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My Brother’s Electric Train Set

There comes a time when parents tell their grown children it’s time to clear out their long-boxed-up toys or take them from the family home. When that time came in my family, there were some toys I couldn’t bear to part with – including an electric train set my brother received one Christmas.

My memories from childhood center around having the absolute best parents and the best brothers – so how could we part with some of that time’s favorites toys?!

There are some other toys I have in storage, but I’ve been wanting to get out the 1964 Lionel train set and play with it and photograph it. And today I decided was that day!

The Lionel train set was a Christmas present from Santa Claus, and in our childhood, the gifts weren’t wrapped but rather showed up magically from Santa under the tree on Christmas morning. Wrapped presents were for your cousins or grandparents, but Santa didn’t wrap!

Although the train set was for one of my brothers (who was three years old), all of us enjoyed it for many years. I asked my mother today to refresh my recollections on some aspects, and she said for that Christmas morning, Santa set up the train and tracks around the tree, which is how my brothers and I found it as we made the big entrance!

The train set is in remarkable condition these many years later, and it was wonderful taking the cars out of the box and remembering each one.

There were nine train cars, and I have them all. I also have the original paperwork from Lionel, including the registration card and the booklet with accessory options, as well as instruction manuals.

I didn’t keep the tracks or the little trees and other accessories. Most of all, what I wish I had kept was the black box, the trainmaster transponder. This is where the power came from, and our (okay, my brother’s) train set had all the cool features of the day, including built-in circuit breakers.

The train was controlled by the transponder, and it could go forward and backward on the tracks. Also, there’s one train car (the “Lionel Unloading Car”) that carries three wooden logs, which the transponder would dump out onto the ground at a designated spot.

My favorite part was the real smoke that came out of the No. 237 locomotive (the first train car that led the group)! My parents would place small Lionel tablets made for this purpose into the locomotive so the smoke would billow out as the train was flying around the tracks.

There were enough tracks to make a large figure “8,” which was fun. My favorite train car, without a doubt, was the yellow one (“Horse Transport Car”) with bobbing horse heads peering out the windows on both sides! (Even today, all these years later, I kept reaching for this one to photograph.)

And, of course, who can resist the little red caboose at the end of any train!

The locomotive was outfitted with tire traction through a rubber tire on one of the drive wheels “to permit better pulling power.” I also remember that the “Lehigh Valley” train car was open, and we would put little toy soldiers inside and watch them whir around the track!

It was funny to read in the Lionel papers that postage and handling on mail orders was 50 cents!

I also found in the papers a typewritten letter to my parents from Lionel informing them that something ordered was not in stock and thus a refund would be mailed to them. I’m assuming it was an order for the two-foot-long “Landscaped Tunnel” since I found my mother’s left-handed checkmark beside it in the accessories catalog!

It was so much fun today spending time with the train set and my memories around it! There are other toys from our childhood that I may take out of storage to photograph (and reminisce with), and some may become future blog posts by The Daily Artisan.

In the meantime, all aboard and enjoy the ride – Choo Choo!

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March 24, 2022



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