Robert S. Butler and I corresponded about posting a listing of the American Flyer prewar water towers and I told him that I would start the thread due to having several variations.
I guess the first item that needs to be discussed is the difference between the 215 and 2020 water towers, which is that the 215 water tower is lighted and the 2020 water tower is not lighted.
The 2020 water tower was first cataloged in 1922, with the HSL cd rom of Prewar Flyer catalogs appearing to show a picture of a 2020 water tower in the article on Backyard Railroads, at the far end of the American Flyer layout exhibit and indicates that the article was reproduced from a September article in The American Boy. Although HSL lists the item under 1921, it does not state what year the article was published in The American Boy. Below is the photo.
Please note in the above image, that toward the right side of the layout is a 100 Station, what appears to be a #92 Billboard to the left of the tunnel opening (which was not cataloged until 1923), and what appears to be a 2020 water tower (note what appears to be the white stripe of the sight gauge along the side of the water tower) behind the 100 station. I realize it is difficult to tell for sure what these items are, but given that they look so similar to the known billboard and water tower.
I guess I overlooked the most telling item that dates the above photo to 1922 (and not earlier). Note there is a 3020 leading a set of either Illini or Columbia cars on the inner loop.
Here is the catalog image of the 2020 water tower from the 1922 catalog
The artwork roughly matches the actual water tower, with the exception that the water level sight gauge appears to be almost centered over the spout and the lettering over the spout is very blurred. The actual water tower has the sight gauge on the side of the tower and the lettering over the spout.
Below are the 4 views of an early 2020 Water Tower
Sight Gauge side (left side as viewed from front)
Side View (right as looking at front)
Some basic characteristics that vary over the years.
1) The earliest variation of the 2020 has a darker red colored roof, as compared to later versions. I cannot say for sure when the colors changed, but when viewed side by side, the earliest versions have noticeably darker roofs. I believe the tower pictured above is a later version, so compare it to some of the following ones to see if you note a difference.
2) The earliest variation of the 2020 have the diagonal cross braces on the sides of their bases. The catalog artwork, which American Flyer typically re-used from year to year, shows the cross bracing on the 2020 through the 1927 catalog. The 1928 catalog shows the 2020 without cross bracing for the first time.
3) The ladder colors vary over the years. The earliest ladders are black; however, they change to green, yellow, and red over the years.
The 2020 water tower was cataloged from 1922 through 1933; however, in 1933 the lighted water tower was shown for the first time as part of the 235 Water Tank Set. The 1934 catalog shows both the 235 Water Tank Set and also shows the "New Water Tank" 215. It is notable that although the 1934 shows the correct 235 Water Tank Set with a lighted water tower, the artwork for the "New Water Tank" 215 is still the 2020 water tank artwork.
The 215 Water Tank was cataloged from 1934 through 1940.
The 235 Water Tank Set was cataloged from 1933 through 1935.
The most notable Flyer water tower variation was cataloged in the Montgomery Ward catalog, I believe first appearing in their 1922 catalog and lasting through 1924 (no confirmation on how long it was cataloged by Wards). It came as part of an equipment set and is known as the "Mack's Junction" water tower. Below is the image from the 1922 Montgomery Wards catalog
The above artwork shows the equipment set as including an American Flyer 208 double semaphore, a danger crossing sign, #91 Station, and the water tower. The artwork of the water tower is not quite correct, as it shows the name of the tower in two lines and on the side of the tank. The actual water tower simply has a decal of Mack's Junction that covers the "Lines" of the American Flyer Lines lithograph. Additionally, the water towers from this era have the cross bracing, which my Mack's Junction tower features.
Note my Mack's Junction water tower features a darker red roof than the first tower shown. This is a feature of the early water towers and would correspond to the Montgomery Ward 1922 catalog.
As for the equipment set, I can confirm that they exist, but have never seen a boxed equipment set. I have bought and sold a number of these towers over the years and the seller of the one above had the other 3 pieces listed separately (which I did not purchase due to unrealistic asking prices) and another Mack's Junction tank that I purchased included all 4 pieces of the equipment set, as well as an American Flyer 1218 engine and set of passenger cars.
The 2020 tower pictured below is one of the most unusual 2020's that I own and the reason is the box it came in. Note the 2-piece sleeve type box. I have never seen another one of these boxes and suspect that it dates to 1922.
Here is a later 2020 with green ladder.
Note there is no cross bracing on the side of the base.
I have noted over the years that some of the cuts to hold the spout on the tank are off centered. This results in the American Flyer Lines lithograph being off centered, if the spout is centered at the front of the tank.
Red ladder at back of above tank
Note the 215 Water Tank uses the same brass light bulb surround as the American Flyer O gauge steam engines of the era, but that the brass surround features 3 holes to allow the light to show to the sides, as well as to the top. I believe the earliest light bulb surrounds are brass, but note that they become blackened at some point, as shown below.
This tank also has a yellow ladder.
I believe the next variation is from the Gilbert years, but am not sure of what year it was made. Note the black crackle painted roof. The red color of the lithograph is also noticeable lighter in color than the earliest versions of the 2020 water tower.
I have mentioned the 235 Water Tank Set, but so far have not pictured it. I know there are two variations, one with the standard red tank and the other with a tank variation...
Note that this variation has an orange tank with red roof. I suspect that the red roof is due to American Flyer painting all of their lighted water tower roofs red
Next up are variations
There are variations of the towers that have no American Flyer lettering on them that come in both red and orange. However, they feature the lithographed sight gauge on the side.
It should also be noted that the American Flyer 2020 tank features identical construction to an Ives water tank. The only difference being that the Ives name is lithographed on the right side of the tank.
Note that the roof on the non-Ives water tower is a lighter orange than the Ives tower.
Here is an unusual variation of the 215 Water Tower. It is the orange tank version, but has the winged decal from the American Flyer airplanes on the front.
I have only observed one of these tanks with the winged decal on it. I don't own the above tank, but know that it was sold by a hobby store in Pasadena about 10 years ago to a friend.
Lastly, some clarification as to the American Flyer water tank versus the Bing water tank. I have been told by people that these tanks are identical. They are not, but it may be that American Flyer copied the Bing tank, when designing their 2020 water tank.
First note that the American Flyer water tank features a spout that attaches to the side of the tank and moves up and down with the weight on the string. The Bing water tower features a spout that is soldered to the bottom of the tank, with a design that allows for the spout to swing from side to side.
Both tanks feature a sight gauge on their sides, but note that the Bing water tower features the ladder being attached to the side of the tank.
Note that the ladder for the American Flyer tank attaches to the roof, via two slots and tabs.
The Bing water tower's ladder does not attach to the roof.
Some differences that are not evident in my photos:
1) the finial on top of the American Flyer water tower is threaded and attaches to a long stud that comes through the bottom of the tank and goes through the roof of the tank. The American Flyer tank itself is a separate piece that can be removed from the base.
2) the finial on top of the Bing water tower is part of the roof and the roof of this tank simply slides into the side of the tank and is easily removed. The Bing tank is soldered to the base and cannot be removed from the base with ease.
One last clarification. I have seen at least one American Flyer water tower that was white and was marketed as a super-rare variation with a crazy high asking price. I offer this photo of a Mack's Junction water tank that disproves there being a white American Flyer variation.
Note that the majority of the red color on the tank above has apparently been bleached either by the sun or through other means, with the red color being very rich where it was protected by the Mack's Junction decal, which has chipped/peeled in one area.
Oh, and the same seller who was trying to sell a white American Flyer tank as a rare variation was also trying to sell a "lighted" Mack's Junction water tower. To my knowledge a lighted Mack's Junction water tower was never made. As I mentioned in comparing the American Flyer tower to the Bing tower, that the American Flyer tanks can easily be removed from their bases and swapped to another base. I suspect that someone swapped a Mack's Junction tank on to a lighted water tower base to create the variation that the seller was marketing. This conclusion is further supported by the documentation of when the Mack's Junction towers were sold (1922-1924 by Montgomery Wards) and when the lighted water tanks were introduced (1933 as part of 235 Water Tank Set and 1934 as freestanding 215 Water Tank).
That is all I have for American Flyer 2020, 215, & 235 Water Towers