“Three-Of-A-Kind”—Lionel’s 16536 Chessie System C&O SP-Type Caboose
By Stuart Rankin
Modern era Lionel usually does a good job of keeping track of absolutely every detail about their production runs. Every piece of Styrofoam, “scotch” tape, twist-tie, etc. has a Lionel part number. When things change, Lionel issues a new SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) number.
Case in point is both 19667/19673 production runs of the Wellspring Mint Cars and sets sold in both 2002 and 2003. When the same set was sold in 2002 with traditional tubular track and rerun in 2003 with Fastrack, the set was issued a new SKU number so that the change could be tracked (no pun intended). Even if only the trailer on a flat car was changed, a new SKU was given to the unit, such as the 26031/26052 Santa Fe Trailer on Flat Car from the 31933/31945 Santa Fe Super Freight with RailSounds set.
Therefore, it makes sense that if Lionel made a substantial change to an items body color, lettering color, or body type, that they would create a new SKU for the redesigned piece. Well, that’s not always the case as can be seen by looking at the 3 different versions of the 16536 Chessie System C&O SP-Type Caboose that have been observed to date.
Originally produced in 1992 with a yellow molded unpainted body with 4 windows and blue lettering, the yellow 16536 was a mainstay through the mid 1990’s, included in the 11727 Coastal Limited and similar sets.
For some unknown reason, in 1993 a very small number of 16536’s with the same 4-window body mold were produced in unpainted brown plastic with yellow lettering. While based on pure speculation, it seems reasonable to surmise that Lionel needed a few 16536’s to complete a run of sets.
Instead of gearing up to mold more yellow bodies, they used whatever (brown) bodies they had available. Likewise, the yellow lettering material was most likely in the lettering machine for another item and it was used to letter the brown 16536’s.
When the next full production run of the 16536 was made in 1994, it was back to the yellow/blue standard.
In 1995, Lionel redesigned the Postwar inspired SP-Type caboose. The caboose shell used prior to 1995 consisted of 2 parts, a floor/frame (usually molded in black) as one piece and the sides/ends/roof (molded in body color) as another piece. When new molds were made in 1995, the construction was changed. Now, the floor/ends/sides were molded as one piece and the roof was molded as a separate piece. This made the decorating process easier as now the roof could be molded in a separate color than the sides, eliminating the need for masking and painting the roof. Previously, the roof had to be painted a separate color. Also, the number of windows on the sides was reduced from four to two. This new mold was used for the SP-Type cabooses made after 1995.
Since the 16536 was still an integral part of the Lionel line, more production runs of this item were needed. Now, the newly redesigned tooling was used (only 2 windows per side) and the push was on to include the traditional “little red caboose” in sets. Therefore, through the end of production in 1999, the 16536 was molded in red (floor/ends/side and roof) with white lettering.
Since all these cabooses came in sets only, none of them have their own individual boxes. Likewise, to reduce costs, these cabooses are not illuminated.
Not withstanding the change in the body mold, the change in body and graphic colors alone should have warranted new SKU numbers for each item. As far as value is concerned, the yellow and red versions can be considered “common” and have been seen to sell for $5 to $15 each. The brown version can be considered “rare” and typically sells in the $250 range. Quite a difference in price for just a different color plastic.