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GUEST BLOGGER Carmine Piecora - My Favorite F3

The following guest post was submitted by Carmine Piecora.

I guess Lionel trains have been in my consciousness since the age of four when my parents gave me a Lionel train set for Christmas in 1958.  I can’t really remember that Christmas morning too well, but I’ve had that same cherished New Haven F3 train set in my possession ever since.    

There were so many classic Lionel engines, especially the F3 diesel engine, produced in the postwar era.  The F3 was produced in many memorable road names, most notably the Santa Fe War Bonnet, is etched into the mind of anyone who holds nostalgic thoughts about the 50’s. When I picture this locomotive in my mind it conjures up memories of things like ‘57 Chevys, Elvis, black and white TV and Rock and Roll. It is yet another 1950’s icon that has become legend in the mind of baby boomers. 

Lionel copied the new EMD diesel prototype paint schemes of the Santa Fe, Rio Grande, New York Central and the Southern, among others, in this time period.  All of these are beautiful close to scale replicas and are highly prized by collectors today because of their realism and attractive paint schemes.  It is so hard to choose a favorite.

My favorite F3 engine, though, became the New Haven F3 in that crazy checkerboard paint job.  It was produced almost 10 years later than the first F3 diesels by Lionel.  I thought the combination of silver, and white combined with orange and black rectangles was just fabulous. This color scheme was nicknamed the "checkerboard" by collectors.   Of all the beautiful F3 paint schemes ever conceived by Lionel, this was to me was the most extraordinary.  I was just enamored by the color flow of the locomotive and the matching B-unit with their little checkerboard patterned colors. 

I remember many great afternoons playing with this locomotive on a 4X8 board my dad built for my baby brother and I in the basement of our Long Island home.  My brother and I also were given another Lionel train set a few years later by my Uncle Dom, which had belonged to my older cousin.  This #xxxx set came with a great Milwaukee Road 2338 GP7 engine in bright orange and black paint scheme.  I loved seeing those two colorful locomotives flashing around those new plastic Super O curves and watched endlessly. 

The trains remained set up in our basement and continued to be used often. I never really lost interest in them.  My brother and I played continually with both trains and Matchbox cars, often combining them on the train table for years afterward.

As I grew into a pre-teen, I never saw too many other Lionel trains at friend’s houses anymore.  It seemed that my friends were now playing with HO trains, Aurora racetracks or slot cars.  I had Aurora cars too, but they never seemed to run right for me and my Dad spent hours cleaning tracks to get them to go. I was also a big car guy from the age of three and still am today, yet those trains always fascinated me more at play time.  I always insisted that my old Lionels were better than any tiny HO locomotive. 

Living on Long Island, there was only the Long Island Railroad in our immediate area, which only passed through neighboring towns, but not ours.  These were electric passenger trains and we never saw any freight trains. So, I guess most of my fascination with trains came from Lionel from the start, but my interests broadened. My brother and I later became interested in N scale trains, as they were something new at the time.  By this time, I was older and in college and working part-time in a department store with a large toy department.  They sold Lionel trains, but only starter sets at Christmas time, but had a large selection of N Gauge trains.  I soon began purchasing them regularly for my brother at discounted prices.  My brother had quite a collection by the time I left that job, but that is another story.

Anyway, like I said, I never would part with my F3.  Now that I am married to an understanding woman who doesn’t mind my renewed obsession with trains, and my son is five years old, I again play trains with him now.  I have purchased many modern era trains for him to play with.  He is also very fond of Thomas the Tank Engine, and our family has attended a Thomas event where we rode in a train pulled by a life-size Thomas engine.   

I have rediscovered model trains again and I am so happy I still have my childhood trains.  I realized that my New Haven locomotive is quite rare and has become valuable too   I also discovered, disappointingly, that the prototype New Haven F3 never actually was lucky enough to flaunt the bold checkerboard pattern.  Lionel appropriated the paint scheme from a newer prototype small engine that was due to be released in the late fifties.  I guess the assumption was the flamboyant paint would sell better than the standard striped pattern used on other New Haven engines like the EP-5.   The 2242 F3 engine certainly was exciting and best of all it had great pulling power compared to other engines. I raced it mercilessly, powered by the famous ZW postwar transformer which my Dad bought with the set.

  The New Haven F3 was only included in one Lionel set in 1958 and one set in 1959, therefore quite unusual.  The #5555 set was released in 1958 as an AB set and a Dummy AA unit was not available.  In 1978 the New Haven F-3 was reissued, this time as an AA unit.   The 1958 set I own is a Super O set complete with Super O track. Super O was in its second year then.  Fortunately, the engine would fit on 027 tracks as well, which I often used.   The set was marketed as a Super O set, even though the F-3 engine contained only one motor, unlike F3s in previous years.  It did have the Magnetraction feature though.

The 1958 set model #2507W had the following pieces included:
2242 A     New Haven F3 Locomotive A Unit
2242 B     New Haven F3 B Unit
3444        Animated operating Erie Gondola with cop and hobo figures
6464-425 New Haven Box Car
6468-25   New Haven double door Automobile Car
6424        Lionel Lines Flat Car with Automobiles
6357        Lionel Lines Caboose
       Circle of Super O track with uncoupler track

This set did not include a transformer, as most Super O sets did not include a transformer. This set included two New Haven cars, which was unusual for Lionel. Usually the train cars included in sets at this point did not match the road name of the Locomotive.  The first car was the 6468-25 double door Automobile box car in orange with black doors.  This was similar to the 6468 Automobile box car issued in 1953 in blue.  The second New Haven car was the 6464-425 New Haven box car in black with orange doors which was one of the collectable 6464 series box cars.  The next car was the Lionel Lines 6424-25 flat car with automobiles. This was a favorite of mine because of the brightly colored plastic automobiles it carried that resembled 1955 Fords. 

Most Super O sets of the era contained an operating car or two.  The 2507W set only had one operating car, the 3444 Animated Gondola Car. This car is a perennial favorite of train collectors because a motor drives plastic cop and robber figures with a thin band of film underneath and causes the cop to chase the hobo round and round a stack of crates. It continues moving while the train is stopped and is amusing to watch.  Later versions of this car did not have the motor and have gearing tied to the movement of the wheels in order to operate.

At the end of the consist was the 6357 Tuscan illuminated caboose which carried the Lionel Lines road name.  The complete consist rattling by was an attractive blend of intense colors and movement that will never be forgotten by me.  Although Lionel produced many other fine sets that I crave to own, this one will always be my favorite, for it was my first.       


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