Mystery Decaled American Flyer 1201 Engine
By Leon Sweet
Have you ever bought something because it was an oddity and found it to be extremely unusual for other reasons? That happened to me a couple of years ago, with a prewar American Flyer set. I bought a boxed set because it came with an early 1218 in green, with green painted trim. I had never seen an early (pre-1922) 1218 in green and had never observed one with green overpainted trim. All of the engines I had seen had nickel plated trim and all of the early 1218 engines I had observed were black and not green.
Upon receiving the set in the mail, I immediately noticed that there appeared to be funky looking squares underneath the paint, ie the paint adhered to these squares differently. These odd areas appeared in all of the locations that the American Flyer rubberstamping appeared. It was almost as if there was something, like a decal under the paint. However, that did not make sense to me, as I did not know of engines like this featuring decals.
I showed the engine to Don Spiedel (TCA 5-92) and asked for his opinion. He thought that the engine looked like a factory repaint that may have occurred during a servicing, but indicated that “it would be difficult to prove”.
I took the engine to York in 2008 and showed it to Hollis Cotton (TCA 81-16836). Hollis showed considerable interest in the engine and paid particular attention to the little squares that showed up as being something under the second layer of paint. He also indicated to me that he was not aware of a 1218 in this dark green and wondered what the color underneath was. I moved the one piece of trim (the broken bell bracket) that would show the true color and found that it was the same dark green color as the overpaint.
Hollis’ opinion was that it was a factory overpaint and he indicated that he recalled seeing a similar decaled American Flyer engine in a “New and Unusual Items Seen at York” several years ago and thought that this engine was possibly a decaled engine that had been overpainted by the factory and then rubber stamped like the later variations of the engine.
I was intrigued by this, because I was unaware of this type of engine coming with decals on it. I searched all of my old TCA Quarterly issues, but could not find the article that Hollis had mentioned. Recently the TCA made all of the past issues of the Quarterly available on-line. I spent several days searching through 40 years of TCA Quarterly issues/articles prior to finding the article that Hollis mentioned. It was in the TCA Quarterly issue 3 from 1995, which was 3 years prior to my joining the TCA. The item is owned by Roland Digilio (TCA 75-8426) and is a black 1201 American Flyer locomotive with decals instead of rubber stamping.
Since finding the article about Roland’s 1201, I have found my own black 1201 with decals instead of lettering. I have also seen an early (pre-1922) 1201 in a similar dark green color as my 1218, which shows that American Flyer was using this dark green color during the period my engine was made. These three odd engines are going to be re-united at York this fall, as I knew Roland through a friend and contacted him and asked him to bring his engine along.
As for what these decaled 1201 engines are, Hollis and I are of the opinion that the decaled engines represent the earliest production of these engines and are from 1920. Both of the decaled 1201s and the overpainted engine, feature the early wheel style, which has 8 spokes (instead of 10 found on engines from 1922 and later) and feature no steel tire on the wheels (with the 10-spoke wheels always featuring a steel tire). Additionally, the green overpainted engine came in a setbox that featured the 1218 engine on the end label instead of the 3020 engine, which also denotes pre-1922 production, as the 3020 was prominently featured on both the box top label and the end labels from 1922 and on.
As for why rubber stamped lettering versus decals, I would guess that rubber stamping the engines was easier and cheaper than applying decals.
My yet unanswered question is “did they letter 1218’s with decals also?” Currently all I know of are the two 1201s with decals and my 1218 with apparent overpainted decals, but having no knowledge of what number exists under the paint.
A note about the photos accompanying this article. The apparent overpainted decals on the green 1218 do not show up in the photos. Basically, there is an outline of the approximate size of the decal in the areas, where the rubber stamping now appears. The paint appears to have adhered differently to the decals than the rest of the engine, which makes them visible upon close inspection.
One should note that the decal lettering is more squared than the rubber stamped lettering, which makes it easy to differentiate, as well as there being an outline to the decal.