There’s “Ore” in Them Thar Hills–Lionel’s O and O-27 Ore Cars
By Joel Fugazzotto
In 1984, Lionel® introduced a short, stubby, non-operating car featuring more molded-in detail in the form of gears, ratchets, rods, rivets, bracing and steps than most other Lionel production up until that time. It was a completely new design from Fundimensions. It was the ore car.
Amazingly, although not to scale, it was a great looking model and Lionel managed to capture the look and feel of the full-size prototype even though it sat higher on its trucks than its real counterpart.
Beginning with the introduction of the Soo Line and Penn Central ore cars in 1984 and 1985, a total of 67 ore cars have been produced, including the new 16474 Alaska ore car listed in Lionel’s 2004 Catalog, Volume 1.
Most were produced and catalogued after the corporate take-over of Fundimensions by Lionel Trains, Inc. in 1986. Although a lot of individual sale items were made, a fair amount appeared in sets and quite a number were and continue to be produced for the Gadsden-Pacific Division (GPD) of the TTOS.
In 1989, Lionel introduced the 19307 B&LE, the first car to contain a simulated ore load. Lionel continued to make cars with and without loads and eventually offered ore loads for separate sale. Except for the Anaconda, all GPD ore cars came with ore loads. The only cars appearing with non ore loads are in the 16470 “Naughty & Nice” set from 2003; the “Naughty” ore car is filled with black coal and the “Nice” car is filled with wrapped holiday packages.
Other than the uncatalogued Gadsden-Pacific cars, Lionel did not manufacture any ore cars for 1994 and 1995. Maybe they were too busy creating and designing the new die-cast Lionel Steel ore cars that were to appear in 1996. Whatever the reason, they have catalogued ore cars every year since, even turning out as many as four different road names in 2000.
In the first four years, all ore cars featured Symington-Wayne trucks. In 1990, ASF strong-arm trucks made an appearance and then sprung metal trucks, with the production of the 19320 PRR and 19321 B&LE in 1992. Cars were equipped with either ASF or sprung metal trucks until 1996 when all cars began riding on sprung metal trucks. The only exception so far was the 16473 Rock Island from 2003 with ASF trucks. The 1988 and 1989 Gadsden-Pacific cars also used Symington-Wayne trucks. In 1990, the GPD also switched to ASF trucks and has used them on every ore car to this day.
The first ore car issued in a set was the 16305 LV (Lehigh Valley) from the Black Diamond Set in 1987. The next was the 16385 Soo Line, which appeared in 1993 with the 11741 Northwest Express Set.
In 1996, Lionel launched another first with the #57 Lionel Steel Service Exclusive Set (11912) which included the 51503 and 51504 Lionel Steel ore cars. These two cars not only had die-cast bodies on sprung metal trucks, but were 9/32 inches wider than their plastic counterparts and presented a squatter, more prototypical look although the height and length remained the same. A matching 51502 appeared in the same catalog (well-hidden in the midst of 13 other freight cars) as a separate sale item.
Continuing with their die-cast production, Lionel introduced the Union Pacific GP-9 Unit Train (11837) in 1997 and included six silver ore cars numbered 26920 through 26925. These were followed the next year with the 11844 Ore Car 4-Pack, which consisted of four matching, die-cast UP ore cars numbered 26926-26929. Also, in 1998 Lionel produced the uncatalogued 11982 NJ Transit Ore Car Set made in conjunction with The Train Station, Mt. Lakes, N.J., a Lionel Top Ten Dealer, which included five ore cars numbered 16175 through 16179. Each car in this colorful set was named after a different yard on the NJ Transit System and three of those colors (orange, magenta and blue) represent the colors of the NJ Transit logo.
The last ore car to appear in a set was the 36041 Bethlehem Steel in 1999, part of 21758 Bethlehem Steel Service Station Set.
Uncatalogued and Unusual Production
In 1986, Lionel issued its first uncatalogued ore car, the 16800 for its own Lionel Railroader Club. This was the fifth in a series of annual cars for club members and is the hardest to find of all the club cars.
Two years later, the Gadsden-Pacific Division of the TTOS unveiled the 17872 Anaconda ore car at the 1988 TTOS annual convention in Tucson, Arizona. This was the beginning of a series of beautifully decorated cars with wonderful names that represented the various mining companies in Arizona. The sale of these cars was intended as fundraisers for the construction of the TTOS museum in Tucson.
A new car has been issued every year since and because of their limited production quantities, they remain somewhat scarce and desirable, especially the Anaconda and 17878 Magma, the first car in the series after the convention.
Because the Anaconda was a TTOS convention car, it is the only car to carry a “TTOS” designation. Every car since carried the following designations: “G-P,” “GP” or “GPD,” followed by the production date and the words “Museum Car.”
Although not special production, Lionel catalogued three ore cars that were not part of a regular railroad’s roster: the 19315 Amtrak in 1991, which seems to be an unusual road name choice because Amtrak is a passenger line; and the 16471 and 16472 “Naughty & Nice” ore cars produced in 2003, Lionel’s first “fantasy” ore cars.
Also, the number “6126” must be of great significance for someone at Lionel. Not only is it the production number of the 1986 Canadian National ore car, but that same number also appears on the 1999 Bethlehem Steel car, the 2000 Ontario Northland car and the 2000 CN car.
Basically, all ore cars were packaged in the type of box and appropriate inserts prevalent at the time of production. The only noteworthy tidbits are that some, possibly all, 17881 Phelps-Dodge GPD cars were sent out in boxes with “Gadsden” misspelled on the label (missing the first “d”); and the die-cast ore cars were packaged differently.
The Lionel Steel die-cast ore cars were cushioned in rolled up craft paper, one roll to protect the sides and one roll to protect the top and bottom, and all held together with a rubber band. The U.P. die-cast cars were cushioned in Styrofoam cutouts.
One side note on labeling: the Gadsden-Pacific Division used a variety of ways to describe their organization and cars on the end flaps. Some labels read “Gadsden-Pacific,” some added the descriptor “Museum Car” and others used the designation “TTOM.” Whatever the case, they are all part of the GPD series.
Variations and Collector Popularity
There are no known variations to these cars nor any non-factory paint schemes or other post-production decorations or additions. Because of the relatively low price of some of the earlier ore cars, a few operators would buy a number of cars with the same road name to create long unit trains. That, in turn, could make it a little more difficult to find certain road names. For collectors, The Lionel Railroader Club car and the GPD Anaconda and Magma tend to demand a higher price, as do cars from set breakups such as the 16305 LV (Lehigh Valley) and the 16385 Soo Line.
Author’s Note: I’m not sure exactly when I began collecting Lionel ore cars. I do know I loved the look of them and after discovering the Gadsden-Pacific cars. I realized I had to have every ore car Lionel produced. And with each new Lionel catalog and yearly notice from GPD, the beat goes on. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’ve stayed away from collecting MTH, K-Line and what every other ore cars are out there. Hmmm. Maybe I should rethink that.
The GPD still has a limited number of ore cars available for some of the years between 1990 through 2002. The quantities vary with each car. Write the GPD at: Gadsden-Pacific Division, TTOM, Ltd., P.O. Box 85425, Tucson, AZ 85745-5425.
I also want to take a moment to express my thanks to Jon Bonds for his editing ideas and suggestions and, of course, Bob Mintz for his thoughts and for doing all the grunt work involved in getting the photos ready, designing the layout and preparing the article for publication.
This article is not intended to be the bible on ore cars. It’s merely a continuation of where Greenberg and TM left off with hopefully some additional pieces of new information. I apologize for any errors or omissions. Please refer to the Greenberg’s® Guide to Lionel Trains series, their volume on Variations and TM’s Price and Rarity Guides for more information on ore cars.
All in all, the ore car is a fun group to hunt and because most are relatively inexpensive, a nice collection can be built in a short time. If you decide to add any of these stubby little cars to your collection, have a great time and enjoy.
Joel Fugazzotto [email protected]
Lionel Ore Cars
Rather than list the ore cars numerically, I thought a listing by production year would be more meaningful because it would highlight the changes in trucks and the additions of ore loads. I also felt that the special production, uncatalogued Gadsden-Pacific cars deserved a listing of their own. A word on ore loads: because there are so many variations of the brown color including matte and glossy finishes, I simply list them as brown.
Legend: •SW = Symington-Wayne trucks •ASF = ASF strong arm trucks •SMT = Sprung metal trucks •U = Uncatalogued
Separate Sale and Set Cars by Year
Note: Over the last few years, Lionel has occasionally catalogued the following year’s production, the year before. For example, in the 2003 catalog, Lionel introduced the 2004 DM&IR and US Steel ore cars. To eliminate confusion, I’ve used the catalogued year.
Uncatalogued Gadsden-Pacific Division Cars by Year