The Lionel Visitor’s Center – Rolling Stock and Other Commemoratives
By Bob Mintz
The Lionel Visitor’s Center showroom is located in Chesterfield Michigan, down the road from what was once the Lionel factory. The building is also home to the Lionel offices.
It features a 14-foot by 40-foot layout with ten running trains and 37 operating accessories.
Opened in 1992 with the help of the Lionel employees, Chuck Horan would often be seen at the controls of this elaborate layout, as was seen at the various clubs annual conventions during the summer of 2000.
Rumor has it that the 10th anniversary car will be the last, so this entire set may become a desirable collectible item sooner than later.
The LVC was officially opened on February 19th, 1992 with a boxcar commemorating the event, with the quintessential scissor and ribbon cutting ceremony on the boxcar. The logo was of the red, white and blue 1986 version.
The 1993 version had a reversed color scheme and what would appear to be an image of tunnel portals from the layout itself showing what looks like a Santa Fe F-3 AB unit, perhaps a Hudson or other steam engine, and what could be an EP-5 or GG-1 in bizarre colors, gray and red. So much for artist’s embellishment! If you don’t believe me, check out the 1957 back page Lionel catalogue and look for the trestle on the track!
The 1994 entry would be another boxcar with graphics of a steam engine pulling what looks like two #26284 “2000 NEW YORK TOY PREVIEW” boxcars, a Santa Fe F-3 passing E-Train’s web-site designer Brad Kaplan’s favorite and often touted # 115 Station against a silhouette of what could be New York City complete with the Empire State Building and water towers. The SKU number would also be included on the car itself. A commemorative would also be issued this year in the form of a Visitor’s Center tractor-trailer.
For 1995, a boxcar was created paying homage to the great state of Michigan, and more specifically Detroit with a narrower parameter of the city of Chesterfield. Graphics contained what looks like a Standard Gauge turntable and engine shed, an “O” gauge Santa Fe Warbonnet F-3 or Alco engine pulling aluminum sided passenger cars with a red stripe and another unknown passenger set with a mustard yellow color scheme. Another delight this year would be a lighted billboard similar in looks to the Postwar # 410 Billboard Blinker
1996 would be a departure from the previously issued boxcars. This time a single dome tanker car was assembled with an American flag with the wording “An American Legend” underneath and “A Magical Tour” on the opposite side of the car. The year “1996” and “BLT by Lionel” can barely be seen under the ladder.
The 1997 production would start a recycling of the 1994 tractor-trailer on flatcar, but this time, the tractor-trailer would contain the date in black lettering “1-1997” pad printed on the roof. The flatcar had the year “1997” on it.
A coil-covered gondola for 1998 would contain a new logo that reminds me of the Postwar # 90 controller, an “L” with circle around it.
The following year would keep the same basic color scheme as the previous year, but this time the 1999 addition would be a vat car with orange vats and the words “1999” plastered across it four times on each vat.
Similar in appearance to the first car in the Artrain series to carry a true roadname, the 1991 #17891 Grand Trunk boxcar, our millennium car for 2000 would be a refrigerator reefer boxcar with “206482” written on it.
The 2001 entry would continue with a more prototypical boxcar (accept for the Lionel Visitors Center logo) previously seen in the area of the present Lionel corporate offices. Port Huron & Detroit was incorporated on Sept.1, 1917. It was sold Dec.13, 1984 to Chessie System, and merged by CSX five years later. Oh yes, on the sides of the PH&D’s dark blue, white and red boxcars you’ll see, “St. Clair Blue Water Route.” After all, who ever said that a Michigan shortline -not as long as a Santa Fe or Burlington Northern, but just as wide -can’t have a slogan, too? Another retread, similar in appearance (except for the added cost of the white line through the door) to #17875, the 1989 “#1289” Port Huron & Detroit boxcars produced by Lionel for LOTS’ 10th National Convention in Dearborn, MI.
I was not even aware that the 2002 10th anniversary car was even available until I spotted it at the April 2002 York meet. Rumors had been rampant that this series had run out of steam, and with the recent move of the production overseas, it seemed that the Lionel Visitor’s Center had run its course. But rekindling the group is a coal hopper reminiscent of the “separate sale” Lionel Lines collection from the early 80’s, handsomely displaying the original orange and blue color scheme and Lionel and Visitors Center logos. The SKU number for the second time appeared on an LVC item; as well as the words “10th Anniversary”.
Could be on the endangered species list as there are no plans to issue a car for the following year.
The Lionel Corp. maintained a showroom at 15 E. 26th Street in New York until its 1964 shutdown. The layout was then disassembled and stored in pieces on top of one another in a warehouse somewhere in New Jersey, whereby it eventually disintegrated to the point that it was impractical to repair, and was eventually discarded. In 1991, a group of Lionel LTI employees built, on a volunteer basis at the Mount Clemens, Michigan corporate offices, a display that evoked the classic 1949 design of the original layout. It featured a 14-foot by 40-foot layout with seven running trains and 37 operating accessories. It officially opened to the public on Feb. 19, 1992 and was closed on June 20, 2008.
“The Magic Lives On…” In February of 2009, volunteers from the Railroad Museum of Long Island (RMLI) went to the closed LVC to review how to disassemble and move this layout to Long Island. On April 7, 2009, RMLI received an official letter from Lionel LLC donating the Visitor’s Center Layout to the RMLI for the purpose of its continued display to the public by the Museum. It was decided to purchase a 40-foot container, install 68 eight-foot 2 x 4s for shelving and have it loaded on a truck to bring the layout back to Riverhead N.Y. in fifteen pieces. In early May 2009 a group of RMLI volunteers went back to Michigan and accomplished this task, which took about a week. The total weight of the layout was a little over seven thousand pounds.
To commemorate the Grand Opening of the former Lionel Visitor’s Center at its new location in Riverhead, N.Y., the RMLI has created this Lionel factory produced 6464 style boxcar (6-52571) in “O” Gauge. It features die-cast metal sprung trucks and will come in a unique blue box, the same as our recently released 175th Anniversary LIRR 6464 boxcar (52548).