Scale of Lionel Trains Rolling Stock: Early 1950's vs. Current Vintage

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Strider
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Scale of Lionel Trains Rolling Stock: Early 1950's vs. Current Vintage

Post by Strider » Tue Nov 12, 2019 11:16 am

I recently brought my Lionel trains out of storage. The set originally purchased for me by my father was early-1950's vintage. The trains are O-gauge.

In visiting model train shows, I have noticed that the more recently manufactured Lionel rolling stock (box cars, coal hoppers, etc.) is considerably longer than that from the 1950's, even though all cars in question are O-gauge.

My questions: Which dimensions are more authentically true to scale? Is it the shorter cars of the 1950's, or the more recently manufactured cars? How can there be such a difference in dimensions even though all cars in question are identified as O-gauge?

Also, can someone suggest a good website to allow me to get up-to-speed (so to speak) on Lionel trains?

Strider

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Kenkat
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Re: Scale of Lionel Trains Rolling Stock: Early 1950's vs. Current Vintage

Post by Kenkat » Tue Nov 12, 2019 11:50 am

Strider wrote:
Tue Nov 12, 2019 11:16 am
I recently brought my Lionel trains out of storage. The set originally purchased for me by my father was early-1950's vintage. The trains are O-gauge.

In visiting model train shows, I have noticed that the more recently manufactured Lionel rolling stock (box cars, coal hoppers, etc.) is considerably longer than that from the 1950's, even though all cars in question are O-gauge.

My questions: Which dimensions are more authentically true to scale? Is it the shorter cars of the 1950's, or the more recently manufactured cars? How can there be such a difference in dimensions even though all cars in question are identified as O-gauge?

Also, can someone suggest a good website to allow me to get up-to-speed (so to speak) on Lionel trains?

Strider
O gauge refers to the common three rail track width. There were some differences between manufacturers and lines such that some of the trains themselves were produced on a 1:64 scale and others on a 1:48 scale, both of which would still run on the O gauge track.

I am far from an expert on this however - the extent of my expertise is a general interest in Lionel as I have my dad’s pre-WW2 set that he got for Christmas in 1941 and still runs around the Christmas tree most years.

I am not sure which scale would be more accurate.

RudyS
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Re: Scale of Lionel Trains Rolling Stock: Early 1950's vs. Current Vintage

Post by RudyS » Tue Nov 12, 2019 12:48 pm

Here's a math problem for you.

Standard railroad gauge is 4 ft 8.5 in measured between the rail faces. Measure the Lionel "O" gauge track and see whether it is 1/48 or 1/64 of the standard gauge. Next try googling one of the box cars or locomotives to get the full size dimension. Then it's the same comparison.

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Sheepdog
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Re: Scale of Lionel Trains Rolling Stock: Early 1950's vs. Current Vintage

Post by Sheepdog » Tue Nov 12, 2019 1:04 pm

I may have a set like yours. I purchased mine with my paper route money in 1947 or 48. (my age 14 or 15) These were among the first ones Lionel made after the War. Yes, I still have it, but do not run it, but it is on display on my book shelves directly above me. It has a cast iron or steel engine with 6 drive wheels, a coal car, a Baby Ruth boxcar, a Sunoco tank car, a Pennsylvania RR open coal or mined materials car, plus a caboose. The engine is 10 inches long and the coal car is 8 inches. These are absolutely like the steam engine trains which were running at the time although some steam trains were bigger and smaller such as with 8 and 4 engine drive wheels. Lionel also made different size engines with those wheel specifications. By the way, my train set, the smallest they sold at the time, I believe, cost $35 as I think I remember (about 3 weeks of my paper route earnings.) (My father couldn't spend that much money for a toy, so it was up to me to earn it.)
“One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.” — Chinese Proverb

tev9876
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Re: Scale of Lionel Trains Rolling Stock: Early 1950's vs. Current Vintage

Post by tev9876 » Tue Nov 12, 2019 2:23 pm

There are multiple variations of curve radius for O gauge trains. IIRC, standard O gauge is O-31, meaning a circle of track has a 31" diameter. O-27 was also popular for people who didn't have enough space for larger layouts. The high end collectable stuff would most likely be O-31 (and closer to true scale) vs. the Toys-R-Us Christmas sets made to a lower price point to be set up around the tree once a year. I also believe O track was a bit taller, but they are all the same width. O-27 can run on O-31 track, but an O-31 engine is likely to derail on O-27 track. I think some of the collectable engines ($2000+) required even larger turn radius.

Your engine would likely be die cast zinc. The same dies were being used into the 1990s to make them - at least the higher end engines. Low end stuff got outsourced to Asia.

Google should point you to plenty of history on Lionel. They don't really exist any more other than as a brand under Mike's Train House after a series of intellectual property lawsuits in the late 90s resulted in Lionel losing and declaring bankruptcy. Mike's took over the brand. All US production stopped around 2000 and was moved to Asia. The Chesterfield, MI plant was actually unionized under the UAW up until then.

prd1982
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Re: Scale of Lionel Trains Rolling Stock: Early 1950's vs. Current Vintage

Post by prd1982 » Tue Nov 12, 2019 2:25 pm

Quick overview of train scales at: http://www.lionel.com/gauge

O gauge is listed at a 1:48 scale. However, when cars are made that way, they are long, and require track that has a large diameter. The most popular diameter for Lionel toy trains in the 60s was O-31. That is, the diameter of a circle of track was 31 inches. To accommodate this track, most cars were shortened. In recent years, Lionel has been selling real 1:48 scaled trains, and the market for them has moved from kids to adults. The true-scaled engines and cars are very detailed, and very expensive. Often then require track where they curves must be 72" in diameter. That means, of course, a fairly large area to show the train. Most of the folks using these trains are bought by people who create models with lots of scenery, and on a permanent layout. These are the layouts we always dreamed about as kids and saw in the Lionel Christmas catalog. But Lionel also sells trains using the old scale that run on O-31 track. As best I can tell, these trains are bought by grand-dad for the kids.

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Re: Scale of Lionel Trains Rolling Stock: Early 1950's vs. Current Vintage

Post by dbr » Tue Nov 12, 2019 3:47 pm

RudyS wrote:
Tue Nov 12, 2019 12:48 pm
Here's a math problem for you.

Standard railroad gauge is 4 ft 8.5 in measured between the rail faces. Measure the Lionel "O" gauge track and see whether it is 1/48 or 1/64 of the standard gauge. Next try googling one of the box cars or locomotives to get the full size dimension. Then it's the same comparison.
Right. A standard 85' passenger car would be 21.25" long in true 1/48 scale. I think the minimum curve radius for general use in North America is 410' or 8.5 feet on the model at 1/48. That would be a circle 17 feet in diameter. In N scale which is 1:160 that circle would be 2.5 feet and the passenger car 6.3" long. An old time 40' boxcar would be 3" long.

mortfree
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Re: Scale of Lionel Trains Rolling Stock: Early 1950's vs. Current Vintage

Post by mortfree » Tue Nov 12, 2019 7:34 pm

O27 was also a popular scale in the 80’s and 90’s.

Are you sure you weren’t looking at S gauge?

I prefer G scale but have N, HO, O27 and G trains.

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