Reproduced courtesy of the author and the Nor-Cal TCA Web Site with special thanks to Richard White.
Through the years I developed a particular fondness for a unique O Gauge tinplate set: Lionel - IVES No. 1694 and accompanying cars, Nos. l695-1697 (Set No. 1616), made only in 1932. I saw a few Williams Reproductions sets, but I also wanted sounds. Recently an original 1932 boxed set sorely tempted me at York. But its $10,000 price would have taken a severe toll the moment that my beautiful and charming wife, Beverly, asked "Well, what did you get THIS time?" Fortunately, among the attractions of York was Mike Wolf, who listened patiently while I entreated him to add that set to his firm's Tinplate Traditions! He told me to keep reading his catalogs. Imagine my excitement when No. 1616 graced its pages!
I ordered a beige and maroon, brass trim contemporary version from Glenn Frantz, who had revived a grand tradition by selling trains in Fryer's 5 & 10 in Orwigsburg, Pa. When I picked up the set he invited me to run it on the upstairs layout at the Northern Berks-Southern Schuylkill Historical Association museum at Port Clinton. I eagerly agreed, because one of the operators was Luke, Train Doctor on OGR On-Line Forum. He could handle any electronic shenanigans. Another handyman was Marv Moyer, who treated mechanical matters as expertly as Luke returned stray electrons to their courses. Other operators worked for the (full-size) Reading, Blue Mountain & Northern railroads ("Serving our Customers and the Environment.") They are first-class railroaders with high standards.
After unpacking, lubricating, setting up, and tackling Caruso "automatic" (latch) couplers, I set my train on the outside track. Luke invited me to crawl underneath and open the right handle on the second MTH Z-4000. I had replaced the Proto-2 battery with a BCR-2 to eliminate low battery issues (www.jandwelectronics.com). Watching the AMP reading for any jump above 1.1 that would reveal a short circuit, I slowly turned the handle to 10 volts. Gradually the headlight lit and the sounds came on. After waiting 1 minute, I turned the voltage off and on. My 1694 set started rolling forward. I blew the horn and rang the bell. I was having a great time.
I was impressed with how long and sleek the set looked next to modern "0" gauge trains. I didn't notice any exaggerated features or drastic compression that usually characterized tinplate. I photographed a meet with a new MTH Reading T-1, No. 2102 in her Iron Horse Rambles paint scheme (see photo below). We also posed the set by the engine house, at a tunnel portal, and in the station.
After a while, Luke gave me a DCS controller and told me to have some fun. The set ran like a Hamilton watch. Everyone was surprised at modern sounds, including cab chatter and passenger station sounds. Luke took a turn and said with a smile, "It even has a grade crossing sequence." The only glitch we noticed was a wobbly left rear wheel on the front pilot truck. It didn't interfere with operation or derail, negotiating GarGraves switches with ease. We thought it was a bent axle. But when we turned the engine over we saw that the wheel hadn't been pressed on the axle properly. Well, Marv Moyer could fix that.
My MTH IVES No. 1694 set passed muster with expert operators, masters of toy trains and real trains. Incidentally, MTH had equipped each car with two pickups. Originals and Williams cars had just one. Additionally, MTH improved the method of attaching the loco body to the frame. The original and Williams locos made the connection with tabs, which could only survive a couple separations of body and frame. MTH replaced the tabs with screws. I discovered that when I replaced the rechargeable batteries with a BCR-2. There is a horizontal lip around the bottom of the cab that faces inward. Screws (six, I think) fit through the frame and into the lip. They are underneath the frame and can't be seen unless the locomotive is turned upside down. Proto-2 wires are routed on the left side. It was tough getting the body off and then back on without pinching them or cutting into their insulation. My wife, Beverly, offered to help. Between the two of us, we did it.
The history of the Lionel/IVES No. 1616 set is intriguing. In
1932, Lionel, by then sole owner of the IVES Corporation, introduced a beautiful
IVES set headed by a 4-4-4 (2-B-2) electric locomotive (#1694) and three matching
cars: Baggage (1696), Pullman (1695), and Observation (1697). The cars were
also available in an uncataloged IVES set (1616X) headed by an IVES 258 2-4-0.
According to McComas and Tuohy, from 1933 through 1937 these cars were sold
only in uncataloged sets, usually "Department Store Specials." In
1933 their IVES LINES decals were replaced by rubber-stamped LIONEL LINES and
new rubber-stamped numbers: 1685-6-7. In 1934 they were painted dark red with
maroon roofs and underframes. Some nickel trim replaced brass. In 1935, Pullmans
and observation cars were painted darker red. Three-car sets had baggage cars
painted the previous color, probably leftovers. All three cars were also painted
blue with silver roofs and underframes, as well as black lettering and numbers
in the same typeface as the Union Pacific streamliner. In 1936 and 1937, Pullmans
and observation cars were painted vermilion, a lighter shade of red. Apparently
no baggage cars were painted that color, because 3-car sets had two Pullmans.
Heading these sets were Lionel 259E, 261E, 262E, 265E, 249E, or 263E.
After World War II, in the postwar years, collectors discovered
that 1616 sets had vanished into thin air. So few turned up that Jerome Williams
manufactured an unpowered version of No. 1694 as the first product of Williams
Reproductions in 1972. He promptly sold out, and his 35-year career in toy trains
began. In 1978, he offered 3-car sets: 300 IVES beige and maroon; 100 dark red
and maroon; and 100 blue and silver. Customers could order 4-wheel or 6-wheel
trucks on Lionel Lines cars, though slim evidence favors 4-wheel trucks as original.
Williams also sold a second run of 1694's, including 25 in each of the latter
Lionel Lines paint schemes. The 2008 MTH Tinplate Traditions catalog
lists 1616 sets in all three colors with 6-wheel trucks.
McComas and Tuohy posit that the 1616 sets "did not sell well in the difficult depression year of 1932" and they were closed out (blown out) "in Canada and Great Britain and other foreign markets" (p. 39). In e-Train, TCA's internet magazine, author Dave McEntarfer delves into Lionel's Export Sales: "So that's where they all went!" Mr. McEntarfer discovered that almost all rare Lionel/IVES sets from 1931-1932 were obtained from owners outside the United States. After acquiring his first 1694 in Canada and finding another that had come from Mexico, he wrote to Louis Hertz, who replied in "great detail" that Lionel had decided to drop the IVES name gradually "and dump the balance of their inventory overseas" via Lionel's Export Department. Mr. McEntarfer includes a photo of an original 1616 export set and another of its box, numbered 3016 and sporting a label from 1935. He concludes, "Lionel still had a substantial inventory of all IVES trains as late as 1935 and was selling them in their boxes with the IVES name still on the trains. The instruction book that came with this set states that it is for use with Lionel and IVES equipment."
I have heard that No. 1694 was based on a New Haven prototype, but I have no details or evidence to support this. Doing research, I found a page on the Internet that presented a wide variety of photos of New Haven electric locomotives: www.northeast.railfan.net/electric11.html. Based on those photos, I suggest that No. 1694 comprised details of several New Haven box cab electrics as well as a hint of a Pennsylvania Railroad DD-1, the jackshaft "juice jack" in the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania at Strasburg. I also saw some similarity with an American Flyer MAYFLOWER, though that may be a stretch. I agree with McComas and Tuohy that it is strange that Lionel apparently made those cars through 1937 in several variations but sold them only in uncataloged sets. No. 1694 would also have looked good in different colors and lettering, as MTH versions demonstrate. I suppose that can also be said of Lionel's Standard Gauge counterpart of No. 1694 (No. 1764) and matching cars. This is certainly food for thought.
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