model train set on track

Nation Wide Lines

e*Train Issue: Jul 2012   |   Posted in: ,

Nation Wide Complete set

Article By Leon Sweet. Photos By Leon Sweet and Henry Koshollek

(Article updated Summer 2012)


Nation Wide Lines is a little known store brand of trains that were, according to original box labels, “Made Especially for JC Penney Company”.  These trains were produced and sold between approximately 1929 and 1934 and were made by the American Flyer company for JC Penney.  I believe that this article covers all of the variations of items that were produced/sold under the Nation Wide Lines name, as discussions with other knowledgeable collectors has not resulted in reports of variations, other than what is described herein.  An attempt has been made to show how the sets were most commonly packaged/sold, based on sets that have been found and observed.  I can only guess that some sets were packaged in different forms over the years, as many variations of similar cars in different configurations have been observed.

The approximate dates of production are guesstimates that are based on when comparable American Flyer items were produced and/or catalogued, as the author was unable to find specific information relating to the production of these trains.  Unlike Montgomery Wards and Sears, JC Penney did not offer catalogue sales until the 1960s; therefore, searching period catalogues was impossible.  Correspondence with the JC Penney archives was a dead end as they indicated that they were unaware that JC Penney had its own store brand of trains and they did not have period advertising that listed Nation Wide Lines trains.  However, they did confirm that Nation Wide was a trademarked store brand from the early 1920s through the early 1970s and that the Nation Wide name appeared on a variety of items.  Information about the items noted in the following paragraphs is related to direct observations of boxed sets and/or conversations with fellow collectors. 

Nation Wide Lines Labeling / Unusual Items

Boxes and labels

Three different set box labels and a transformer box label have been observed.  All of the labels indicate that these items “Were Made Especially for JC Penney Co.”  Of the three set box labels, two of the variations are the same label but of different sizes, with the smaller label being less common (as it was observed on only 1 boxed set of the 5 boxed sets viewed).  This label design appears to be the most common label and features a landscape scene with a train going away from the viewer on one side and a train coming toward the viewer on the other side, with “Nation Wide Lines” in bold type across the top of the label.  These labels were sometimes used to cover American Flyer labels and an O gauge set box was observed with a Nation Wide label peeling off of an American Flyer label and it has been reported that 3 of these labels were used on the Standard gauge set boxes to cover the large American Flyer label commonly found on Standard gauge boxes. 

Close-up of 1090 engine

The third style of set box label appears to have been used on a single set, as the set number appears in bold type and is part of the label, rather than being rubber stamped on the label, like the previously described labels.  Additionally, this label shows an engine marked 1097 with three cars that have New York Express markings above the window.  The label also states that the set comes “ready to run” and includes 8 curved sections of track, track clips, and a transformer.  The set observed with this label, which came from the original owner’s family, includes a 1090 Empire Express marked engine and three yellow and green American Flyer marked cars, all components which match the box label in design.  The set came with transformer instructions for the 1042 transformer that are marked American Flyer at the bottom, but the transformer itself lacks the typical American Flyer decal and just has 1042 stamped into the metal at the bottom.  The set also came with an unusual “Do Not Destroy” warranty card.

There was also a separate sale transformer that was sold in a Nation Wide Lines marked box.  The label indicates a Nation Wide Lines Transformer 176/50 and Made Especially for JC Penney.  Original transformers have been observed with either an American Flyer 1250 voltage plate or an unmarked voltage plate on the top.  A similar unmarked voltage plate transformer in an original box that features a “Think Ward’s First” tape has been observed and came with a Montgomery Wards department store special set from the same period.  These original transformer boxes, like the American Flyer labeled boxes, feature an embossed “1250” on the bottom portion of the box.

Standard Gauge NWL 1


American Flyer produced a standard gauge freight set that is marked with Nation Wide Lines brass plates and, according to a 1980 article by the late Bill Clapper (TCA Past President 1962-1963), boxed examples of the standard gauge Empire Express lithographed passenger set have been found with Nation Wide Lines labels on the boxes.  The Wide Gauge Nation Wide Lines trains would have been the top of the line items produced in the Nation Wide Lines name, with similarly catalogued American Flyer 1930 freight sets being priced near $30. 

Close-up standard gauge engine 3

The wide gauge freight set is comprised of a red New Haven type box cab electric engine that features a brass Nation Wide Lines plate on the lower left and a 4644 brass number plate on the lower right, a green gondola marked with a Nation Wide Lines plate at the center and 4667 number plates on either end, a tan and green boxcar with a Nation Wide Lines plate at the upper left, a standard capacity plate next to the door, and a 4677 number plate on the right, and a red caboose, with no smokestack, a Nation Wide Lines plate at the center, and 4677 number plates on either end. 

Passenger sets “a”

Although all cars feature 4677 number plates, the original boxes for the gondola and caboose (the boxcar box was not present in the set observed for this article) have the typical 4011 (caboose) and 4017 (gondola) numbering, with the word “Special” handwritten in script on the boxes.  Additionally, the boxcar and gondola feature the American Flyer paper label lubricating instructions and patent applied for labels on their underside.  It is noteworthy to mention that the boxed standard gauge freight set observed, features a Montgomery Ward shipping label on the set box, a regular American Flyer box label, and a 7000 series set number (denoting it was an uncatalogued set). 

Passenger sets b

Additionally, the standard gauge brass Nation Wide Lines nameplates are also found on the top deck of the 3199 tenders in the O gauge line.


The Nation Wide O gauge line appears to have been the most popular size of these trains, with 12 different variations of cars produced and several different set configurations being observed.  The Nation Wide O gauge line included inexpensive wind-up sets to mid priced electric passenger and freight sets, to top of the line electric passenger sets.  The lithographed items all feature “Nation Wide Lines” on the car sides and “Made in America” on the ends of the cars.


I have classified the deluxe sets as those sets being similar to American Flyer’s top of the line sets.  Three sets have been observed that would qualify under this heading.  The most commonly known of these three sets is a blue lithographed set, with the two lesser known sets being enamel painted cars with brass Nation Wide Lines plates.

Blue lithograph O c. 1929


The set is comprised of a two-tone blue / bluish green enamel boxcab electric engine with four 3113 brass number plates, a baggage numbered 80 with 4 dark blue enamel painted doors, a coach numbered 81, and an observation numbered 81.  Based on date coded original paperwork found with a boxed set, it appears that this set was sold in 1929 and possibly in 1930.

The car bodies of this set are the same ones used for the more commonly found Illini and Columbia series of cars that were produced from 1922 through the early 1930s, with the Illini cars last appearing in the 1927 catalogue.  However, the Illini cars were packaged with several special sets that were sold through other department stores.  An interesting note about the Illini cars is that the early cars have all windows on the sides punched out (including all Columbia cars) and that some of the later cars do not have the high arched windows punched out.  The window stampings appear to have been altered for the production of the Nation Wide set, as the lithograph has a different window configuration that does not feature a higher set of arched windows. 

The original individual boxes for the cars feature almost the same numbers as the late Illini car boxes 3080 (baggage) and 3081 (coach); however, the observation is numbered 3081 (observation) instead of 3085 (the typical number of the Illini observation).  Additionally each box features “A. Blue” rubber stamped after the car number.  This apparently refers to Academy Blue?  The color that American Flyer referred to its President Special sets. 

It appears that the Nation Wide Lines 3113 engines came with both a one headlight configuration and a two headlight configuration.  One collector noted that he observed three different roof stamping configurations on the three engines for this sets that he owned, one with a two headlight configuration, one with the holes for mounting two headlights but only 1 headlight, and one with one headlight and a wide slot for the later style reverse unit levers that protrude through the roof on the other end of the roof.

Enamel 8.25 inch set c. 1931


The enamel painted O gauges passenger cars produced under the Nation Wide Lines name are some of the least known cars produced in this line.  They appear to have been produced after the blue lithographed set and are believed to date from approximately 1931.  These types of cars are not described in the Greenberg’s guide as having Nation Wide Lines brass plates and are difficult to find.  I initially came across these cars after discussions with other collectors.  These cars appear to have been sold in both the 3180 series 8.25-inch cars and the 3280 series 9.5-inch cars.  Both of these series of cars have been found only in the two tone aqua colors that are more commonly associated with the regular production 9.5-inch American Flyer Golden State cars.  The aqua painted 8 ¼ inch bodies were used in uncatalogued department store sets and it appears that some were plated with Nation Wide Lines plates as well.

Enamel 9 inch car set c. 1931

The 3280 series 9.5 inch cars, feature 4 Nation Wide brass plates below the windows and Golden State brass plates above the windows.  The single set of 3180 series cars that were observed, feature differing plates below the windows, with the coach having 4 Nation Wide Lines plates and the baggage and observation having two Nation Wide Lines plates and a number plate with the words club or observation.  The sets shown came with 3199 tenders that feature a Nation Wide Lines standard gauge plate on the top deck and a Golden State plate on the side of the body.

Close-up 3300 engine c. 1931

The 3300 engine, with the Nation Wide Lines Plate below the cab, features an unusual motor that lacks some of the details that the 3300 engines typically feature.  The shell casting dates from 1931 as evidenced by the cast headlight visor and large red cast iron weight in the cab and is marked with a Nation Wide Lines plate beneath the cab window on each side.  The engine lacks three items commonly found on the regular production American Flyer 3300 engine: 1) the blue stripe commonly found on this engine is not present and there is no evidence that it ever was; 2) the sheetmetal cover that hides the brushes from view on one side and the motor on the other, were never installed on this motor.  Normally these covers attach to the body by 2 screws per side, with one of the screws being threaded into the body and one threaded into the cover.  When examining my engine, I noted that there was paint in these holes and that no screws had ever been threaded into the holes; 3) the motor lacks the automatic reverse commonly found on this engine.  While I cannot be certain as to if the motor was changed at some point in the past, I can say that the motor is an early motor that does not appear to be from a smaller engine due to the motor frame, which is not cut away for mounting in the smaller engine castings. 

In 1931, the 3300 engine retailed for $20.00 alone and for $25.95 it came either as a passenger or freight set.  Additionally, it is noted that the regular American Flyer 3300 engine came with a die-cast 3301 oil tender as opposed to the 3199 tenders that have been observed with Nation Wide sets.  It is believed that the lack of the standard features associated with this engine, especially the lack of a reverse mechanism and the 3199 tender, was a method of lowering the cost of this item for JC Penney.  A recent early 3300 engine was observed in the Joe Kotil (TCA 60-496) collection that also lacks some of the standard features, as it did not have a trailing truck or red cab weight or any means of mounting for either feature.

It is reported that the enamel Nation Wide Lines cars were also sold with a box-cab electric engine that may feature either four 3115 or 3185 number plates on it.  Although I have seen box cab electric engines like this, I have not actually observed them with a Nation Wide Lines set.


I have classified the mid-level sets by their medium sized cars that feature multiple part construction (ie. separate frames, roofs, bodies).  These sets feature either 6.5 inch green lithographed cars or 5.5 inch 1107/1108 type cars.  There are 4 distinct lithographs found on these cars: 1) green lithograph 6.5 inch cars; 2) rainbow 1107/1108 cars; 3) red 1107/1108 cars with all yellow trim and white lettering; and 4) red 1107/1108 cars with all white trim.  The 1107/1108 series of cars have been observed in both electric and windup sets but the 6.5 inch cars have only been observed in electric sets.

green 6.5 inch sets

Green 6.5 inch cars

The six inch green passenger cars appear to have been made over several years and included in several sets.

One set features the uncatalogued thin die cast steam engine that is commonly found with Nation Wide Lines sets and a 120 type Nation Wide Lines tender, Nation Wide Lines marked baggage, coach, and observation.  This set features a red lithographed baggage car door, type IX frames, and an orange lithographed bulkhead wall with a window and door frame on the observation deck.

The cars also came with a 3110 green engine that has four 3110 plates on it.  The cars with this set feature type VIII frames and have a solid blue bulkhead wall on the observation deck.  An unusual feature about the Nation Wide Lines 3110 engines that were observed, is that there is touch up paint around the 3110 plates.  Knowing that the same bodies were made in green, with holes for the brass plates, and marked with yellow 7011 lettering for a Montgomery Ward set, a single plate was removed on each engine, and there was “Motor 7011” with touch-up paint covering the areas not covered by the brass number plates on both engines. 

The third set observed is probably the most unusual configuration of these cars.  The set features a 121 tender, a Great Northern baggage car, two Nation Wide Lines coaches, and a Nation Wide Lines observation.  The cars feature Type X frames, orange roofs, the baggage car has orange enamel doors, and the observation car has a blue bulkhead wall.  The set came to the author in poor condition with a 617 type engine in pieces.  The author believes that the set may have been made for the Pacific Northwest market due to the Great Northern baggage car and because it was purchased out of the Seattle area. 

A recently found a set of three cars came with a green enamel, ribbed, boxcar type door, type IX frames, and an orange litho bulkhead wall with a window and door frame, on the observation deck. 

An unusual feature of the different variations of these cars appear to be the colors and styles of the baggage car doors and the colors of the end wall facing the observation platform, and frame types.  Variations of doors include a green lithographed door, a red lithographed door, and a green enamel door similar to box car doors.  The observation bulkhead colors include orange and blue lithographs.  Although the differences may just be due to the day the sets came off the production line, the author has noted the door colors, frame types, and observation bulkhead wall colors to be the consistent on several sets featuring the same engine configuration, leading me to conclude that the cars were produced in multiple batches, possibly over different years.

1107/1108 Type Cars

There are at three distinct variations 1107/1108 type cars.  The first variation is similar to the Rainbow sets that American Flyer marketed during this era.  This set features a 1084 uncatalogued engine, a 120 type Nation Wide Lines tender, a Red 1108 type Nation Wide Lines baggage car, a green 1107 type Nation Wide Lines coach, and a blue 1107 type Nation Wide Lines observation car.  The cars each have color matching roofs.  I have also seen the same cars with a wind-up engine. 

The second variation of these cars, feature 3 red cars.  The coaches that came with this engine in a boxed set, have all of the side windows punched out and all yellow trim, except the Nation Wide Lines and “Made In America” wording, which is white.  The engine in this set is an unusual lithographed Nation Wide Lines 1090 engine.  This engine is not described in the Greenberg’s Guide.  The engine is red similar to the American Flyer marked 1097 engine but features the same number as the orange Empire Express engine.  These engines are somewhat rare and only a few have been observed by the author. 

The third variation of these cars, also features 3 red cars; however, it was noted that the coaches with this set have yellow outlines around the windows (or a yellow unpunched window) and all white trim.   These cars were observed in a boxed set with a 1084 uncatalogued electric steam engine, a 119 Nation Wide Lines tender with an orange body and Nation Wide Lines in a black rectangle on each side, and red cars with red roofs, which do not have the side windows on either end of the car punched out. 

There may have been more sets with the red coaches, as several loose cars with black roofs have been observed; however, the author has not observed any other boxed sets with these cars.


I have classified the entry level O gauge passenger sets as sets that are characterized by their single piece coach construction, where the frame, roof, and body are formed from a single piece of metal.  There are three distinct types of cars that fit into this classification: 1) the 500 series cars; 2) the 515 series cars; and 3) the 518/519 series cars.

Re-used metal

The set featuring the 500 series cars came to the author with two of these cars, a 509 type tender marked with Nation Wide Lines, and a black wind-up engine.  An interesting note about one of the cars is that the metal floor is a re-used piece of metal that appears to have been lithographed for an American Flyer Lines 120 tender.  Unfortunately this lithograph is turned inward so that one has to look through the windows to read it.  Similarly, an Empire Express car has been observed with a piece of Nation Wide Lines reused lithograph.  This floor appears to have been turned outward so that the lithograph is clearly visible. 

The second variation features cars similar to the 515 Express type cars.  These cars came with a 509 Nation Wide Lines tender and black wind-up engine and appears to have been packaged in two different sets.  One set is very unusual in that it was found in the original box and features a 6-inch tunnel and a Hyde Park station.  This set appears virtually identical to the Queen City set featured in the 1930 American Flyer catalogue, with the exception of no crossing signs.  The missing signs appear be a factor of omitted them for the Nation Wide Lines set in order to provide a slightly cheaper set, as two boxed sets have been observed, neither with signs.  The second set featuring these cars appears to have been sold as a three coach car set with a windup engine and tender.

An interesting note about these cars is that they are commonly found in either orange or yellow with dark or light green roofs and trim (as reported in the Greenberg’s guide and observed by the authors).  Thinking that the two colors was a variation, a set of each was examined only to discover that the yellow cars originally began life as darker colored cars.  This was discovered because one of the tabs holding the car together was bent incorrectly under the side instead of over the side.  Upon fixing the tab so that it correctly went over the side, it was noticed that the portion of the tab that was not exposed to oxygen was more orange than yellow.  Due to the uniformity of the color change on all three of the cars examined (ie one side is not faded any more or less than the other side or ends) we can only guess that the color change is due to some form of oxidation?  Sunlight damaged cars of this variation have also been observed but the sunlight damaged cars typically do not have uniform color changes.  The cars observed for the purpose of this article exhibit fading that is uniform over the entire car as opposed to being lighter on one side due to sun damage.

The third variation features cars similar to the 518/519 cars that came with a 119 Nation Wide Lines tender with an orange body and Nation Wide Lines in a black rectangle on each side.  These cars feature red bodies with green roofs and trim.  The cars match the American Flyer cars of this design with the exception of the name.  These cars have been reported in an original boxed set being packaged similar to the Skylark set as shown in the 1931 and 1932 American Flyer catalogues, featuring a tunnel, station, and train.

6.5 inch freight sets


There are two distinct sizes of the Nation Wide Lines freight sets, the 6.5 inch cars and the 5.5 inch cars.  The 6.5 inch cars have been observed as either 4 or 8 wheel cars and the 5.5 inch cars appear in two different color variations.

The six inch freight cars appear to have been made over several years.  The three sets observed each have different features, some of which are apparently caused by their date of production.

The earliest set has the uncatalogued thin die-cast shell engine that is commonly found with Nation Wide Sets.  The set comes with a 120-style Nation Wide Lines lithographed tender, a log car that is marked Nation Wide Lines on the crossbuck, the red lithographed Nation Wide gondola and red lithographed Nation Wide caboose with a green roof and lithographed cupola.  The cars each have early style type XII frames. 

The other two freight sets each have a 3195 type engine that is marked with 3185 plates.  One of the tenders is a 3199 type tender that is marked with Golden State brass plates on the side and a larger standard gauge Nation Wide brass plate on the top of the tender and the other tender is an unmarked 120 type tender with the heavy cast iron coal load and no markings, with paint filling in the holes for the plates.  The log cars in the late sets may be unmarked, but the caboose and gondola bodies are the same, with the cars featuring later style frames and the cabooses having ribbed, orange enameled roofs with orange cupolas

The last variation of these cars comes in a 4-wheel version instead of eight.  I have observed both 4-wheel gondolas and cabooses.  My 4-wheel gondola came in a set from the original owner’s family and the remainder of the set, with the exception of the engine, was comprised of a 4-wheel American Flyer lithographed set.  It came with a 4-wheel log car, box car, caboose, and 120 tender, all marked American Flyer Lines.  The engine with this set was the thin die-cast engine appearing in the earliest version of the 8-wheel freight set.

One last observation about the 6.5 inch Nation Wide Lines freight cars is related to the caboose bodies.  After acquiring my first set, I noticed that the left side of each caboose side has a horizontal crease through the center of the windows.  I thought this was a bend caused by a former owner, until I acquired sets 2 and 3, which have the exact same crease on each side of the car body.  Therefore, the crease appears to have been caused at the factory when the bodies were stamped out or bent into shape.

5 inch freight set

The 5.5 inch freight sets have been typically observed as wind-up sets; however, one has been observed with a small uncatalogued electric engine.  The cars typically include a Nation Wide Lines Hams & Bacon Specialties box car similar to the Morris type box cars, a Nation Wide Lines gondola similar to the 1109 flyer gondola, and a Nation Wide Lines Caboose similar to the 1111 caboose.  The gondolas are found in gray and green color schemes and the cabooses are found in red or brown color schemes.

close-up of Morris type boxcar

The Greenberg’s Guide to American Flyer O Gauge (1997 edition) reports a boxcar variation that states Fancy Creamery / Butter; however, none of the collectors with whom the author has spoken has observed this variation and some have questioned its existence.  A thought on this variation is that a standard 1110 Morris car may have inadvertently been reported as a variation when coming with a Nation Wide Lines set.  The author’s boxed Nation Wide Lines freight set came with a standard American Flyer 1111 Illinois Central caboose instead of the Nation Wide Lines caboose.  Since these sized cars do not clearly state American Flyer on the sides, it may be that some sets were packaged with standard American Flyer production items as opposed to Nation Wide Lines marked items due to shortages at the factory.

Observed Boxed Sets/Set Numbers/Prices

126/71084 engine, orange 119 NWL tender, red 11/1108 cars with unpunched windows
176/50Nation Wide Lines transformer (AF 1250)
128/11Unusual label passenger set, 1090 empire express engine and three 515 American Flyer marked cars
176/2Windup set similar to American Flyer Queen city set of 1930, but no signals
176/3Windup freight set with 1109, 1110, 1111, marked NWL
176/4Rainbow set with 1084 steam engine, red 1108 baggage, green 1107 coach, blue 1107 baggage, all marked NWL
176/6Red 1090 Nation Wide Lines marked engine, 1108, 1107 coach, 1107 observation all in red all marked NWL
176/9Blue 3113, lithographed blue 80, 81, 81 cars
178/11 & 7028Standard gauge Nation Wide Lines Freight set.   My set came with Montgomery Ward’s shipping label on box, box stamped 7028, cars boxes marked “Special”


It was very surprising for me to discover a new, never before seen Nation-Wide Lines set in May at the Great Midwest Train Show, in Wheaton, Illinois.  Sadly, I am not the happy owner, but I was able to borrow the set label for this update.

The set itself does not feature specially lithographed items with Nation-Wide Lines being shown in the lithograph; therefore, the set had escaped my notice until the box label was discovered.  The box label indicates that Set 128/1 features a red enamel finished cast iron wind-up engine with ringing bell.  The label shows a small 328 style tender and 515 New York Express cars with the set.  The actual set in the box does feature similar items, with the cars being 515 style cars marked for American Flyer, a red cast iron engine with ringing bell, and a red tender marked “Limited”.

The set appears to date to 1932/1933 and is what I believe would have been the later and possibly last year of sets marked specifically as Nation Wide Lines sets.  The label is very similar to the label for Set 128/11, a small electric set, which also features no items specifically marked as Nation-Wide Lines.