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Houston Tinplate Operators Society - Lionel, Trains, Layouts: Newsletter

Newsletter: August 1998

In this issue:


by Jim Herron

With Lionel coming out with authentic Unibody tank cars that are both realistic and "almost" scale, I was curious about the history of those cars. The size and paint schemes of the Sunoco, Mobil and Chevron Unibody cars I have (next to my #455 oil field on a siding) are quite eye-catching. I receive quite a few positive comments from collectors and runners about them. I'm still waiting for an Esso or Exxon tank car from Lionel, but I guess I'll have to get the one MTH is putting out later this year.

Charles P. Hatch of the Empire Transportation Company invented the rail tank car in 1865. It was a flat car with wooden banded tubes mounted on top, capable of carrying 3,500 gallons of crude oil on the Oil Creek and Warren and Franklin Railroads in Pennsylvania. Another inventor, Amos Densmore, built similar cars around the same time for the Atlantic & Great Western Railroad.

Shortly after that, railroads switched to larger wooden tanks mounted horizontally. Saddles bolted to flat cars gave the basic look of tanks cars used by the industry ever since. Empire Transportation Co. built the first metal tank cars in 1869. Mounted directly into wooden frames instead of flat cars, these heavy iron cars solved the problem of leaking wooden tanks and improved safety. As steel technology improved, steel replaced wrought iron making for lighter, but stronger tanks. These and later design improvements had a common goal - to increase transportation safety and efficiency.

  • 1865 - Wooden cars used for the first time to serve the oil fields of Pennsylvania.
  • 1869 - Cast iron replaces wooden tanks. Capacity was about 3,500 gallons per car. The railroads have about 52,000 miles of track and it takes 8 days to go coast to coast on the new Transcontinental Railroad.
  • 1888 - Tank car companies supply tank cars directly to the oil industry, instead of the railroads. Capacities range from 6,000 gallons to 10,000 gallons.
  • 1901 - Gushers at Spindletop in East Texas bring the Lone Star State into the oil industry in a big way and help lead to development of rail lines to serve the wells and refineries of Texas and Oklahoma.
  • 1903 - The tank car industry develops safety standards for construction. Now there are more than 10,000 tank cars in operation and over 260,000 miles of track.
  • 1915 - A classification system is developed by the industry to ensure the right use of the tank cars for the right products. Now 50,000 tank cars serve the industry.
  • 1920 - Welding technology replaces riveting in tank car construction, enhancing the safety of cars. There are now over 400,000 miles of track in the U.S.
  • 1930 - Tank cars expand their use - 140,000 tank cars carry 103 commodities other than oil to market.
  • 1940's - During World War II every tank car is used to transport oil for the war effort.
  • 1950 - Pipelines and trucks lighten the load of tanks on railroads.


Another Great American Train Show has come and gone through Houston - close to a dozen train clubs with their layouts on display, plenty of vendors to temp the pocketbook. GATS officials placed the HTOS portable layout about as far away from the entrance as you could get, far removed from the other operating layouts. Some insiders think this was a ploy to insure that the public toured the entire show. We at HTOS modestly believe they were saving the best operating layout for last!! The portable layout ran virtually trouble free throughout the two-day event. Club members were out in force for set up, tear down, running the layout and answering questions from patrons of the show. HTOS provided a pair of workshops each day- Command Control by Tom Lyttle and Mountain Building by Mark Whetzel and Aimee Atkinson. For the first time, HTOS raffled off a Lionel 027 train set - congratulations to John Jones of Houston!! Special thanks go to the electrician trio of John Grisham, Tom Lyttle and Mark Whetzel for working after hours to get the accessories in working order and provide power to the siding tracks. And if you happen to be planning ahead, the next GATS in Houston is January 9-10!!


by Jim Herron

Lionel's #151 semaphore has been around for a long time. There were pre-war semaphores, including "O" gauge with standard single and double hands. We all know it operates, but what about its history.

Semaphore is derived from the Greek and means, "to bear a sign." Each blade represents a man with a flag. "Stop" is signaled with the arms outstretched horizontally and "proceed" by the arms dropping down to a relaxed position. The semaphore is an example of an Automatic Block System (ABS) operation where the trains moving past a given point activate the signal blades. ABS systems increase train safety and expedite train movements. Semaphores are also used for interlocking at railroad junctions and crossings.

J. P. Coleman and H. Ballet invented the first successful electric semaphore in 1898. After the turn of the century the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads, both of which were controlled by E. H. Harriman, installed the lower quadrant "B" style semaphores throughout their systems. The Santa Fe, at that time the longest railroad in the country stretching from Chicago to San Diego, pioneered the use of electric lamps in their semaphores in 1900. The success of these semaphores, built by the Union Switch and Signal Company, continued into the early '40s.

With the increase in rail traffic before World War II, railroads began replacing ABS systems with more sophisticated systems in which a dispatcher at one location could control signals and track switches on several hundred miles of railroad. This system was called Central Traffic Control (CTC).

By the early 1980's, only a few semaphores were still in operation.


by Walt Sklenar

Just when O gaugers thought they could walk into their friendly Lionel retailer without the fear of spending big bucks, along comes Lionel LLC with the release of their 62-page 1998 Classic Trains Volume II catalog. A phrase leading into the Lionel Classic Rolling Stock section states, "The rule in rolling stock is there are no rules". Lionel is introducing several new product lines and incorporating new marketing strategies to help boost sales. The introduction of the Lionel Route 66 Collection, Century Club Inspired Rolling Stock, Postwar Celebration Series, and die-cast tank cars and open hoppers (closely resembling K-Line's successful die-cast product line) - some of these offered as rolling stock 3-packs and 4-packs, are the major changes. Here are some highlights from the catalog.

Christmas specials include a 1998 Holiday Trolley Set, Bay Window Caboose which plays traditional Christmas music (Command Control), Christmas Boxcar, Gondola, and a special "Aquarium" Car displaying Santa and his reindeer along with "Merry Christmas To All...And To All A Good Night".

Lionel Classic Rolling Stock includes an Operation Lifesaver Boxcar, Flatcar with FedEx Trailer, Mermaid Transport Car (another takeoff on the Aquarium Car) and the Glow-In-The-Dark AEC Boxcar (to sit next to the AEC tankers). The Route 66 Collection debuts with two Flatcars carrying either a pair of vintage Tucker Sedans or Willys Wagons. Highlights of the Standard "O" freight cars are the Biohazard Tank Car w/ Lights, a BNSF 3-Bay Covered Hopper w/ ETD and a trio of Flatcars carrying die-cast vehicles.

Freight car sets in both 027 and "O" are plentiful. Three die-cast tank car packs are offered - a 4-pack with different roadnames (UP, Sinclair, Getty and Phillips), plus a pair of 3-packs featuring either Sinclair or Getty paint. There is also a 4-pack die-cast hopper set, with a Northeast flavor in the roadnames. If the paint schemes of the die-cast freight cars don't catch your eye, the price tag will. The MSRP is a cool $125 each - about double for an equivalent K-Line product. Standard "O" Sets include Union Pacific, NYC Pacemaker and Northern Pacific 4-packs (three freight cars plus caboose), and a BNSF 3-Bay Covered Hopper 2-pack.

The new Century Club Inspired Rolling Stock features three 4-packs of freight or passenger cars designed to be run behind Century Club engines. The sets are Nickel Plate and Pennsy rolling stock, and a Pennsy Madison Car set. One note: you don't have to be a Century Club member to purchase these sets.

If you are in to GP-9 diesels, then you'll love this catalog. Lionel powered A units in Pennsy and Milwaukee Road livery, and non-powered B units in New York Central, Pennsy and Southern Pacific paint. Aside from a Santa Fe non-powered Alco A-unit, no other separate sale locomotives (diesel or steam) are offered. One other note - no engines are being offered with the new Odyssey motor.

Among the new accessories is a 3-piece coaling tower, a die-cast cantilever double-signal bridge and an intermodal crane lettered for the Southern Pacific. There are also station accessory and freight accessory packs, and 4 track packs (3 in 027, 1 "O").

Last, but not least, is theLionel Postwar Celebration Series - the re-issuing over the next few years of O and 027 rolling stock, engines and accessories from the postwar era. Engines in this catalog are the AEC-57 Switcher, Seaboard NW2 Switcher, New Haven EP-5, Western Pacific F3 A-A Set and Rock Island Alco FA A-A Set. Except for the AEC-57, these diesels have all the bells and whistles one would expect for a Lionel loco with an MSRP of between $500 and $700 (the AEC-57 is Command Controlled). The ZW Transformer is also back, but as a shell of its former self. The ZW Special Edition Controller and Transformer Set is the four channel ZW controller (i.e. phenolic resin shell) with a pair of 135 watt PowerHouse transformers. Up to four PowerHouse transformers (135 watt or 190 watt versions) can be plugged in to the ZW controller at one time, giving the engineer considerable flexibility regarding power requirements.

Most items in Volume II are slated for release during 1998 - those scheduled for 1999 delivery are noted as such in the catalog.

Next month, we'll publish an informal poll of HTOS members' favorite items from this catalog. In the meantime, check out all the items in Volume II at your nearest Lionel dealer.


Please welcome the following new HTOS engineers:

Gerry Raap from Spring, Anthony Cruz and Charles White from Houston.

Welcome aboard!!

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