model train set on track

Visiting Al Cox in Seattle

e*Train Issue: Jul 2005   |   Posted in:

By Mark Boyd, Editor, Train Collectors Quarterly

Al Cox is one of the largest toy train collectors, now 85 years young, he holds court in his living room sitting in his picture window overlooking the sound when visitors come, before leading a tour through the catacombs of toy trains in his basement, built and designed especially for his trains. Here is the story about one of his very unique one of a kind pieces, manufactured by the Lionel Corporation.

Lionel made the “Brute” locomotive in 1927, a Buddy L sized locomotive with three Build-a-loco motors, but no third rail pickup as it was designed for a 3 1/2 inch gauge two rail track system, similar in size to Buddy L push trains. The loco is so heavy, it was deemed impractical for production by Lionel as no child could ever easily pick it up. It looks like a giant 381 Standard Gauge loco. Originally it was painted green like the green State Set, but Bill Vagell cadmium plated the locomotive many years later to keep it from further deterioration.

The “Brute” was on display for many years in the factory showroom in New York City. Irving Shull of Lionel sold the locomotive to Don LaSpaluto (TCA President 1966-67) who then brought it to the TCA Yardley Convention in 1960 where Bill Vagell   purchased it.  Bill offered it to Al Cox sometime later for $2000 boasting that at the time, Al would own the most expensive toy train in history. Al hesitated, saying, “He did not want to be the “pigeon” who got stuck with that reputation,” so instead, it was sold the next day to John Snyder in Des Moines along with a Flyer O gauge set thrown in to sweeten the deal. Al eventually was able to purchase it years later.

Al also owns the 1950 Lionel prototype for the 213 Lift Bridge. He bought it from Joe Ranker whom he shared a table with in the Red Hall at York. He waited at the table until 9 pm for Joe’s return at closing. The bridge had sat there all day and no one bought it. Jim Sattler came by and teased, “How can you just sit there with that bridge still on the table?” When Joe came back at 9 pm, they returned to the motel and Al was still thinking about that bridge. Al worked on Joe all night trying to finesse a deal. Finally, Al offered to trade his Princess Elizabeth and Joe replied he had been waiting all night for that offer.

Now, Al is offering the “Brute” along with the 213 Lift Bridge for one million dollars, a king’s ransom for two one of a kind Lionel collectables.