. I didn’t remember seeing any numbers on any one of those cars. Could such an oversight repeatedly occur?

I was incapable of such a mistake! Well guess what? At home that evening the truth was confirmed. I had been stiffed and I was stupid too! I bought a car with no numbers on it! My 2625 Irvington was just Irvington. There was no number 2625 stamped on it as should be. Also discovered was the fact that “Irvington” was double stamped on one side. As calm returned, comparing it to everything in print at the time, the car was doubtless original production. The paint had an aged patina and Irvington was heat stamped.

By 1987, I had joined the TCA and had sent photos of this car to the TCA reference library. The reply was that the car was most likely original but was probably a quality control reject body that someone had acquired and assembled into a complete car. Translation: I had a factory error!

I had become the owner of a 100% genuine original really rare item! Eureka! I was rich!

Two years later I was going through a divorce. I had relocated and the trains were under enemy control. In my absence the collection was being traded one piece at a time in exchange for lawn mowing at my old house, and anything not traded eventually was sold to a hobby shop. When it was all over I realized my loss and declared to be officially out of the hobby.

Shortsightedness is one of my finer traits. Did I know being out of the hobby was impossible? Just like being in the old KGB, I guess. You just can’t get out.

Time marches on, and by 1994 I’m remarried and walking the Sunday train shows in New Jersey again. Wayne, NJ has the PAL show. In the cafeteria is my unnumbered Irvington car. It’s with the repro box I once bought for it, and my handwriting was still on the end flap! There’s a big sign next to it proclaiming that it is a “one of a kind” and is selling for $400.00.

What do I do? It’s Sunday – where’s my lawyer? Do I call the cops? I walk away. Two weeks later the car is on a table at the Dover, NJ show. I walk away again. Later, I explain to my new wife the importance of this car and the unique experience of actually coming across one of my own former items. She comes up with a simple solution. If I see it again, I should buy it. I should be so lucky to win Lotto, but there’s this car again on a table at the next PAL show about 2 months later. This guy had not sold it yet! I introduce myself as the former owner and tell my story.

We make a deal for 50% of the asking price. He’s a nice guy too! He tells me about my trains and how he tried several times to buy my collection from my ex-wife. Every time he’d come back to try and pick up the trains there were less and less as they were going to the landscaper weekly. When he finally was able to buy what was left, this unnumbered Irvington was one of the remaining items.

In 2000, a full 15 years since I bought the numberless Irvington car the first time, the big TCA meet in York, Pennsylvania was about to yield the unexpected. The no number Irvington car had quietly slipped into the back of my mind and off the “hot spot” of the collection. There were so many other Madison cars to hunt down and acquire along with all those other trains that my special Irvington was all but forgotten.

Purple Hall: unnumbered Manhattan car body. Dusty, dirty, some paint chips and flakes and I bought it. Blue Hall 2 hours later: numberless Madison car body laying in full view on a table and only I was interested! It came home with me too. I added original postwar frames, trucks, window inserts, vestibules, screws, and lights.

Now, the three no number Madison cars are key items in my collection. I consider them a complete set.

I no longer fully agree with the factory error theory. I think they were service agent parts that were supplied in the late 1940’s. Back then the cars were offered as 2625, 2627, and 2628. Also, for one year, the 3 different cars all had the same 2625 number. I think Lionel offered these unnumbered bodies as repair parts that could cover all the possibilities. The bodies I acquired at York had never been mounted on a frame. The screw holes were clean and had never been cut into by self-tapping screws. My repair parts idea is only educated speculation, but one thing is for sure: Lionel deliberately released each in an unnumbered version in a very small quantity. The fact that I have one of each, in my belief, is proof of that.

Some collectors will probably not like that I assembled them into complete cars. My thought on this is that the Irvington was bought as a complete car. Verifying that someone other than the factory assembled it is not possible. So why not make a complete set? I do not collect parts for display purposes, and overall it’s probably safer that the bodies are now mounted on frames and trucks. They can be boxed, stored, transported, and displayed with less damage. Complete items also have a broader appeal than unassembled parts.

Lastly, my three Madisons can be run.