Look at some of those Postwar accesories, simple, basic, yet undeniably absolutely fascinating. And for the most part are very reliable and easy to fix and maintain.

Can't say that about modern accessories , (or trains).

Postwar trains and accessories are a joy to work on.

David Neuzil

Bluegill1

Products in the postwar era and before were built to last.  It was expected.  I doubt that postwar Lionel was building trains to satisfy a huge collector's market.  They were toys and not cheap at that.  They were often handed down or kept as keepsakes.  So good engineering and materials kept repeat customers and/or influenced word of mouth advertising for new customers.  It was a necessity.   During the mpc era the trains started getting marketed more to collectors than during postwar.

Today, many products are throwaway items or cost prohibitive to repair. TVs, VCRs, car radios, most home appliances, its cheaper to buy a new one than get it repaired.  And the materials, electronics and miniatrization are far superior to postwar.  So the products don't have to be built to last, just good enough to get through the warranty period and through the replacement product cycle.  

Most trains today aren't built as toys anymore, their built primarily for collectors and operators.  It's a totally different era and market.  The features and capabilities are vastly different and you would think at today's prices you would get some of postwar quality.

jim pastorius posted:

3G  What is your problem ??  The thread isn't about comparing PW trains to the 80s 90s stuff. It is about the inherent designs and construction of the PW  pieces. You are the one going  relatively  negative.  Remember that the PWs were made by the thousands every day, more than the 80s.  They were toys not collector pieces. Plastic wasn't necessarily cheap either. Plus the later  products were built on a foundation of the earlier models like most things. 

No problem.  Own lots of PW, but these post followed by anyone making a comment that is less than glorious become a "your bashing".  The post war period went from 45 to 69.  How was the quality in 1969. 

Innovation, absolutely.  There was nothing before Lionel started making electric toy trains.  The ingenuity of the mechanical, electrical use of solenoids, vibrating motors, motors, etc... was outstanding.  But as time marched on, the quality fell off.  Molds used over and over, manufacturing techniques becoming a little stale, profit margins and expenses coming into play.   Jump forward and the materials, manufacturing techniques and added detail make the product much higher quality.  Is it falling off again due to some of the above? Possibly.  That was all I was stating.  Some of those switches had quality fall off later too.  G

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Dan Padova posted:

...Look how long these things have been around and we're still using and able to repair them.  

When I was a youngster in the 1960's my first Lionel trains were a plastic steamer and a plastic FA diesel. Gradually, I kept working back in time until I found what would become my favorite locomotives, prewar steam switchers. Most of mine are now 77ish years old now. Boy, do I love them, for everything everyone mentioned already, swiss watch-like craftsmanship, made in the USA, easily repaired, and they can last another 77 years, properly maintained. You can't beat all that as far as I am concerned. 

Nice topic.

Tom

 

GGG posted:
jim pastorius posted:

3G  What is your problem ??  The thread isn't about comparing PW trains to the 80s 90s stuff. It is about the inherent designs and construction of the PW  pieces. You are the one going  relatively  negative.  Remember that the PWs were made by the thousands every day, more than the 80s.  They were toys not collector pieces. Plastic wasn't necessarily cheap either. Plus the later  products were built on a foundation of the earlier models like most things. 

No problem.  Own lots of PW, but these post followed by anyone making a comment that is less than glorious become a "your bashing".  The post war period went from 45 to 69.  How was the quality in 1969. 

Innovation, absolutely.  There was nothing before Lionel started making electric toy trains.  The ingenuity of the mechanical, electrical use of solenoids, vibrating motors, motors, etc... was outstanding.  But as time marched on, the quality fell off.  Molds used over and over, manufacturing techniques becoming a little stale, profit margins and expenses coming into play.   Jump forward and the materials, manufacturing techniques and added detail make the product much higher quality.  Is it falling off again due to some of the above? Possibly.  That was all I was stating.  Some of those switches had quality fall off later too.  G

I certainly wasn't the original poster but in my opinion he certainly wasn't comparing and contrasting the relative quality of products produced by Lionel during the post-war era with the products manufactured today.  He was simply stating the obvious; Lionel's engineering concepts and finished manufactured products during the post-war years were superbly made "toys".    As far as I'm concerned you can throw in their pre-war production as well.   There is no question when the toy train malaise hit in the 1960s that quality fell off but previous to that time Lionel hit a home run every year for 60 years.  Their products were innovative, reliable and incredibly rugged.  Not a bad record.  Current manufacturers have quite a ways to go before they match that record and I'm betting they won't.   As far as their switches are concerned I have two pair of Lionel 072 711 switches that were manufactured in the 1930s and they work just as crisply today as when they were first manufactured and that was 85 years ago.  I also have two pair of Super O switches made in the early 60s and they still work well too and that's when they were in decline.  It is only my opinion but I seriously doubt that the old Lionel Corporation's  record of excellence will ever be matched.

If the question about today's manufactured products being of higher quality is to be debated I would concede that their electronic functions and detail could not be matched by anything produced from 1900 to 1960 but in terms of reliability, durability and ruggedness in my opinion there is no way that what is produced today can seriously match up with the old Lionel Corporation's finished product.  I wish I could live long enough because I would like to debate this issue 50 years from now when the old Lionel stuff is still chugging along and today's current production has been relegated to the trash heap. 

 

 

 

 

I didn't want to have the debate about today's Lionel production compared to the Post-war production.  It's not why I started this topic.  As has been said, today's products are infinitely more reliable with all of their electronics than most 60 or 70 year old products could ever hope to be, in their time.  

Again, someone pointed out how automobiles are so much more reliable than those built up to and including the 1970s.  My first brand new car, 1969 Olds Cutlass was ready for the graveyard at 50,000 miles.  Today we think nothing of getting 150,000 miles out of a car.  But can the average guy work on his car today.  I think not.

There's the difference.  Each time period produced a product that was state of the art.  I merely wanted to point out that the engineering of the pos-war trains, which I should have narrowed to the time period of 1945 to 1960, was pretty amazing in my mind.  I can see how the items works when I dismantle it.  Not so with an item that uses electronics to operate.  

Sop no, one time period is not any better than another, with one exception.  In the post war time period I was young.  Now I'm older, but not old.  

 

Dan Padova

 

"In the course of my life I have had to eat my words, and I must confess it was a wholesome diet"..........Winston Churchill

                                                                                                                                        

The quality from 1945-54 is simply phenomenal.  Take apart a truck with a coil-activated coupler and look at the engineering they they put into just making the coupler open.  The 165/182 cranes have what amounts to a small transmission built into them.   Insane.  

You could make a pretty good argument that early Postwar Lionel was over-engineered, but old JL was serious about his trains being the standard of the world.  

 

"If the question about today's manufactured products being of higher quality is to be debated I would concede that their electronic functions and detail could not be matched by anything produced from 1900 to 1960 but in terms of reliability, durability and ruggedness in my opinion there is no way that what is produced today can seriously match up with the old Lionel Corporation's finished product.  I wish I could live long enough because I would like to debate this issue 50 years from now when the old Lionel stuff is still chugging along and today's current production has been relegated to the trash heap. "

The key thing is that the old PW trains were built for ruggedness and reliability because they were toys, whereas we might call current production engines and such toys but they aren't, they aren't meant for kids and are basically a totally different product. If you build something simple and rugged, with parts that can be replaced, it will last, something that is fine scale, with complicated electronics and fragile detail work, likely won't last as easily, if it all, they are two totally different beasts and should be appreciated as such, and we also should appreciate those who appreciate both the new and old things, I can understand someone who appreciates the simplicity of the power war stuff, that they can fix it and so forth, and I also understand folks who have posted on here that they love the modern scale stuff with all it brings, command control and so forth, they all are good  Better is a relative term, someone who loves to repair their own stuff will find post war better for that, given that the modern stuff is tough to fix, on the other hand someone who wants to run at slow speeds and have sound and scale detail and run protypically and who doesn't mind the hassle it can be to fix these units, would find post war to be inferior for what they want it for. 

One thing I am pretty certain of, based on what I studied in grad school that looked at concepts of quality and covered historical perspectives, is that the stuff coming out of the Lionel factory was likely similar to other products of the time and probably had typical quality of the time, a lot of stuff was DOA coming off the line, and the people likely working for Lionel and its factory were likewise representative of the time, some likely were proud of what they were doing, others likely saw it as a job and treated it as such, that was the nature of things back then, and quality production was not exactly a major goal, lean production and continuous quality were concepts that were just then starting to be developed.  Doesn't mean I don't think there was genius working there, the engineering staff at Lionel came up with some very, very clever things, and in the end they produced something kids and adults loved and still love, and that rocks. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The person who dies with the best toys dies a happy person

bigkid posted:
 

The key thing is that the old PW trains were built for ruggedness and reliability because they were toys, whereas we might call current production engines and such toys but they aren't, they aren't meant for kids and are basically a totally different product.

 

Egad.  That really is the key thing.  Nicely done!

Pete

Bigkid that is my point, but I specifically avoided electronic and modern features.  Because quality is relative to the time too.  Also people do confuse engineering design and quality.  Folks forget how many imperfections in casting, paint, decals occurred.  Or how some elaborate accessories like cattle cars, pipe loader required tinkering to get them to work right.   Everything back in the 50-60 was rugged and heavy.  Think appliances.  But a side frame motor was not a Swiss watch by any stretch.

I have several PW engines, and both variations of the J.  When you look at the castings, paint, mechanical shims for the motor and compare it to the 90s J I have from different manufactures no one would pick the PW J as top quality.  The 90s have smoother blemish free castings, better paint and decals, better fit, smoother running gears.  Some of this is relative to the time too, but the quality is better in my opinion. 

The fact that post war engines where made in the 100K and parts used over an over through the years makes a big difference in supportability, but that is not quality.  Especially since there were no real alternatives in the 70, 80 and 90s until reinvented Lionel, and MTH came along.  I still get modern engines from early 90s MTH with original pickup rollers (worn), can motors, and electronics that still run and smoke when I service them for tires, and a lube job.  A recent one was 22 years old, heavily worn put still running.   G

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@ggg, yep, exactly. I was thinking about this discussion this morning, and constantly when talking about modern trains I get all kinds of discussions about how poorly consumer products are made (which is true), we are in a throw away society and so forth, and while that is true, I think it has fogged things up even more. 

We have become a throw away society because the manufacturers made a conscious decision to make products that don't last, the obsession with price became everything. Sure, washers and dryers lasted many years (and on that one, I cannot argue), but a lot of that is because to go for the holy grail of cheap prices, they basically cut corners. They switched from metal gears to plastic ones, they cheapened up on the steel they used, the motors they user to spin the drums on the washing machine and dryers are a lot more cheaply made, usually overseas, and they switched from using belt drive to the geared drives, which basically made fixing the driveline not cost effective. They have added electronics to the units, but spent little money on making them rugged, to last, because it would cost them to do it. If you look at the price of appliances today and adjust them in real dollars, they are a lot cheaper than they were in the day, appliances made 40 years ago + were relatively expensive, so people expected them to last (and because they were simple, could be repaired). I have a modern equivalent of that, I have a speed queen washer that is built like a brick outhouse, and can be serviced pretty easily, it has bronze drive gears, heavy duty motor and when I had to bring it in the house, well, was in for a surprise on how much it weighed....

I have a counter example to the good old days, and that is with cars, and it shows one of the fundamental problems with modern 3 rail units and their reliability. Back in the good old days, the postwar period, cars were pretty much throwaway in a sense, while you could repair them pretty easily with a pair of pliers and screwdriver, they also were not built to last. They rusted out (if you lived in areas with salt used or ocean areas), and their powertrains required a lot of maintainence to keep going, and didn't last, you got to 30,000 miles and that was an engine or transmission that often needed major repairs or replacing. Anyone remember when you changed the spark plugs every 10,000 miles? When mechanics at around 20-30k had to pull the heads to 'decarbonize' the pistons, because there literally would be a pile of black crap on the top of the pistons? Anyone remember trying to cold start an engine? Or when shocks would last 10,000 miles?

 

You could keep those cars going, of course, and some would last 100,000 miles, but there is no comparison to today, a typical car power plant has a 250k mile duty cycle before needing to be rebuilt, and maintainence has dropped, spark plugs last 100k miles, and you simply don't need to repair them..and despite claims from the cranky class, the electronics in modern cars is pretty **** rugged, even things like O2 sensors don't need replacing (my van has 208k miles on it, and it has never been replaced, for example). There were bumps along the way, the car industry in the 70's when electronics came in, did stupid things, like having the engine management system in the engine compartment, or using crappy components,. and they paid a price, especially when compared to some brands, like Toyota and Honda, that improved their electronics. Yes, cars are expensive, but if you do it in real dollars, then look at how long the car lasts, how little maintainence it requires, in terms of cost it would absolutely blow out the cars from the so called Golden age (think about gas mileage, 6mpg versus 25 for something like a Vette on the highway). Cars, in part because of competition, became more reliable as appliances and other consumer goods became more throwaway and unrepairable. 

With modern toy trains, they are more akin to the fancy washing machines and such, they have all manner of sounds and controls and whatnot, but they are not built to be rugged and long lasting, the electronics for example in these units are not made to be rugged, they could be, but they are not, they are made to save on costs. You might think something relatively expensive, like the three rail O gauge stuff we have today, would be made better, but because of the size of the market, they need to make as much profit per unit they can, so they aren't going to invest in longevity. It is kind of like quality on cars before the 1970s,quality simply wasn't a selling point and the car makers made little effort in that regards. If the train manufacturers used the quality control they use on cars and such, rather than the kind they use on mass consumer goods, you wouldn't need to fix or repair them. 

 

 

 

The person who dies with the best toys dies a happy person

Wasn't it in the fifties that the phrase "Never buy a car made on a Monday or a Friday" turned up?  So much for fondly remembered US made quality.

What about "planned obsolescence?"  Oy.

Many of us tend to see the past through rose colored glasses.  "The older I get the better I was."  But it ain't necessarily so.  I can never be a kid again but I can at least pretend to be one.

My trains are strictly nostalgia items, nothing more, nothing less.  I even run my HO and N on conventional DC.  However, I am delighted that so many folks can find so much pleasure in today's trains and methods of operation.

Pete

 

I would strongly argue that postwar incarnation of Lionel had no intention of having their stuff last for decades and decades. It wasn't about quality or pride or workmanship, it was about the design and manufacturing methods of the times and the byproduct was stuff that lasted for decades and decades. This can be seen in other industries of the era, such as firearms.

If Lionel had access to cheap DC motors, cheap electronics and cheap/modern tooling design, they most certainly would have used all that circa 1950. And really, as design and manufacturing advanced in the postwar era, some of that stuff did creep in, esp. as financial and competitive pressures mounted - simply look at the decline of the NW2 switcher - IMO the first generation of the late '40s is one of the best runners of the era but by the third gen of the '60s it was little more than a stamped tissue box, and some stuff was even worse - I have a 1647 Military set c. 1962 and it almost embarrassingly cheap (still one of my favorites though - I love it).

That all said, I run all postwar, and dabble in more modern conventional stuff, for "quality" reasons. I've used modern DCS stuff, and though interesting, I just get no joy out of sounds or remote control, let alone the reliability problems.

For that time period, Lionel was not the low price toy train maker.  They were more to the top end. If you look at their trains and accessories and put them in the context of that period their products were well thought out and designed.  For them and others, die casting was a big step up as was their use of Bakelite.

Jim is right about that, as has been talked about ad nauseum on here, Lionel for the most part was not a low cost product, it was why buying a train set, or even having a decent layout, was a big deal, often accrued over the years. The other thing to think about is that when Lionel did produce lower cost items, they often were not the same quality, the scout set engines come to mind (yes, I know, there are ones still running 60 years later), other items of the low cost line likely have not lasted the way the typical items did. One of the reasons Lionel could produce what they did the way they did was they had high profit margins and more importantly, had large enough production runs that the fixed costs of production were minimalized, so they could afford to use die cast components, heavy duty motors and the like, or produce the gee whiz accessories they did. It is not coincidence that once Lionel faced declining sales and was trying to squeeze every dime out of the company that the quality went downhill, you saw cheap plastics used, and more importantly, when units were in continuous production, you saw them using the same old dies and such, rather than replacing them, and that caused for a lot of substandard product being put out.


lionel is not a cheap unit today, and I think some of the reaction to modern units is you buy something that costs upwards of a thousand bucks or more, and you have no expectation that it will perform well out of the box or more importantly, will work in a couple of years, or at least that is the perception of the way these units are. I often wonder when Lionel introduced the 700E at the price it was at, and what they thought if/when issues hit it (and I have seen stories written that said it wasn't necessarily the most reliable unit out there). 

 

 

 

The person who dies with the best toys dies a happy person

I always wonder about how the trains were "played" with because they were an expensive toy in the postwar period. Wonder how many of us have 726's that were only brought  out at Christmas then packed away, compared to a scout set that was played with year round. Perhaps the quality we see today is because an awful lot of this stuff is really almost new? 

My two brothers had a train layout that came out with the trains for about three weeks at Christmas. We ran them everyday during that time. Then the trains were put away. I had two layouts that were up year round so they received more use. When I bought trains back in the 1950s , I don't recall ever having to take something back because there was a problem with it. Everything worked right out of the box. Today I have some prewar trains that do run from time to time on the layout. Other than sometimes temperamental E units in some cases , these trains still run . I have 249s , 260s, 263s with the original lamps that still work.These locomotives all have run time from me as well as their previous owners and still run well with a little lube here and there . At 80 years of age, I think that is pretty interesting for product longevity.

I also have an American made Zenith TV from 1976 that still functions very well. A couple of years back when cable vision went digital their tech came to install converter boxes for that set. He was amazed because the TV was older than him. What was even more interesting was that the cable vision remote searched for the codes and found them so that the one remote works the TV, adjusting sound level as well as changing channels.

They just don't make them like that anymore. 

LIRR Steamer

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