Heritage Model Trains Article

Lionel: Big Name in Model Trains


It was the year 1969 when the bankrupt Lionel Corporation licensed the Lionel name to General Mills. But the big name was carried on as a subsidiary of General Mills’ Model Products Corporation. They did not, however buy the company. The Lionel Corporation became a holding company and invested in numerous ventures including what became known as “Lionel Leisure World” all over the East Coast.


It wasn’t long before GM’s cost-cutting measures affected the Lionel-branded toys – while the trains returned to profitability, it was at times, at the expense of quality. Detail was often sacrificed and most of the remaining parts were made with molded plastic.


In 1982 General Mills’ ill-fated move of train production left the United States and moved to Mexico. There were many angry Lionel fans simply because losing a product made in the US for 80 years and the belief that it would never be made with the same quality. Within two years, it was returned to the US in a Michigan town.


Typical Lionel Christmas Village Scene


Popular train sets that Lionel makes are the Conrail diesel freight train and the Pennsylvania Super Steam Freight train sets. These sets come with track and can include transformer, engine and several cars at a higher cost.


Lionel likes to make their sets based on movies and television. A good example of this is their Lionel Polar Express based on the movie and sold frequently at Christmas for around the tree. Then in the O gauge sets, they have the Berkshire steam engine where two passenger cars light up and show actual scenes from the movie.


Add to this the smoke features and a battery operated transformer. The train station and track come with the set – as well as numerous accessories based on the movie like extra rail cars.


The Lionel Christmas trains include the Holiday Tradition Express, and this comes with the engine and several cars. It actually plays Christmas carols while it travels along the track. Decorated in the colors of the holiday you can add additional cars and track for extra fun during the Christmas day.


One of the features I like about Lionel is the fact that they make models for the fussy collector, but also for the kids (big and small) that just want to play. These trains of course, take a lot of handling but as a gift to a young boy or girl, you can find buildings, landscape materials, lighting, and lots more as additional gifts for years to come.


With the Internet you have unlimited choices of possible accessories for your Lionel sets. As with everything online – shop ‘til you drop.


All Aboard……



Esther Smith, author

Heritage Model Trains