Since I see a few threads pop up on MPC and Postwar Lionel favorites, I wanted to do this post to focus on an old favorite from the Richard Kughn/Lionel Trains Inc. era.
When people think of the LTI era, they tend to think of products like the fabulous scale Hudson reissue, the return of the B-6, and scale offerings like the T-1 and S-2 Turbine.
While all those products were wonderful, my favorite overall locomotive from that era is the 6-18018 Southern Mikado, from 1992. This product doesn't seem to get the recognition it deserves. I mean, I only found one review on it when it first came out, and definitely doesn't get recognized as a Lionel like the T-1 and Turbine. To me, it's definitely one of Lionel's most beautiful pieces made during the era. The green, gold and silver paint scheme is gorgeous, it has wonderful detailing, and, well let me explain via photos below:
I'm a huge fan of the Mikados in general, and the #4501 is one of my dear favorites, which just recently went back in excursion service, albeit in her older black freight scheme. This was Lionel's second time modeling that engine (the first in 1983), and believe it or not is the most accurate model of #4501 they've done. Yes, the current Lionel Legacy model used the older K-Line tooling, but if you look carefully at it, it doesn't bear as much resemblance in its body shape compared to the 1992 version!
The 6-18018 model was one of the last three new designs Mike Wolf produced for Lionel in their partnership with Samhongsa. The other model was the ALCO PA-1's and the Shay. Interestingly enough, this was Lionel's first big steam locomotive to have a maintenance free Pittman can motor! All the other previous LTI collector line steam engines had the older AC Pullmor motor. This allowed the engine to run for longer periods of time, pull heavier trains, and be able to run slower, smoother, and quieter. It indeed is one of my best performing conventional engines.
Some excellent decorative details include a very thin ladder assembly on the back of the tender, and a well molded back up light housing with LED. Also note the coupler lift assembly on the back - something else that Lionel first put on this engine! Something else I should point out is that this was the only Mikado Lionel made with this tooling that had 4 wheel trucks. All later models using this tooling had 6 wheel trucks.
Also note the real coal load in the tender. Now this wasn't the first Lionel engine to have it, the 18010 Turbine was, but it showed Lionel would resume adding this excellent detail it in its upper quality products for years to come.
At the front is a nicely detailed coupler lift assembly, which is chrome plated. Please note the safety tread on the pilot as well - yet another first for a Lionel steam engine!
At the boiler front, the #4501 makes a lasting impression, with its highly detailed headlight, brightly colored number board, and red classification lights. Technically, this was the first Lionel engine with illuminated classification lights, and it really makes for a wonderful sight when in operation.
Something that was a trademark of Lionel collector steamers from that time, and something that has resumed today, is the opening boiler front. Not only is it realistic, but it makes it easy to replace the headlight bulb.
Another trademark of LTI collector steamers was that the linkage and driver rims were steel and chrome plated. It doesn't look very realistic, but it does give the engines a very classy look in my opinion. For the #4501, Lionel put traction tires on the first and last two drivers, which explains its excellent pulling power.
Something we may take for granted today is the wireless drawbar between the engine and tender on current Legacy locomotives. Considering this engine was made in Samhongsa, it explains why the wire assembly looks a lot like the ones on MTH steam engines. That wire that allows the engine to communicate with the tender is notably important on the #4501 since the electronic QSI reverse unit is housed in the tender, along with Lionel's first generation of RailSounds 1.0. Sure it sounds primitive by today's standards, but for me it's great nostalgia.
Something that people tend to neglect is the brass whistle part on this engine. This can be easily broken if you're not careful!
One more thing that Lionel was doing at the time was making the cabs of steam locomotives more detailed, rather than exposing the motor guts. Though this wasn't the first Lionel steamer with a detailed scale cab or firebox glow, it was the first to have engineer and fireman figures.
I hope you all enjoyed my look back on this somewhat forgotten Lionel product, which I feel deserves a little more attention like its fellow LTI big steam engines.