model train set on track

The World’s Fastest Growing Hobby?

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

by Bob Mintz

I have owned the now out of print “Greenberg’s ® Lionel ® Catalogues” for several years, but it was not until recently that I paid more attention to the last and final edition, Volume VI: 1961-1969.

I was desperately trying to identify some pieces that I had picked up recently at York. My computer inventory program requires that I include a catalog number, and none of those pieces had any identifying material giving me the semblance of a clue.

An email to both Gordon Wilson and Paul Wassermann helped lead me in the right direction, and then I suddenly realized that the material was close at hand.

I must admit that I have never really studied this era with any great detail. Although I have tried to accumulate items within the Postwar period, most items produced in the 60’s seemed to be the poor neglected stepchild of the train collecting culture.

The cover and inside front cover and following page of the 1961 consumer catalog showed both the Lionel Corp.’s trains as well as Lionel-Porter science lines, giving equal billing to both. In fact, the next 18 pages were devoted entirely to the “Famous Inventor Series”; “Electronics and Plastics Engineering Sets”; “Weather Stations”; “Chemcraft/Microcraft/Biocraft/Labcraft/Mathcraft/Toolcraft”; “Mineralogy”; “3-D Stereo-Vision”; “Geology”; and “Physical Science”. Only on page 22 do we again see a toy train.

The rear cover mentioned “The most exciting auto racing game of all…Lionel’s new raceway set on HO track.”

The cover for the 1962 consumer catalog was now split into four categories: train and accessories; model motor racing; complete science labs; and photographs and tape recorders. This catalog showed a red #6445 mint car being included in the “Plainsman” steam outfit, thought the car was actually silver, later to be issued as part of the Archive Series; the horrible and cheesy battery operated #375 motorized turntable, the hard-to-find #419 Lionel Heliport and an actual photo of the highly desirable 1960 set # 2555W, better known as the Father/Son set of identical Super “O” and HO twin railroad empires! In a sudden reversal, toy trains recaptured top billing in this catalog, followed by the other product lines and then the Scalextric Lionel-Tri-Ang auto racing, “the hobby that is fast becoming an international sport.” At least this catalog was in what is called in the printing industries as 4C or full color.

In an apparent capitulation to the realities of the times and things to come, the 1963 catalog was a bicolor job (black and red on a white background) and page 50 just about said it all: “HO Scale Raceways The World’s Fastest Growing Hobby.” In one short year, slot cars had gone from an international sport to the world’s fastest growing hobby.

This year Lionel offered Standard and HO accessories for its’ motor racing car line. Some items were car-specific; as toy trains were not exactly made for banking curves, lap counters, guard rails or timers, although some of us wish they were at the time. We did have 60 & 90 degree crossings (Super- “O” of course) but could you imagine a converging one lane Chicane; a hump back bridge whereby our precious toy trains would become airborne and hopefully re-rail on the track all by themselves; a skill-tilt Chicane were our trains would race up an inclined ramp and daringly leap back to the mainline; a Le Mans type start track or a Loop-the-loop whereby a Santa Fe F-3 and Hudson type steam engine would barrel down the mainline and proudly defy gravity.

Others accessories were reproductions of normal (were toy train the norm or the alternate product line by this time?) Lionel toy train production, with different numbers and/or more adapted towards automobiles.

The cross-over products included #195R 8-bulb Floodlight Tower; #310R Billboard set for Standard Scale; #5155 “Pacesetter” Timer with automatic power control (similar to # 413 Countdown control panel) and the #5160 Official’s Viewing Stand (similar to the #365/#465 Dispatch Stations and #419 Heliport Control Tower.

#5155 “Pacesetter” Timer
#5154 Electric Lap Counter Set for Standard Scale
#5160 Official’s Viewing Stand
#5150-30 Track Flags

An interesting series to collect. See them at a York dealer near you. Batteries, power pack and track not included.