One Man's Junk
Steven M. Bivens

Collectors dream about it. Operators covet it. Paper. Endless reams of original instruction sheets, parts lists, drawings, and various “how-to’s.” Recently, at a small Indiana train auction, my collecting and operating fantasies became a reality. But strangely, it didn't exactly start out that way; it almost began as a nightmare.

First Choice

I found the 259 tender box buried in a large cardboard carton, mixed recklessly with countless other pre and postwar component containers. I had to have it. Rationalizing its purchase, I quickly decided that fifty dollars would be my limit. After all, I reasoned, it is the only box that I need to complete a near mint 259 Lionel boxed set. I’ll just simply explain to my wife that I’ll get rid of the other cartons “just as soon as I can.” But before the auctioneer held up the box of boxes, his assistant disgustingly suggested: “Let’s throw this box of stuff in with it.” “Oh no,” I thought. “I don’t want that box of junk. It must weigh 30 pounds.” Well, you guessed it. After a feverish thirty seconds of bidding, I was out thirty-five bucks, owned a box of boxes, and another box of...I didn’t even know.

About three weeks later, during a lazy Saturday afternoon, I pulled out the box of “junk” from the bedroom closet and began to glance through it. Interestingly, I had just finished reading a recent article on American Model Toys and then I saw it - an original instruction sheet for AMT’s automatic couplers. It was at that point I decided to investigate the box of “junk” just a little more closely.

Stumbling through the contents, I was amazed. Not only were there original instruction sheets and parts lists for AMT, but also a wealth of original material on Varney Trains and General Models Corporation from the 40’ and 50’s. I investigated further - “00” scale Kemtron, Mantua, Thomas “O” gauge, Athearn from the 60’s, Central Valley, Lindsay, Miller “S” gauge, Pioneer, Perma-Built - the manufacturers went on and on!

General Models Corporation

One of the first pieces of “junk” that I discovered was GMC’s instruction sheets for the assembly of an “O” gauge Atlantic locomotive. Consisting of six detailed pages, the booklet not only contained a parts list dated February 15, 1948, but also warned potential modelers not to buy the kit unless they “...could drill and tap a hole.” Although I already felt overwhelmed, relentlessly, I read on.

I soon discovered that a virtual warehouse of tools was necessary to build the brass beauty: a 200 watt soldering iron, two #5-40 and two #5-56 taps, a jewelers eight inch saw blade, a center punch, a two ounce ball peen hammer, an eight ounce ball peen hammer, various files, a pair of needle nose pliers, a pair of six inch diagonal cutters, a pair of tweezers, and assorted screwdrivers.

Reading further, I realized that the actual construction techniques for the model were exceptionally difficult. For instance:

MAIN DRIVER: Insert the main crank pin, item #40, Part #1531, into the tapered hole on the front of the un insulated wheel, item #27, Part #1579. Run the nut, item #39, Part #1278, on the pin from the back loosely. Now line the hole in the crank pin so that when a straight pin is put through the hole, it would point clockwise down from the right side of the counter weight; then tighten the nut.

At that point, I began to feel like a nut. Fortunately, just before I drifted into insanity, I was spared. According to the directions, the locomotive, which came insulated for two-rail operation, was equipped with a Pittman D.C. motor. However, operators could convert the locomotive to A.C. operation be exchanging the D.C. unit with the manufacturer. Fifty cents was requested to cover postage and handling. This was about the only thing I could understand. I quickly proceeded to the next set of “junk.”

American Model Trains

Also included in the stacks of paper was an instruction sheet that detailed the installation of AMT’s automatic couplers. Designed for the 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, and 5000 series cars built from 1948 - 1951, the directions informed modelers the trucks should not be attached too tightly due to the fact that the trucks must “rock” or otherwise the cars would derail on curves. “Please define tight,” I mused, envisioning myself breaking the last AMT fastener known to man.

Outlined on three other pages, numerous passenger and freight cars as well as replacement parts were listed. For example, the H-008 four door baggage car, the H-007 combination or crew car, and the H-005 observation car could be ordered for $6.95 in kit form or $7.95 finished. A.A.R. type 8000 series boxcars such as the 8001 Southern could be purchased for $5.95. Additionally, three 9000 series boxcars, the 9001 New York Central, the 9002 Pennsylvania, and the 9003 Baltimore & Ohio could be ordered for $6.95. Various parts, including HO-19 marker lights, H003-B dining car extrusions, 101 freight trucks, 103 box car floors and a pair of 109 Liftamatic couplers could be purchased for $.20, $1.75, $1.60, $.80 and $.90 respectively. Further, AMT suggested that modelers who were interested in purchasing “tail signs” for observation cars should contact Virden Mfg. Co., 4124 W. 69th St., Mission, Kansas.


In addition to the GMC and AMT material, I also discovered a minute sampling of Kemtron literature. Among the small amount was assemble instructions for a C-16 Consolidation. Originally, the kit sold for $97.50. It could have been purchased in three distinct versions however: superstructure kit - $38.50, mechanism kit - $25.75, and lastly, the tender kit, which included the motor - $24.95.

Amusingly, despite the above, the instruction sheets recommended that prospective modelers could, upon assembling, exert “...some pretty broad liberties and still be within the realm of a prototype locomotive.” (It was at that exact moment that I wondered if my “broad liberties” would have fit their definition.) Regardless, the directions assured modelers of ease in construction: “Have no fear to bend or straighten brass castings. The won’t break like zamac.” “Yeah. Right.” I smiled and took another alka seltzer.

Nevertheless, perhaps more intriguing than the above, is Kemtrons’ instruction sheets and subsequent parts list of its “00” gauge GP-7. Introduced as “ test to see if limited production OO scale is feasible,” the sheets humorously warned: “NOTE: An error was made on the above model. Fuel and air tanks were transposed.” (If it were mine, I would have labeled it “experimental,” prototype, and something of that nature. I never would have admitted the error.) Interestingly, the kit was priced at $27.50 soldered, $20.00 un soldered. Apparently, the price included the blinding error.

Thomas “O” Gauge

Do you like Lionel’s General? Then look no further than Thomas - no, not the smiling, blinking version of contemporary fame, but Thomas “O” gauge. According to an advertisement contained in the now illustrious “box of junk,” the Shawnee Express, priced at $29.95, a 15½ inch scale model, boasted brass trim, a worm drive Pittman motor, and was finished in a striking combination of black, red, and green. Undoubtedly, the fully assembled locomotive and tender looked exceptionally glamorous teamed up the Thomas’s “O” rolling stock such as the 7½ inch TP 1000 tinplate flatcar or the scale wood-sided TP 1007 Wabash and Frisco gondolas. Priced at less than $6.00 each, any modeler, collector, or operator would have to search for quite some time to discover anything similar.

Passenger cars? Thomas had them too. Constructed of sheet steel and priced at $5.50, the Pioneer line offered a coach, the TP 1002, a combine, the TP-1005, and a baggage car, the TP 1004. Each came in three exciting color combinations: yellow body, red trucks and roof, green body, red trucks and roof, or red body, green trucks and roof. Interestingly, the coach and the combine featured removable roofs for adding detail to the interior.


Thirty year old Athearn instructions and order blanks were abundant. Suddenly, I felt a massive urge to fill out several, mail them, call the factory, and claim that the orders must have been lost in transit several years ago. Augmenting my madness, I reasoned that my argument was indeed valid and that the orders should be processed regardless. My wife promptly dismissed my lunacy and advised that it wouldn't work; further, she said that it was silly to dream of such things. never know...

Nevertheless, numerous Athearn instruction sheets, parts lists, and purchase orders stared at me from the box of “junk.” There was even an undated message from old Irv himself: “In view of the fact that this kit is totally different in construction from any product that we have ever produced to date, we shall appreciate your comments, both pro and con.” “Send more! Send more!” I shouted.

As I fumbled through the remaining pages, I discovered not one, but two instruction sheets, dated February, 1960, for the “Little Monster.” (No, not the neighborhood kid whom you despise, but Athearn’s 0-4-2T locomotive.)

I pulled more and more antiquated directions for assembly from the box - a dateless 0-6-0 switcher, a 4-6-2 Pacitic, GP-35’s, F-7’s, GP-30’s, and GP-9’s, all dated August, 1966. My initial expenditure of thirty-five dollars was beginning to mushroom - I’ll need to purchase page protectors.


Live a prized swine, I rooted deeper. I could not believe it. A complete Mantua-Tyco Service Station manual dozed near the bottom of the box. Countless amounts of literature, some dating to the early 50’s, filled a stained three ring binder. Replacement parts and diagrams for Atlantics and Pacifics dated March, 1952, Mikados, Goats and Moguls dated March, 1956, rolling stock such as the 509 caboose, the 511 box car, and the 313 refrigerator car dated July, 1958 awoke from their slumber as I turned page after page. A Mantua-Gram dated December 6, 1957 boasted that “effective January 1, 1958 all Mantua car kits will be packed with the Tyco-type N.M.R.A. couplers...” John N. Tyler, Mantua’s President crowed: “Notice of this feature will be advertised in Craft Model and Hobby ... January 1st issue. In the Model Railroader ... February issue.” In addition to the above, factory repair policies commanded service stations “ never allow discounts to any organization or individual” and further, promised to “...restrict...franchises so that the Authorized Service Stations do not conflict with one another.” I just had to get through the remainder before bed.


Two rather large copies of Varney blueprints, dated January 6, 1947, featuring a 4-6-2 Pacific were folded carefully. A similarly sized “Casey Jones” 10-wheeler followed. Yard diesels, 32 foot tenders, and dummy “B” units were scattered throughout the mess. I was amazed at the crispness of several of the obsolete sheets - most were preserved well.

Interestingly, a May, 1947 price list topped the inventory of Varney pulp. A #1913-K-4 kit could be purchased of $27.50. However, executives warned:

Remember that although the mechanism is “ready-to-run,” as soon as the wheels are attached, this kit requires some mechanical gumption to make a good locomotive model. If you are new at the game, READ THE INSTRUCTIONS, because an otherwise good kit can be made into junk in iig time. Be careful, take your time, and you will come up with a dandy. This locomotive is a brute for power, and a smooth performing beauty when completed.

Once again, I began to feel like a “dummy unit,” but not the one alluded to earlier.

The Best of the Rest

I plodded on, weary, but determined. A chorus of paper still danced before me. Dated January 7, 1960, a letter simply addressed to “Gentlemen” from G & G Hobby Supply, San Dimas, California advised that the company had purchased “...the Silver Streak line...from Tru-scale Models and the HO metal line from Athearn.” Central Valley’s 1950 literature warned that their kits were not “pushovers.” Enhorning’s 1952 “S” gauge diesels came equipped with “O” gauge motors. The construction of a Lindsay Alco diesel consumed four pages of a 1952 instruction booklet. Advertisement for forty year old switch motors and magnetic rail spikers pranced aimlessly in the bottom of the box. A Miller “S” gauge switcher could be completed by anyone in 1½ to 2 hours. Pioneer’s December 1, 1952 magnetic switch controls were detailed handsomely in a four page pamphlet. Perma-Bilt provided both “S” and “O” gauge freight cars; each of the cars was available with Gilbert or Lionel couplers.

Oh Well

I was exhausted. Thousands of words raced through my mind. The box of “junk” was junk no longer - it had become a treasure chest. If only I could find some of this stuff. But where is it at? I know I’ll probably never see most of it, but on the other hand, at least I have the paper. Well, I guest that just about does it. Oh, I almost forgot. The empty 259 box - it is packed away with the set; the forgotten box of boxes - I’ll get right of it “just as soon as I can.”!

 Back to Articles

Submitted 11/11/98