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Help identifying pre war army train...

7891 Views 45 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  tjcruiser
Hello all, I am new here and I do not have a huge collection but have inherited my grandfathers Lionel "army" train set from when he was a child. I am guessing pre war but can not find any information on this set. Can anyone tell me a model number or where to even start with this set please? Should I try and restore it, sell it, keep it? I have the transformer and original 0 gauge track with it as well. The bottom half of the box was destroyed but have the top half as pictured. TIA :thumbsup:

- Ryan
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I'm just chiming in now, as my heart had stopped, and I had to use a defibrillator to jump-start it back up again ... Wow ... you have quite the treasure.

All great comments from our forum guys above. I'll add a few more points ...

1. The tank/loco is Lionel #203, is suspect Type 1 from 1917. Type 1 was olive (as yours) and had "Lionel Manufacturing Company" on the bottom tag (as yours). Type 2 were battleship grey, and Type 3 (1918 through 1921) were grey with a "Lionel Corporation" tag. Your #203 Type 1 is very rare, indeed, with no price reference in the Lionel guides.

2. The #203 was teamed up with a pair (2) of the #900 Ammunition Boxcars to constitute freight set #214, which I believe is what you have, circa 1917 or 1918. The ammo boxcars were grey (rather than olive), I think confirmed by your first photo.

3. As side notes ...

a. The #200 ammo cars appear to be similar in form to the #800 boxcars, with the #900 being much more rare.

b. The #203 loco/tank was also sold as set #215, which included a pair of baggage cars (#702), rather than the ammo cars.

4. Re: paint and finish. Absolutely do NOT attempt to strip off any paint, rust, etc. Leave as original an untouched as possible.

5. Reck has a good point about the risk of moisture in plastic bags. I've wrapped a couple of old trains I have loosely in cotton micro-fiber towels, then placed them in a rubbermaid-type bin, along with some silica gel.

6. As you begin to contact reputable Lionel dealers, etc., make sure that they are TCA certified (Train Collector's Association), or can give you good reason as to why they are not.

7. You might want to contact the National Toy Train Museum to ask their advice on what to do next -- whether you consider preservation or eventual sale.

Thanks for sharing this fabulous set, and please keep us posted on your thoughts.


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A bit more ...

Remember that the US was in the midst of WWI in 1917, and Lionel was busy making military equipment, rather than a full focus on trains.

Click the links below to read a bit of the history going into your tank set ...

See top-right of Page 32 and photo on Page 33

also ...

For your understanding in the first link, "Cohen" (or sometimes "Cowen") is Joshua Lionel Cohen, the founder of Lionel.

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Should I contact someone at Lionel as I don't just want this going to some train shop
That's a good question. Normally, (present day) Lionel doesn't get involved in collector issues (restoration, appraisals, etc.). But this tank/loco is so rare, that they might have some interest in steering you in a suitable / ethical direction. Give 'em a shot, perhaps.

Do follow through with the TCA and the National Toy Train Museum ... I think they'd offer ethical advice, too.

Maybe your bride-to-be would love to have a little old tank as a wedding gift ?!?:laugh:

I'm sure she'd love an old tank loco as a wedding present haha that might just pay for the divorce that would soon follow lol
With an item this rare, you may find that past sales may or may not be reflective of today's achieve sale value. The economy is cyclical (as we all know with the state of affairs today!), and so is the train collectors market. Speaking of which ...

Ed (or others) ... are you aware of any price-tracking benchmarks that have traced the value of model trains (in general ... not necessarily specific items) over a course of many years / decades? It'd be quite interesting to see how that trends, and if (as I would expect) the market today is dipped below a peak of some years ago.

You say "triple in value" ... likely, I'd assume ... as will anything given enough time. But one has to compare that with inflation rates, present-value costs, and the like.

For the record, Doyle's price guide did NOT list a value range for the 203 ... "too rare to predict", or something to that effect. I'd be curious to know how Greenberg determined its 203 value range.


Two 203's ... 1917 tank/loco, and 1940-ish steamer above.

Same thing with 249 ... prewar tinplate steamer, and 1958 plastic Scout type steamer.

Probably several others, too.
Per my question to Ed (and others) above, I'm wondering if the model train collector's market (dollar value) peaked a few years ago, and then has settled out, or even come down a notch as:

a) the overall economy has taken a tough turn, and

b) our older generations that compose a large percentage of collectors are sadly dying off, with their prized collections hitting the market en mass, lowering overall prices.

Just a theory, on my part, but I would welcome agreement or dispute from others.

I do think than any market lull is temporary, and that as the economy picks up, and a newer / younger generation of collectors gain interest, the overall valuations will rise.

My thoughts, anyway ...

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The original poster on this thread last posted here two years ago. I'm not sure if he's still checking in. Hopefully so ... it would be fascinating to learn more about the value of this rare Lionel set.

How did you happen to acquire your set?


Check out the Live Auctioneers past listings/auctions ...

One needs to sign up / log in to see sold prices. (I have not done that myself.)

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