A Gilbert Prewar American Flyer 3/16" O gauge pictures and information thread

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A Gilbert Prewar American Flyer 3/16" O gauge pictures and information thread
Posted by Gray Cat on Thursday, November 22, 2012 12:15 PM

Please use this thread only for prewar American Flyer 3/16" O gauge trains manufactured by The A.C. Gilbert Co. as offered in the 1938-1941 catalogs. Pictures, stories, repairs, discussion, opinion.

(although some of these pictures are in Northwoods Flyer's superb thread I felt it was time to give the Prewar 3/16" their own space)

CHECK BACK OFTEN, I WILL BE ADDING PICTURES THROUGH OUT THE THREAD AS I ADD PIECES TO MY COLLECTION. I'M TRYING TO KEEP THEM ORGANIZED.

ALSO A THANK YOU TO THOSE THAT HAVE CONTRIBUTED AND THOSE THAT WILL!

The thing that amazes me and surprises me is how little is known about these trains. They were really only manufactured for 4 years. They are not well known and not seen for sale that often. I would like to get this thread going with any pictures, information or discussion about ONLY 1938-1941 era Prewar American Flyer 3/16" trains..

I have been an American Flyer S gauge collector for more years than I care to remember. I've read "The Man Who Lives In Paradise" at least a few times and each time I do and as more time goes by I'm more and more fascinated by A.C. Gilbert and his accomplishments. Recently I discovered prewar AF 3/16" gauge trains almost by accident. I wanted a smaller layout to display some trains in a game room until I completed my large S layout room. I started out with a simple 5 by 9 layout and found that I just couldn't squeeze enough Flyer S onto it. SO I did the layout in O. First with Lionel.. that didn't last long as it always felt like I was cheating on a spouse or something like that. I moved over to Chicago Flyer since it was "American Flyer"  and although nice it just didn't have the same appeal to me as S gauge. Well quite by accident I stumbled upon a guy that had some prewar 3/16" Flyer for sale. I bought it and was instantly bit by the bug! It was the perfect fit. These trains were the granddaddy's to my S gauge. These are the hot shots that started it all. To date I have amassed a small but interesting collection of these early Gilbert trains and their operating accessories.

I truly look forward to any and all information concerning these trains..

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Posted by Gray Cat on Thursday, November 22, 2012 12:17 PM

This is the 534 the remote directional control version of the 4-8-4 behemoth of the American Flyer line. This engine is rubber stamped with 571, but the RDC makes it a 534. The Remote Directional Control allows the reversing unit to be cycled with a special control button that sends a small DC pulse over the AC line to the track. The engine can stop and start all day long in forward until the control is activated and the reversing unit is sequenced. This is especially useful with accessories like the talking station or toolshed.

This engine is part of set no. 4023 Union Pacific Freight set that I acquired this year. Unfortunately the cast 510 stock car was missing and in it's stead was a sheetmetal 534 box car. I'm on the lookout for a nice 510 to make this set complete

There was also a 572 with RC (standard reversing unit, lever through top of boiler casting) that was catalogued and stamped 571 or 572

There were a few incarnations of the 4-8-4. The earliest one had a spur gear motor, which drove the wheels from a small gear on the motor to gear sets on the drive wheels. This wheel configuration also came as part of a "kit" to be assembled at home. This one is particularly rare and I'm sure expensive to buy now.  I'm anxious to see pictures of these various styles surface here.

This image below shows the engine with Remote Directional Control unit on top. A DC pulse pulls the solenoid in and that sequences the reversing unit. (this whistle controller on a Lionel transformer will do this). There is also a small toothpick sized hole in the casting above the solenoid plate. I imagine this was so you could manually cycle the reversing unit should it become stuck.

This is the Remote Directional Controller.. it's a simple momentary contact button with a rectifier to supply the DC pulse needed to activate the RDC in the Locomotive.

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Posted by Gray Cat on Thursday, November 22, 2012 12:19 PM

This is a picture of the American Flyer Hudson 570 with standard reversing unit. This has the reverse lever through the boiler casting as found on early production postwar engines. This could be used to manually lock the reversing unit in forward, or reverse if you chose to do so. The 531 was advertised as the Hudson with remote directional control. It was priced at $20.00 in the 1940 catalog, $2.50 more than the 570

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Posted by Gray Cat on Thursday, November 22, 2012 12:22 PM

This is a picture of the Pennsylvania K-5 (pacific) 561 standard reversing unit. All of these engines have superb detail and especially the valve gear workings.

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Posted by Gray Cat on Thursday, November 22, 2012 12:25 PM

This is the 545. It uses the same casting as the 561 Pennsylvania K-5, however it is not a Pacific wheel layout nor does it use the scale type tender casting. It also has less detail in the valve gear than the K5. This engine uses the Coleman (Chicago) Flyer tender. This train has an engine that although is technically a 3/16" casting was not advertised in the catalog as such. It was sold as a lesser priced set or solo engine than the K-5

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Posted by Gray Cat on Thursday, November 22, 2012 12:28 PM

Here is Gilbert's Royal Blue. A torpedo engine, based on the Baltimore and Ohio's flagship. It is quite accurate. Gilbert continued this engine postwar in the S gauge lineup, but curiously discontinued the blue passenger cars and offered it as a freight only set.

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Posted by Gray Cat on Thursday, November 22, 2012 12:31 PM

Here is the diminutive little Atlantic. It has great detail and complicated  valve gear that later disappeared as this engine evolved into the later S gauge. I have since acquired a number of these and a few of them actually have a Chugger! in the tender..

(also of note you will see that there are no journal covers on the tender trucks. This Atlantic was part of a set where none of the rolling stock had journal covers either. Not sure if these was a budget set for a department store, or I believe I read that some early sets were sold off like this after 1941)

Here is another tender that has been repainted and decaled. This one is a "Chugger". Gilbert designed a motor power unit to mount inside tenders and other rolling stock. This unit has a leather cupped piston that forced air through a small hole that would "resonate" to emulate the chugging/choo choo sound. I just restored this unit and it now works surprisingly well. It adds a whole new level of play value to these trains. This chugger would later be refined to become the first smoke in tender units seen postwar.

Link to youtube video showing chugger in action..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_Qi3pCpU4U&feature=plcp

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Posted by Nationwidelines on Thursday, November 22, 2012 12:34 PM

Gray Cat,

 

This is an excellent topic as the Flyer 3/16th O gauge era was such a short period of time and also included the transition of Chicago Flyer to Gilbert production. 

 

I have to admit to not actually caring for the 3/16th O gauge flyer items and having only some of the accessories.  Although I think the die cast freight and passenger cars are nice, I have never persued these items in my collecting interest.  However, I like the Gilbert pre-war buildings. 

 

This first item is a transitional piece from 1940 and was cataloged under the Chicago number 97 Freight Station Set.  This item features the Gilbert produced crane and a green crackle painted roof with the rest of the item being from leftover Chicago era production.  Some of these stations are found with the earlier Chicago era lithographed roof.

 

 
I believe that the next item dates to 1941 and represents the first year production of the 612 freight station.  Note that the item has the red painted base similar to the 1940 97 freigth station set pictured above.  The building also has the brown trim instead of red trim, which is common on the pre-war tool shed and mystic stations (which were brown and yellow painted).  There is also a black crackle painted roof and red mystic station letterboards.
 
 
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Posted by David Barker on Thursday, November 22, 2012 3:31 PM

A.C. Gilbert changed the pace in model railroading before WWII, then after the war he set the pace!  I have very few pre-war pieces, but do have some.

http://www.rfgco.com/americanflyertrainscatalogs/catalogs.html

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Posted by Gray Cat on Thursday, November 22, 2012 10:01 PM

Nationwidelines, thank you for contributing to the thread. The no. 98 Freight station with Crane (as listed in my 1940 catalog) is a unique piece as you noted with the Chicago building and the Gilbert crane. I have a 612 now but it is the red white building with green roof. I'm on the lookout for a more "prewar" version with brown as you show. Great pictures!

Here are pictures of the no. 597 a-Koostikin Talking Passenger and Freight station. With the Prewar brown and yellow paint scheme. Post war the "Talking Station" as it was later renamed came in the standard red and white paint scheme.

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Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, November 22, 2012 11:36 PM

Gray Cat,

                   Great thread.Thumbs Up  A rot free 561 is a piece that I always wanted.  Looks like all of your steamers are in great shape.  Do you have the 0-8-0 switcher? 

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Posted by Gray Cat on Friday, November 23, 2012 6:14 AM

Jim, thanks for the thumbs up.. over the months to come I anticipate this thread becoming a great source of information for these (dare I say?) rare American Flyer trains.

I don't have the Prewar O gauge 0-8-0 switcher yet. Now there's an engine that doesn't turn up for sale often. I wonder if I write a letter to Santa?

At this time I can honestly say I'm fortunate in that all of my castings are solid. The only problems that have shown so far is the tender floor on my Northern had to be replaced and on my Royal Blue the motor casting is actually swollen lengthwise ever so slightly. It runs and looks fine but the drive rods had to be ground down just a little to stop them from knocking (and I do have a spare motor casting complete when needed)

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Posted by Gray Cat on Friday, November 23, 2012 7:09 AM

Action cars. One of the things Gilbert started to do prewar was add items of play interest to the line. Here are a few of the remote controled action cars. Most of these needed a special pickup track section. A spring on the side of the action car would contact this "third rail" and when the control button was pressed it would supply power to a coil that activated the mechanism in the car.

First up is a 474 coal dump car. Prior to this car the coal dump was a little boys hand!

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Posted by Gray Cat on Friday, November 23, 2012 7:13 AM

Next action car is the auto unloading car. This featured an armored car that would automatically roll off a ramp that would swing out when the button was pushed. There were variations, this particular car has a red frame and dual spring contacts.

Today at a local train show I found this variation, the more common with black frame. The Armored car is a treat though since it's all original with it's original turret guns, these are almost always missing.

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Posted by Gray Cat on Friday, November 23, 2012 7:27 AM

Here is the 490 Express Whistling car. This should have a special whistle controller which has a small rectifier to convert the AC of the transformer to a DC pulse that would be sent over the AC rails to activate a DC relay. The whistle in this car was designed to work through a stepper type activator similar to a reversing unit. It was On-Off-On-Off. So to activate the whistle you would push the button down once (don't hold it down), to deactivate the whistle you hit the button again. Each button press would cause the DC pulse to pull in the DC relay and activate the stepper unit cycling the whistle either on or off. The 490 cannot be used in conjunction with a Remote Directional Control engine. The DC pulse that is used to activate the whistle would also activate the RDC! Actually it was the same control with different decal for Whistle Control or Remote Directional Control. The Whistle control on a Lionel Transformer will work also!

Although this rail contact came in the box I'm not sure of it's purpose. It looks like copper that is insulated inside and designed to slide on top of the rail powering the whistle or something when the car goes by. Looking for more information on this piece.

Another action car is the mail pickup. This is a baggage car with a special track section that has a short pickup rail and a mail bag post. When activated a solenoid causes the pickup arm to come out and grab a mail bag. On the next trip around you can pickup a different colored mailbag and eject the first one at the same time. The pickup rail is designed such that you really can't get the timing wrong. The arm retracts as soon as the pickup spring loses contact of the rail. With practice you can hit the button just right though so the guy in the mail car doesn't toss your mail halfway across the layout. Guys in those days sure had good arms!

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Posted by mersenne6 on Friday, November 23, 2012 8:04 AM

  It appears that there is some way for a person to set up a link to a specific post within a thread (I see that this has been done over on the Marx thread).  I don't want to clutter up your thread with non-specific posts so I'll only mention that if you know how to do this you might want to build links to a number of posts on 3/16" flyer that are on pages 37 and 38 of Northwoods Flyer's thread on pre-war American Flyer.

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Posted by Nationwidelines on Friday, November 23, 2012 8:10 AM

Here is a 585 non-talking tool shed.  The prewar version, other than being painted brown and yellow, has a steel roof instead of the postwar plastic roof.  I have noticed that the non-talking tool sheds typically have a smooth painted roof in a slightly darker green than the talking versions which are found with a lighter crackle green roof.  Not sure if this is true for all, but I have noted this difference on more than one of these items.

 

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Posted by Nationwidelines on Friday, November 23, 2012 8:12 AM

Here is a 577 Whistling Billboard featuring the Royal Typewriter advertising.  My boxed version came with a doorbell style button, similar to the Chicago era 2029 Billboard that was cataloged from 1937-1938. 

 

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Posted by Nationwidelines on Friday, November 23, 2012 8:15 AM

Here is another transition item.  This is the 416 Wrecker car from 1939.  This item was sold with the Chicago era freight cars in 1939 and was included only in the top of the line freight set that featured the 447 O gauge hudson in 1939.  It was also available for separate sale.  The car features the Gilbert crane body and boom on a chicago era frame and trucks.  The crane body is unlettered, as opposed to postwar cars that have lettering on the body.

 

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Posted by Gray Cat on Friday, November 23, 2012 8:23 AM

I might add that there are a few things that tell a prewar billboard for sure. Your billboard has screws at the top corners that hold the framework together. These can be removed and the cardboard "billboard" can be removed. The side frames are also screwed on from behind. Postwar it was a stamped steel billboard frame that was riveted to the whistle body and sticker applied. Cloth covered wiring was prevalent prewar.

Nationwidelines

Here is a 577 Whistling Billboard featuring the Royal Typewriter advertising.  My boxed version came with a doorbell style button, similar to the Chicago era 2029 Billboard that was cataloged from 1937-1938. 

 

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Posted by Gray Cat on Friday, November 23, 2012 8:31 AM

Another item that was made prewar and continued over postwar with differences was the 596 Water Tank. The prewar version that I have is painted a glossy tuscan color with a wooden spout.

One of the most collectible prewar American Flyer Accessories that was also made postwar is the animated track gang. The prewar version would have cloth covered wire.

Lionel had the good sense to reproduce this hard to find and expensive accessory item. Their reproduction is pretty much spot on. At this time I do not have the original but am running the reproduction for effect.

Another accessory that doesn't turn up often. The No. 2 prewar trestle bridge..

Here is the Prewar Switch Tower in brown and yellow. This one needs a set of windows, looks like some kids were throwing stones!

When collecting rare trains like these prewar Gilbert American Flyer trains sometimes you have to take a piece regardless if it's in pristine condition or not. You just don't know when you will find another. If you are lucky enough you can upgrade later to a better one. For now I'm glad to have this tower.

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Posted by Gray Cat on Friday, November 23, 2012 4:17 PM

Here is the Ringling Bro's and Barnum and Bailey version of the prewar Whistling billboard. Another distinguishing feature of prewar is the hairpin springs on the motor brushes. Postwar used the female spade clips to hold the springs in.

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Posted by Gray Cat on Friday, November 23, 2012 4:20 PM

Here are some different baggage and passenger cars. Some variations.

All red baggage

Red with white doors. note that red with white doors has dark lettering in the American Flyer Lines decal

Royal Blue type with white doors

These cars came in green also and gray.. there were whistles in some. I'm looking forward to some more pictures with variations and perhaps a whistle car or two.

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Posted by Gray Cat on Friday, November 23, 2012 4:24 PM

Tinplate Passenger cars. These passenger cars came in both lighted and unlit versions.

There was a series of deluxe pullman cars that were cast. They were sold with the Pennsylvania K5, the Hudson and the 534 RDC 4-8-4 Union Pacific set or they could be purchased as kits to be painted and assembled at home. Kit no 521 for the baggage and 524 for the Pullman. From what I understand it is very hard to find one of the cast Pullmans without some form of rotting or warping due to zinc pest.

Some deluxe Pullmans.

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Posted by Gray Cat on Friday, November 23, 2012 5:04 PM

Die Cast rolling stock. All of the cast cars were available in kit form (K designation before part no.) or assembled from the factory.

Here is a selection of the entire lineup of the diecast freight cars. (with the exception of kits and variations)

All of them in a row.

Die Cast 506 Beano Box Car

Die Cast Virginia 508

Die Cast 510 Missouri Pacific Stock/Cattle Car

Die Cast Texaco Tank car 512

Die Cast Wrecker car no 514. Frame is cast with sheet metal crane cab.

Die Cast Gondola 504 the gondola uses the same frame as the crane and cattle car if zinc pest has gotten to it you can replace it with the frame used on a postwar tank car. Some of the early ones were cast but without the four holes at the corners

Die Cast UP caboose 516 (usually found in sets with the 4-8-4 UP Northern)

Die Cast NYC version of the 516 Caboose (usually found in sets with the NYC Hudson)

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Posted by Northwoods Flyer on Friday, November 23, 2012 7:20 PM

Gray Cat,

Let me offer my congratulations on a great start to your thread!  Bow  I have only a smattering of the prewar Gilbert production, and as you have mentioned it is scattered throughout the PreWar American Flyer thread.  It will be nice to have all of it gathered in one location.  Thanks for starting this thread and for being an enthusiastic host.

The 3/16" O gauge line is fascinating because it was produced for such a brief period of time and the variety of equipment produced is limited.  Its also a little sad because it marked the end of Chicago Flyer production and a much more toy like feel to the trains.  I collected S gauge Flyer for at least 20 years before moving into the prewar trains, so its fun to see the predecessors to the S gauge line. It makes you wonder why Gilbert didn't continue some of the items after WWII.   Its hard to chose which I like more. 

Your photos of your collection are excellent and you have been able to obtain some really excellent examples.  I have watched your videos on Youtube and they make me want to run some Gilbert era equipment on the Blueboard Central.  I'd be interested in seeing some additional photos of your layout too, it really captures the era in which the 3/16 line was produced.

Back a page you posted a photo of the 556 Royal Blue combination catalogued in 1940 and 1941. This is the example I have in my collection:

 

 
 
 In 1940 Gilbert also offered the 553 combination:
 
 
 
It uses the same engine body but has a different wheel arrangement.
 
 
 
I really like the streamlined look of these engines.
 
 
Thanks again for starting this thread.  I look forward to seeing more posts.
 
Enjoying the World's Greatest Hobby
Northwoods Flyer
 
 

The Northwoods Flyer Collection

of

American Flyer Trains

"The Toy For the Boy"

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Posted by Gray Cat on Friday, November 23, 2012 9:08 PM

Thanks Northwoods Flyer. Of course your thread is the inspiration for this little Gilbert slice of trains.!

Thank you for posting the pictures of your two torpedos side by side or rather nose to nose. I'm really excited to see what this thread will bring. There is so little information about these trains.

Again I find it interesting that with the 553 there is no mention of 3/16" on the catalog page. It is described as O only. The 3/16" logo was apparently reserved for the "Tru Model" trains. The 553 doesn't sport a known wheel configuration which makes it more toy like, so it looks like it might have been a lesser priced or entry level train that still has the look of the new 3/16" gauge trains.

Yours looks like a fine example. Does your Royal Blue have a chugger tender?

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Posted by Gray Cat on Saturday, November 24, 2012 6:51 AM

Sheetmetal Rolling Stock. Although the selection of rolling stock is pretty simple there are of course variations.

Box car no 478 came in red and white with sliding doors

Hopper no 486 came in yellow.

Gondola no 476 came in green

Tankers no 480 came in silver blue or yellow Shell there are some variations here. I'm told the silver blue is a little less common (unverified)

Log Car no 482 variations on frame color and design

Here is one with straight straps to hold the logs. It seems the log load would shift around with this design

This must be a later design with straps that are formed to fit the logs and hold the load tight

Girder Car no       This is a car that is also a little less common.

Search light car no 488 there are some variations of frame color

Wrecker Car no 481

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Posted by Gray Cat on Saturday, November 24, 2012 7:01 AM

Cabooses. The little red caboose deserves a post of it's own. There are variations. They came lighted and non lighted.

484 caboose with black railings

484 caboose with white railings

484 with lights

Here is a strange 484 I came across. This one has a caboose base that is punched out for a chugger unit.. I'm not sure if a caboose ever came with this option or if this was a mistake. But is certainly is curious.

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Posted by M636C on Saturday, November 24, 2012 7:38 PM

Gray Cat

Here is the diminutive little Atlantic. It has great detail and complicated  valve gear that later disappeared as this engine evolved into the later S gauge. I have since acquired a number of these and a few of them actually have a Chugger! in the tender..

(also of note you will see that there are no journal covers on the tender trucks. This Atlantic was part of a set where none of the rolling stock had journal covers either. Not sure if these was a budget set for a department store, or I believe I read that some early sets were sold off like this after 1941)

This is in fact a scale model like other Gilbert 3/16" models but of a relatively little known prototype.

The Reading railroad was an early user of Atlantic type locomotives but the great majority were of the Camelback type, since that was the easiest way of incorporating the wide Wooten firebox used by the Reading.

However, in 1915, an experimental 4-4-4 was built in the P&R shops as class C-1a which placed the cab behind the large firebox. A total of four were built but the rear bogie proved unstable at speed and the locomotives were rebuilt in 1924 with a single trailing axle, and the firebox was reduced from about 12 feet long about 10 feet 6 inches long which improved the steady running of the locomotive. They were reclassified as class P-7sa (the "s" indicating superheating).

That history does give the option to a collector whose "Atlantic" is missing the trailing axle to put a bogie in that location, and still have a prototypically correct model, if not one that had been produced by Gilbert.

M636C

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