My 2020 (the engine, not the year)

Posted by Bob Keller
on Monday, March 18, 2019

The Lionel no. 2020 turbine was the first postwar locomotive I set out to find, but it took some time to find at a price I wanted. Today they are easier and cheaper to find!

Getting back into the hobby in the early 90s was pretty thrilling. Most of the places I had lived since my trains went into the box in the late 60s simply didn’t have anyone that sold Lionel trains except during the holidays. There was one hobby shop that sole largely rusty track, but no rolling stock. At Christmas, the Melbourne, Florida Sears store was the only spot I could find new trains. But Sears was selling just sets, not any of the other gear you need like track, transformers, or extra rolling stock.

The bug bit when my wife wanted to try to track down some of the American Flyer “boys at the gate” catalogs. The train show listings in Trains magazine had a meet on the north side of Seattle, so we popped up there for a look-see.

The sea of orange and blue boxes was almost intoxicating, and seeing actual vintage trains half remembered from long-lost catalogs was profound. One of the things I saw there, and which was my first quest, was to obtain a Pennsy turbine.

At the time, living on the west coast meant you usually had to pay a premium for vintage trains simply because most of the market was back east, and as one dealer told me “It costs a lot to import them out here.”

I was looking for a 2020 and found one roughly within range of the old wallet. It was at a long departed train store in Tulwila (Of the six Seattle area stores I would shop at, only Eastside Trains in Kirkland is still around). The shop was primarily an HO venture, but they did have a wall of vintage trains. Still I was reluctant to seal the deal – the engine was something like $325 and it had some heavy use.

I’d stop by there about once a month and it would still be sitting there. The store finally had a sale and I went in and did my first dickering. The salesman suggested that if I wanted something in better shape, he could find it for me. I told him, no, this was fine. I told him that the wear suggested that it was someone’s once-beloved toy. I think he then realized I was an operator, not a collector, and wasn’t going for a higher price.

I got it for $275 and I was fairly pleased.

I later found a no. 681 Turbine and it and the 2020 became two of the engines I always took for public running events with the Pierce County Lionel Club.

One interesting point about the 2020 is that I would generally run it for two hours at a pop, then swap it out. One time I picked it up off the track (the shell was very warm) and the label on the underside of the cab actually moved. The shell got warm enough to liquefy the 50-year-old adhesive on a label beneath the cab. After that I rotated locos about once an hour.

It has been in the fleet since 1992 or so and still runs fine!

I'm still impressed with the small drivers and single, clean, side rods. My mind can re-create a turbine-like while to fill in the last of a sound system!

Though chunky in appearance, it can really move.

The spots where the paint is worn off don't make me fret – it just shows someone played with it a lot.

Running more than an hour gets the shell pretty hot! My thumb made the label slip, but I got it back emplace before the glue cooled!

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