The Man in Black
by Bill Meyer
“No one in America is more closely associated with railroading than Johnny Cash. He writes and sings the songs of the rails and he has had complete television shows on America’s railroads.
Johnny Cash is a railroading man in every way. He was also a Lionel railroading man, having played with a Lionel as a boy and having been associated with the company as a spokesman since 1971.
It was only natural that Lionel thought of Johnny Cash first when the Railroader Club was developed. And it is only right that Johnny Cash was named Club Member Number One.
Watch your television listings for Johnny Cash’s TV Special on the American railroads. It’s called Riding the Rails and it is brought to you by Lionel.
If you are big on trains, you’ll certainly not want to miss this one. It is another great Johnny Cash train show.”
***Lionel Railroader Club Issue No. 1***
Vice President of Engineering and Development Dick Branstner, whose wife Mary was a big Johnny Cash fan and knew that he had recorded many songs with train themes, had suggested using him and Dick convinced the then General Mills executives, who were looking for a personality to plug their product.
Dick’s father Bruno also worked for Lionel, and is thought to have designed the “Johnny Cash Blue Train”, made up of the boiler of a #665 Hudson with prewar motors and wheels. The engine was painted Blue Comet blue, had gold trim and was reminiscent of one of his songs that went in part, “I want to ride a blue train.”
A smaller engine painted the exact same way was also given to Johnny Cash Jr.
The following was a hand out at NYC Toy Fair, probably in 1976, which showed shots from a TV commercial.
In 1976, Lionel produced an uncataloged boxcar #9780 in silver and black.
In a bit or irony or crystal ball gazing, an internal memo to Lionel dealers certainly spelled out the impending future of the cost of the hobby.