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The

Guide To:

Lionel's General-Type Steam Locomotives and 1800s-Themed Sets

 

 

During the first 60 years of its existence, Lionel created models of locomotives and train sets that were the cutting edge of modern railroad design. From the Hiawatha and M-10000 streamliners of the 1930s to the Santa Fe F-3s of 1948, Lionel's engineering team was almost always focused on making toys out the trains kids saw every day in real life.

But in 1959 that changed.  Throughout the '50s America's frontier days, and particularly the Civil War and the Old West became a favorite playtime themes for young kids.  TV Westerns, Daniel Boone hats, and comic books about the frontier days all contributed to this growing fad.  After years of modeling only 20th-century trains, Lionel decided it was time to step back in time, and a 19th-century 4-4-0 steam engine entered the Lionel line.  Lionel christened their engine "The General", after a locomotive involved in one of the most thrilling stories from the American Civil War.

In this article we will take a look at the 23 Generals Lionel has made since 1959, the cars made to match them, the train sets that included them, and discuss their relative rarity.

 

Lionel's Inspiration

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

In 1956, Walt Disney Studios released The Great Locomotive Chase, a movie about the famous Andrews Raid in April 1862.  The story follows an attempt by Union soldiers to hijack a Western and Atlantic passenger train and to wreck the Confederate rail line between Atlanta and Chattanooga.  The engine the Union soldiers commandeered was W&A 4-4-0 No. 3, known as The General.  The film was very popular and helped stoke the growing Civil War nostalgia craze that evolved through the 1950s as America approached the centennial of the War Between the States.

The General was a standard 4-4-0 design of its time.  From around 1850 to 1880 4-4-0s dominated American railroading, so much so that the wheel arrangement came to be known simply as 'American'.  Lightweight but sturdy, the 4-4-0 was created to negotiate the rough trackage of the era and attain speeds of around 40 mph.  The design was largely extinct by the 1920s, but some modernized 4-4-0s could still be found in service up until WWII.

The real General still exists; it rests at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia, just yards from the site where the engine was stolen over a century ago.

 

 

The Locomotives

 

Whether or not the movie directly inspired Lionel's choice is questionable, but Lionel and Disney had a relatively close relationship over the years, and Lionel's service manuals directly referenced the movie in its background material on the locomotive.  It would not be surprising if a couple light bulbs went off in the heads of Lionel's design team after seeing the movie.

At any rate, three years after the movie was released, The General hit the Lionel rails.  The engine was quite unlike any other steam engine Lionel had produced up to that point.  The design was clearly steam, but the motor was a modified version of the ones used in Lionel's Alcos and NW-2 diesels.  The shell was all plastic, but the gearing and extra weight in the body made the engine a somewhat strong puller for its size.  Its high gearing and large drive wheels also gave it a high top speed. 

The small boiler also made manufacturing the engine a challenge. Until the mid-1980s the handrails on each side of the engine served as the wires to the smoke unit and light bulb.  There was no room for a whistle in the small tender, so in train sets Lionel would equip a passenger car with the whistle instead.  This design is also proof that some things do not lend themselves to miniaturization--Lionel was still using the whistle-in-the-passenger-car technique in 2007.

Lionel Generals are also distinctive in their lack of color or production variations.   

 

The Postwar Era Generals

1862 Western and Atlantic (1959-1962)

Known as the "O27" General, the 1862 is a basic model that lacks smoke or magnetraction.  It was included in three different sets.  First it headed up a set called The Old Timer, which included a 1866 mail car and a 1865 passenger car.  The 1862 was included in another set that included the two passenger cars along with a 1877 flatcar with horses, but it did not include track or transformer.  Two years later, the set swapped the flatcar for a no. 3370 Sheriff and Outlaw car and added the track and transformer back in.

The matching tender has a non-operating coupler with 'W&ARR' and '1862T' on the side.

 

1872 Western and Atlantic (1959-62)

At first glance, the 1872 is identical to the 1862 except for the number. However, the 1872 also includes a smoke unit and magnetraction.  An easy way to tell a 1872 from a 1862 without looking at the number is to look at the smokestack.  The 1872 has a smoke unit in it, while the 1862's stack is hollow. 

Like the 1862, the 1872 was included in a set with a matching mail car [number 1876] and a 1877 flatcar with horses. However, the 1872 was sold with the no. 1875W passenger car, which had a whistle inside of it.

The matching tender has a non-operating coupler with 'W&ARR' and '1872T' on the side. 

Both the 1862 and 1872 were very popular and are relatively common today. Fragility more than scarcity dictates their value; many Generals have had some of their detail parts broken off over the years. Fortunately replacement parts are readily available.

Also, be careful when buying a 1862 or 1872 to make sure that the tender included with the engine is the correct match.  Some 1862s and 1872s have gotten their tenders reversed over the years.


9666 Uncataloged Sears Set (1959)

The 9666 is a 1959 Sears Uncataloged Set made up of 1862 4-4-0 engine and 1862T tender, 1865 Passenger car, 1866 Mail/baggage car, 1877 Flatcar w/horses, and Frontier set #963 

1882 Western and Atlantic (1960)

The third Postwar General is one of the most highly sought of all steam locomotives from the era.  The 1882 was never in the Lionel catalog but was instead produced as part of a special set for Sears.  The set included the common 1866 mail car, but also included two cars exclusive to the set, the 1887 flatcar with horses and the 1885 passenger car in a sharp blue and white paint scheme.

Today the set is known as the 'Halloween Set', named after the engine's distinctive black and orange paint job.  Highly prized by collectors, the 1882 is much harder to find than the 1862 or 1872, and finding a set with its original box is a true rarity.  The set was reproduced in 2004 [see below].

 

X507NA Uncataloged The 'Halloween Set' (1960)

The X507NA is the 1960 Halloween General Set of which 7,300 were made for the Druggist’s Service Council (DCS).  This set consisted of: 1882 Halloween General 4-4-0 (orange) engine and 1882T tender, 1866 Mail/baggage car, 1885 Passenger car (blue), 1887 Flatcar w/horses, and Frontier set #963-100.

 

12502 The Prairie Rider Gift Pack (1962)

This set is one of the most desirable of the cataloged 1862 General sets.  It was produced by Lionel in 1962.  It contained the 1862 General locomotive, 1862T tender, 3376 giraffe car, 1877 flatcar with horses or 6473 rodeo car, 1866 mail-baggage car, and 1865 passenger car.


13036 Super “O” General set (1962)

The most valuable of the General sets, this set was produced in 1962.  It contained the 1872 General, 1872T tender, 6445 Fort Knox car, 3370 sheriff and outlaw car, 1876 illuminated mail-baggage car, and 1875W illuminated passenger car with whistle.  This set did NOT include boxes for the 1875W and 1876.  

The MPC Era Generals

The General was phased out of the Lionel line as interest in model trains waned in the 1960s, and for 15 years the 4-4-0 was absent from the Lionel catalog.  During that time General Mills and its subsidiary Model Products Corporation [MPC] took over Lionel's train production in 1969-1970.  Focusing on basic models at first, the MPC team began reintroducing more complex pieces as the 1970s wore on, and in 1977 the General returned to Lionel's rails.

 

8701 [#3] W&ARR (1977-79)

The 8701 General was essentially a reissue of the 1872, but with black and red with gold lettering replacing the gray, red and green with gold lettering paint scheme. It has smoke and a headlight but no magnetraction. In 1978 the matching mail car, passenger car and horse car [numbers 9551, 9552 and 9553] made a comeback.

Cataloged for three years, the 8701 is relatively easy to locate, but like most separate-sale sets of the 1970s and 80s, the cars are much easier to find than the engine.

 

8004 Rock Island and Peoria (1980-81)

In 1980 the 8701 was dropped, and a new 4-4-0 lettered for the Rock Island and Peoria took its place. The 8004 was the first Lionel General not lettered for the Western and Atlantic.  Three matching passenger cars, numbered 9560. 9561, and 9562 were also produced.

The distinctive feature of the 8004 is its chromed boiler.  Great care must be taken when handling this engine, as the chrome is susceptible to smudging. 

Though less common than the 8701, both engines are worth about the same on open market today.

 

8005 Santa Fe (1980-82)

The first five Generals all shared the same motor and drive train, using the standard Lionel universal AC/DC motor, geared to the trucks in a way that made the engines good pullers.  In 1980, Lionel decided to use the General in a starter set called the James Gang.  To keep the set from being prohibitively expensive,  the insides of the General were redesigned, giving it a DC can motor with no reverse unit.  This cut the cost of the set considerably, but the 8005 is a distinctively cheaper-looking model than its predecessors. 

The 8005 will only run on DC power. Trying to run it with a conventional Lionel AC transformer will burn out the motor.  Over the years some 8005s have been modified to run on AC current.

The James Gang was one of the most popular sets of the MPC era, and the 8005 is a relatively easy engine to locate in today's marketplace.

 

8104 [#3] Union Pacific (1981)

During the 1980s Lionel produced several locomotives available only through JC Penney's annual Christmas catalog.  The first was the 8006 Atlantic Coast Line 4-6-4 in 1980, and the following year Lionel used the General as its JC Penney special, giving it the same chrome body as the 8004 but applying Union Pacific markings.  The engine was also sold with a matching display case.

The 8104 shares the same features as the 8701 and 8004 locomotives, with a headlight and smoke.

The 8104 is the second-rarest of the MPC-era Generals and is somewhat difficult to locate.  Like the 8004, the chrome body is easily smudged by dust and fingerprints, so the display case definitely comes in handy with this model. 

No matching cars were made for this engine.

 

8315 Baltimore and Ohio (1983-84)

       
  

In 1983 the James Gang set was dropped and was replaced by another 1800s-vintage set. This set included a 4-4-0 numbered 8315 with a mail car [7215] and two passenger cars [7216 and 7217], all painted in Baltimore and Ohio colors.  The engine was mechanically identical to the 8005, with a DC motor that will not run on regular Lionel AC transformers.  Unlike the 8005, however, the 8315 has an operating headlight.

While the proceeding James Gang set was produced in high numbers and is common, the Baltimore and Ohio set is today one of the most in-demand of all MPC-era starter sets.  The entire set is very sharp when put together and is popular with collectors.  Also, no other set made in the last 25 years looks quite like it, which keeps demand for the set high. At Trainz, this set in Mint condition sells for about the same amount as many of the top-of-the-line MPC sets in the same condition.

 

8410 Redwood Valley Express (1984-85)

Lionel went back to the General-format starter set for a third time in 1984, bringing out the 1403 Redwood Valley Express set.  The set included a 4-4-0 numbered 8410, along with four inexpensive freight cars.

Like the 8005 and 8315, the 8410 has a DC motor and will not run using conventional Lionel AC transformers.  However, the 8410 is distinctive in that it is the only Lionel General ever produced without a balloon-type smokestack common to wood-burning 4-4-0s built in the 1850s and 1860s.  Instead, the 8410 has a tall, thin stack more commonly seen on coal-burning Generals built in the 1870s [but the 8410 still has wood in its tender--a bit of creative license on the part of Lionel].

Like most Generals, the 8410 is relatively common, but when found it is often missing a couple trim parts or has sustained some minor damage from rough handling by overzealous youngsters. Replacement parts are easy to find.

 

8630 [#3] W&ARR (1986)

       

The last General of the MPC era is also the hardest to locate General of the era.  In 1986 Lionel produced a special set available only through American Express.  This set included the 8630 Western and Atlantic General, which was externally identical to the 8701 of 1977, but has a can motor and electronic reverse in place of the postwar-style AC motor.  However, unlike the three starter set 4-4-0s of the early 1980s, this can-motor equipped General will run on AC power.  All Lionel Generals produced since have used nearly the same motor and reverse unit setup found in the 8630. 

Like the 8701, this engine also features smoke and a headlight.  This engine and its four matching cars were all unique to this set.

The 8630 is seen much less often than the similar 8701. 

The Modern-Era Generals

In 1986 Detroit real estate mogul Richard Kughn bought the Lionel train business from General Mills, and the Modern Era began. The late 1980s and early 90s saw a rapid expansion of Lionel's product line, and the General was part of that growth, and Lionel would use this popular design in new and creative formats and sets.

 

18702 [#8702] Virginia and Truckee (1988)

From the early1970s to the mid '90s Lionel produced sets available exclusively through their network of authorized Service Stations. These uncataloged 'Service Station Specials' were popular with collectors and starting in the late 1970s they included engines and cars exclusive to the sets.  In 1988 Lionel produced a General set in Virginia and Truckee colors for its annual Service Station Special set, and called it the Dry Gulch Line. The set included an engine numbered 18702 and three matching passenger cars.

The engine is mechanically identical to the 8630 and has the same features.

The set sold reasonably well when released, but the 18702 is seen less often than some of the earlier Generals. It is also seldom found broken away from the set. Despite it being a bit of a challenge to locate, the engine is still reasonably priced.

 

18008/18013 [#4] Disneyland Railroad [1990]

       

In 1990 Lionel produced a special engine to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim, California.  For years, special propane-powered 4-4-0s have pulled trains on the Disneyland Railroad. It was only natural that Lionel would use its nearly-identical General to honor the legendary theme park.

Internally the engine is identical to the 8630 and 18702 predecessors, but externally it has a more elaborate paint scheme and more intricate gold trim.  Interestingly, the wheels on the locomotive and tender trucks were plated, a first for Lionel.

The engine was sold with a display case.  It was also sold without the case, and in this guise the engine was listed under number 18013.

While prized by many collectors, the 18008 is in fact a bit more common than most Generals from the 1970s and 80s. Part of this is due to the fact that Disney-related Lionel items are almost always good sellers, and that this engine was produced right as the toy train renaissance of the early 1990s started to take hold.  Today the engine is easier to find than often thought and makes a great conversation piece.

 

18716 [#8716] Lionelville Circus (1990-91)

      

In 1990 Lionel added a circus train to its line of starter sets.  The Lionelville Circus special featured a 4-4-0 at the front end, which featured a red and green color scheme.

The engine used the then-standard can motor and electronic reverse combination for power, the same that had been used on the previous four Generals. It has a headlight but no smoke.

The Lionelville Circus Special was a popular set and it is relatively easy to locate, but the engine is not often found broken away from the set.

 

18720 [#1865] Union (1999)

After 15 years as a regular item in the Lionel line, the General took most of the 1990s off. After the 11716 Lionelville Circus set was dropped in 1991, the design would not reappear for eight years.  When it did, it would appear in two sets that have been quite popular with collectors.

   

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 The first was the 18720 Union 4-4-0, which was part of the 21900 Union Civil War Train Set. The engine used the same drive train and internal parts as the previous Generals, and has smoke and a headlight.  The engine has the number '1865' below the cab windows.

 

18721 [#1861] Confederate (1999)

At the same time, a set was made for the Confederates as well, numbered 21901. The engine was 18721, and had the number '1861' on the cab.  Like the Union engine, the Confederate engine had smoke and a headlight as well.

Both sets are today a bit tough to locate but are not overly expensive. The engines are almost never found broken away from the sets.

 

18723 Union Pacific (2002-03)

       

After the Civil War sets, the General would disappear again for three years.  The first of the 21st-century Generals was the 18723 Union Pacific, used to head up the 31928 Great Train Robbery Set in 2002.

The engine had the same features as the Union and Confederate engines, with the only difference being in the paint.

 

18725 [100] World of Disney (2003)

       

In 2003 Lionel introduced the World of Disney train set, and heading it up was a 4-4-0 identical in design to the 18723, but painted in Disney colors. 

 

52301 [#1882] LCCA 'Halloween' General (2004)

For years Lionel has produced special sets, engines and cars for various collecting organizations. In 2004, The famous 1960 'Halloween' General Set was reproduced for the Lionel Collectors Club of America [LCCA].  The engine was a dead ringer for the original Halloween engine, complete with '1882' on the side. Internally, however, the engine has the same can motor and electronic reverse unit found in all Generals made since the mid-1980s.

A popular set with collectors, this reissued set is seldom seen on the open market today, and the engine is almost never sold individually.

 

18730 [#13] Transylvania RR (2005)

For 15 years following the release the 18008 Disneyland 4-4-0 in 1990, all Generals had been sold as part of sets. In 2005, Lionel catalogued a separate-sale 4-4-0 as part of its growing Halloween-themed line.  Featuring smoke and a headlight and a whimsical Transylvania Railroad paint scheme, the 18730 was designed to head up the lengthening list of Halloween cars entering the Lionel line.

Relatively inexpensive and neat conversation starter, the 18730 is still easy to find.

 

18732 North Pole Central (2006)

Image courtesy of lionel.com

Deciding that what was good for Halloween was also good for Christmas, in 2006 Lionel added the General to its Christmas line, decorated in [of course] red and green and numbered [of course] 25, and lettered for the North Pole Central.

The engine has the same internal characteristics as the 18730 Transylvania engine.

Like the Transylvania engine, the North Pole 4-4-0 was a good seller and is still relatively easy to locate.


6-30054 Uncataloged Walter E. Disney Limited Edition Set (2006)

In 2006 Lionel produced the 6-30054 Walter E. Disney Mickey Train Set.  This set consisted of: 6-18740 W.E.D. Limited Conv. 4-4-0 General Type Steam Loco, 6-18740T W.E.D. Limited Tender, 6-36822  Mickey Mouse Box Car W/Sound, 6-26359  O27 Gondola W/Christmas Trees, and a 6-36599 Walter E. Disney Work Caboose. 

 

18737? [#312] Great Western (2007-08)

Image courtesy of lionel.com

The General returned to starter sets in 2007 at the head of the 30034 Great Western Train set, which included a passenger car with a whistle.  The engine featured smoke and a headlight.

The set has been a good seller and is still readily available.  The model number, 18737, is a best-guess based on Lionel's numbering system (if anyone knows the exact number, please let us know!).  The engine has the number 312 on the cab.

 

38658 [#1892] W&ARR (2008)

Image courtesy of lionel.com

In 2008 the General returned in Western and Atlantic markings for the first time since 1986. However, this engine had two features that distinguished it from the previous W&A Generals. First, it was painted green and black vs. the red and black of the earlier models.  Secondly, this engine included the Trainsounds system in the tender, marking the first time a General was ever produced with sound.  The engine has number 1892 on the cab.

The 38658 has the same drive train as previous models and also includes smoke and a headlight.  Matching cars were announced in the 2009 Lionel catalog.

 

38659? [1877] Fort Worth and Western (2009)

Image courtesy of lionel.com

In the 2009 Ready-to-Run sets catalog Lionel announced a new set, the 30116 Lone Ranger Wild West set. It includes a new 4-4-0 decorated in Fort Worth and Western colors. Mechanically the engine is identical to the 38658 from 2008 and this engine includes the Trainsounds sound system.


6-31031 Nutcracker Set (2011)

This set, produced in 2011, includes a General-style steam locomotive and tender, flatcar with reindeer, passenger coach, and baggage car. 


6-30166 125th Anniversary of Coke Set (2011)

This set, produced in 2011, includes a 6-18756 General locomotive and tender, 6-26670 Flatcar with vats, 6-15068 Wood-sided reefer, and 6-36677 Caboose.


6-30168 Rio Grande Set (2011)

Lionel produced this set in 2011.  It includes a 6-18749 General locomotive and tender, 6-35231 Royal Gorge passenger coach, 6-35232 Leadville passenger coach, 6-37037 operating horse car, and 6-26657 Gondola with vat load.


6-11183 Lincoln Funeral train (2012)

In 2012 Lionel, with the assistance of Wayne Wesolowski, retired Director of the Benedictine University Lincoln Train Project, introduced the Lincoln Funeral Train with full mourning decoration in 1:48 scale as part of the Heritage Series of 19th century steam locomotives.  This set includes a 4-4-0 steam locomotive & tender, United States Presidential coach, elaborate mourning decoration including bunting, wreaths, and photos of the deceased president, soldier figures and caskets in the Presidential coach, and display track with nameplate.


6-30224 Pennsylvania Passenger Set (2013)

Lionel introduced this set in 2013.  It features a 6-18787 4-4-0 General-style, 6-35276 baggage car, 6-35274 coach #433, and 6-35275 coach #437.


6-30225 Medal of Honor Train Set (2013)

This set, introduced in 2013, honors the very first recipient of the Medal of Honor Award, Jacob Parrot, who participated in the capture of a Confederate locomotive during the US Civil War. The set includes a 6-18788 General-style locomotive, 6-26465 Truss-rod flatcar with cannonballs, 6-26466 Truss-rod flatcar with cannons, and 6-35277 Truss-rod passenger car.

 

The Cars

One of the neatest facets to collecting the Generals is that cars were made specifically to match the locomotives.  Since an engine modeled after a 1800s wood-burner would look ridiculous pulling auto carriers or piggyback cars, Lionel almost always concurrently produced a line of freight and passenger cars that matched the theme of the engines.

 

The Postwar Cars

There were 9 cars made from 1959 to 1964 to match the Generals. Here is a picture of each, with the cars listed from most common to most rare:


1865 Passenger Car (1959-62)

1866 Mail Car (1959-62)

1877 Horse Car (1959-62)

3370 Sheriff and Outlaw Car (1961-64)

1876 Mail Car (1959-62)

1875W Passenger Car w/Whistle (1959-62)

1887 Flatcar with Horses (1960) 

1885 Passenger Car (1960)


1875 Passenger Car

The 1875 is the non-whistle version of the 1875W and was only available for separate sale. It is the scarcest of the Postwar General Cars.

 

MPC-Era Cars

Lionel made two sets of cars to match the 8701 and 8004 Generals from 1977 to 1982.  They were sold separately from the engines.  (For cars included with Generals in sets, please see the section on sets below.)

 

Western and Atlantic Cars (1978-80)

These three cars were catalogued a year after the 8701 General was released and remained in the catalog until 1980. The cars are somewhat easier to locate than the engine.


9551 W&A Mail Car   

9552 W&A Passenger Car

9553 W&A Horse Car

Rock Island and Peoria Cars (1980-82)

These cars were introduced concurrently with the 8004 Rock Island 4-4-0. These cars are less common than the W&A cars shown above but are worth about the same.


9559 Rock Island & Peoria Mail Car

9560 Rock Island and Peoria Passenger Car

9561 Rock Island and Peoria Passenger Car

Modern-Era Cars

From 1982 to 2007 Lionel did not produce separate-sale 19th-Century-themed cars to match the General engines.  (Please note that the Disney, Halloween and Christmas-themed cars the 18725, 18730 and 18732 Generals were designed to run with are not included here).

These cars were all sold separately from the engines.  For cars included with Generals in sets, please see the section on sets below.

 

Great Western Set Add-Ons (2007-09)

The cars listed below were sold as add-ons to the 30034 Great Western Train Set.

 

36855 Great Western Horse and Corral Set (2007-08)

Image courtesy of lionel.com

 This was designed to match the 30034 Great Western set and is a reissue of the 3356 Horse Car set.  The horses move in and out of the car.

 

30036 Great Western Expansion Set (2007-08)

Image courtesy of lionel.com

This included three cars designed to expand the 30034 Great Western Train Set.  It included an operating log car, lighted bunk car, and a flat car with an operating handcar.


36887 Great Western Animated Gondola (2008-09)

35185 Great Western Passenger Car Set (2009)

 

Western and Atlantic Cars (2008-09)

These three cars were made to match the 38658 Western and Atlantic 4-4-0, but they look great with all of the other W&A Generals as well.


36856 Western and Atlantic Sheriff and Outlaw Car (2008) 

39480 Western and Atlantic Flatcar with Cannons (2009)

35184 Western and Atlantic Mail Car (2009)

 

 

The Sets

Because of the thematic nature of the General and its matching cars, they have often been used in starter sets. Below is a list of the complete train sets featuring 19th-Century Lionel engines and cars.

 

Postwar Sets

 

1612 Old-Timer Set (1959-60)

 

 

This set included the 1862 General, 1865 Passenger Car and 1866 Mail Car, along with a loop of O-27 track and a transformer.  It is the most common of the Postwar General sets.

 

1644 Frontier Special (1961)

This set was a repeat of the 1612 except that it also included the 3370 Sheriff and Outlaw car.  It is less common than the 1612.

 

1800 General Frontier Pack (1959-60)

           

This set was identical to the 1612 except that it included the 1877 Horse Car, and did not include track or transformer. It was one of the very few Postwar-era sets sold this way.  It was marketed as an add-on set to an existing layout.

 

2528W 5-Star Frontier Set (1959-61)

This set included the 1872 locomotive, the 1877 Flatcar with Horses, the 1875W Passenger car with a Whistle, and the 1876 Mail Car.  It included Super O track but no transformer.

 

The 'Halloween Set' (1960)

This set was a special uncataloged set made for Sears and is one of the most desirable of all Postwar-era sets.  It included the 1882 steam locomotive, 1876 mail car, 1885 blue passenger car, and the 1887 flatcar with horses. The set was boxed in a flat tray like the one shown above for the 1800 set, but the box was orange instead of yellow and the insert was off-white with speckles, and it had no lid. The set included track and transformer and a Plasticville log cabin kit packed in a Lionel box.

The set is quite hard to find intact and an intact box increases the value exponentially.

 

MPC-Era Sets

 

1053 James Gang (1980-82)

   

This popular set included the 8005 Santa Fe 4-4-0, the 9305 Santa Fe Operating Cowboy Car, the 9306 Santa Fe flatcar with horses, the 9541 Santa Fe Baggage Car, a building kit, telephone poles, figures, track and transformer.  It was a popular set and is relatively common today.

 

1351 Baltimore and Ohio Passenger Set (1983-84)

     

The successor to the James Gang, the B&O set included the 8315 4-4-0, the 7215 Baggage Car, 7216 Passenger Car, 7217 Passenger Car, a station platform, track and transformer.  This set is today valued much higher than most MPC-era starter sets and is much harder to find than the other General-themed starter sets.

 

1403 Redwood Valley Express (1984-85)

       

The last of the three MPC-era General starter sets, the Redwood valley included the 8410 locomotive, 6573 Log Dump Car, 6574 Crane Car, 6575 Flatcar with horses, 6912 Caboose, a barrel loader building kit, track and transformer.  The flatcars where sold unassembled and had to be snapped together by the buyer. The set is easy to find, but Mint, unused examples like the one above are uncommon.

 

1608 American Express General Set (1986)

   

Sold only through American Express, and all components of set were exclusive to it and not available separately.  The engine was the 8630 W&A General, and the cars were the 6587 Flatcar with horses, the 7312 Stock car, the 7241 Passenger car, and the 7242 Mail Car.  The set did not include track or transformer. The outer box for the set was just a plain brown box, shown above.

This set is among the hardest to find of the General sets.  The set pictured is one of only three 1608 sets we have had at Trainz since 2001.

 

Modern-Era Sets

11706 Dry Gulch Line (1988)

   

From the early 1970s to the mid '90s Lionel produced sets available exclusively through their network of authorized Service Stations. These uncataloged 'Service Station Specials' were popular with collectors and starting in the late 1970s they included engines and cars exclusive to the sets.  In 1988 Lionel produced a General set in Virginia and Truckee colors for its annual Service Station Special, and called it the Dry Gulch Line.

The set included the 18702 V&T 4-4-0 and three matching passenger cars, numbered 16010, 16011, and 16012. Like all previous Service Station sets, this one did not include track and transformer.

This is only one of three uncataloged General train sets, the others being the 1608 American Express Set and the 52300 LCCA Halloween General Set (see below).

 

11716 Lionelville Circus Special (1990-91)

Lionel introduced a circus-themed starter set in 1990, and used the General to head it up. The engine was the 18716 4-4-0, and the set also included a 16629 Operating Elephant car, 16628 Operating Gondola, 16522 lighted caboose, track and transformer.  The set was pretty popular and can still be picked up in Mint condition, as many collectors bought the set and never opened it.

 

21900 Union Civil War Train Set (1999)

   

In 1999 Lionel released two train sets with a Civil War theme. The first was the 21900 Union set, which included the 18720 Union 4-4-0, 18189 Horse Car, 36028 Flatcar, and a pair of Passenger cars, numbered 15126 and 15127. The set did not include track or transformer.

 

21901 Confederate Civil War Train Set (1999)

       

       

At the same time, a Confederate Train set was released. This set included the 18721 Confederate 4-4-0, the 18190 Horse Car, 36027 Flatcar with Cannons, and a pair of passenger cars, numbered 15128 and 15129.  This set also did not include track and transformer.

Both sets do not show up on the open market too often. Also, these sets are rarely broken up.

 

31928/31939 Great Train Robbery Set (2002-03)

           

The Great Train Robbery set was unique in that it included two powered units, the first being the 18723 Union Pacific 4-4-0, and the second being a powered handcar. The set also included a Mint car, Flatcar with horses, Baggage car, and track and transformer.

The set has two numbers because Lionel changed from O-27 to Fastrack while the set was catalogued. The 2002 set with O-27 track is number 31928, while the Fastrack set is number 31939.

 

31947 World of Disney Train Set (2003)

 

This neat set featured the Disney 4-4-0 in blue, along with a Tinkerbell Vat car, boxcar with several Disney characters on the side, a lighted caboose, track and transformer.  An entire series of cars was made to match this set.

 

51300 LCCA Halloween General Set (2004)

Since the 1960s Lionel has produced uncataloged special releases for various clubs and collecting organizations.  In 2004 Lionel reproduced the famous 'Halloween' General set from 1960. This set included the locomotive and three cars, but not the track, transformer or building kit included with the original set.  All pieces in the set had the same numbers on them as were on the originals, but the actual model numbers for the pieces were 52301 [locomotive], 52302 [#1885 blue passenger car], 52303 [#1866 mail car], and 52304 [#1887 Horse Car].

Also in 2004 the 52348 Sheriff and Outlaw car was made as an add-on for the set, and in 2006 the 52405 2-car add-on set was released, which included a flatcar with water barrels and a car carrying two cannons.  Like the set, these extra cars were only available through the LCCA.


52348 Sheriff and Outlaw Car (2004)  

52405 Add-on Set (2006)

This set and its add-on pieces were very popular with collectors when released and is tough to find now.  Like most special runs, production was very limited.

 

30034 Great Western Train Set (2007-08)

Image courtesy of lionel.com

In 2007 Lionel brought back the old-west theme with the Great Western Train set.  Often called the 'Lincoln Logs' set, as the train set included two of the popular building sets, the set included a blue 4-4-0, passenger car with a built-in whistle, flatcar with horses, a green boxcar with Lincoln Logs lettering, track and transformer.

Like the Great Train Robbery set, the Great Western Set was well-received and numerous extra cars have been made for it.

 

30116 Lone Ranger Wild West Set (2009)

Image courtesy of lionel.com

In 2009 Lionel announced another General set, the Lone Ranger Wild West set.  Like the 38658 W&A engine from 2008, the engine in this set features Trainsounds, along with a sheriff and outlaw car, flatcar, baggage car, track and transformer.  This was the top of the line set listed in the 2009 Ready-to-Run set catalog.

 

Conclusion

For over 50 years 19th-Century train sets have been a staple of the Lionel line.  The robust General design and the host of matching cars provide a break from the legions of modern steam locomotives and diesels that dominate the O Gauge world.  These engines, cars and sets are a great starting point for a collector and could form the basis of an entire basement-sized layout set in the 1800s.  Lionel shows no signs of dropping these models any time soon, so we can eagerly anticipate future additions to this part of the O Gauge world.

Thanks for reading!


Tommy Feldman

General Manager, Trainz.com

April 2009
(updated October 2009)