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Lionel's Fairbanks-Morse Trainmaster Diesels

 

 

Lionel introduced the Fairbanks-Morse Trainmaster Diesel to the O Gauge world in 1954. Since then the FM has stood out as one of stars of Lionel's diesel fleet, heading up some of the finest train sets in Lionel history. The dual-motored FM is legendary for it's scale proportions and pulling power.

 

In this article we'll look at the 22 different FMs made by Lionel since 1954, and discuss the characteristics and rarity of each.  We also take a look at how to tell a reproduction FM from an original (see the listing for the 2341 Jersey Central for this information).

 

Lionel’s Inspiration

      

The H24-66 diesel (left) and the U.S.S. Archerfish (right) shared something in common.

(Photos courtesy of Wikipedia.org)

 

 

Fairbanks-Morse did not make its first mark with railroad locomotives, but with marine engines.  FM designed an engine known as an opposed-piston design, where the pistons and cylinders are aligned opposite of one another and connected to a common crankshaft in the middle.  FM's engines are best known for powering U.S. Navy ships, particularly US submarines during World War II.  FM's engine helped give American submariners the ability to stay on station for extended periods, which helped them to effectively destroy the Japanese freighter fleet.  This cut the supply line between the home islands of Imperial Japan and their resource base in East Asia, drastically shortening the Pacific War.

 

After the war, FM looked for another application for its engine, and entered the then-growing diesel locomotive market.  FM installed its massive engine in a diesel carbody and went head-to-head with the great locomotive makers of the time like General Motors' Electro-Motive Division (EMD).  Unfortunately for FM, the engine that sank the Japanese Merchant Marine couldn't sink EMD, and Fairbanks-Morse was out of the American locomotive business by the late 1950s.  The opposed-piston engine, while successful deep in a ship, was not as reliable when exposed to the elements in the harsher railroad world.

 

When introduced in 1953, the 2,400-horsepower FM Trainmaster was the most powerful diesel on the market.  The Trainmaster was not the only diesel FM produced, just the best-known. Its official designation was H24-66, but Lionel fans call it simply 'Trainmaster' or 'FM'.

 

About 100 actual Trainmasters were built, and the one pictured above is the last operating FM diesel in the world.

 

Lionel's Models

 

Common Characteristics

 

The insides of a typical Postwar Era FM, showing the motors, lights, E-unit, horn, and horn relay.

 

All Lionel Trainmasters have two motors, a reverse unit, lights, and Magnetraction (magnetized wheels and axles).  They have a stamped metal frame, and the fuel tank, trucks, and truck sideframes are die cast.   The bodies are plastic, and on the inside of each end of hte shell are silver reflectors to increase the brightness of the lights.

 

The two pairs of wheels closest to the center of the engine are flangeless, allowing the locomotive to negotiate O-31 curves.  FMs will not operate on O-27 track.

 

The engines from the Postwar Era (1954-66) have a battery-operated horn.  The engines made in 1979-80 had no sounds, while those made between 1981 and 1994 have electronic horns.  For those made from 1999 to today, please see the individual listings below for the features included with the engine.

 

About 99% of all Postwar FMs have cracks around the screw holes on the ends of the bodies. This was due to the frames being a fraction too short, and the problem is exacerbated by the expansion and stressing of the plastic bodies as they age over the decades.  This problem was corrected when Lionel reintroduced the Trainmaster in 1979.

 

Postwar FMs are also susceptible to battery damage caused by the D Cell battery not being removed from the engine prior to storage.  If the engine is stored wheels-down, the acid will leak onto and corrode the frame and fuel tank.  Extreme battery damage inside the engine can also destroy the e-unit and horn relay, which are positioned next to the battery inside the locomotive.  Always check a Postwar FM for battery damage prior to purchase.

 

 

 

Postwar Era FMs

 

Lionel’s first FM was catalogued in 1954, and three more models followed during the 1950s and 60s.  The last Postwar Era FM was catalogued in 1966.

 

The first--#2321 Lackawanna (1954-56)

 

 

   

 

In 1954 the FM premiered in a sharp Lackawanna paint scheme.  The engine headed a 5-car set and was also available for separate sale. 

 

Compared to other Lionel diesels of the time, the FM was big.  Lionel made the engine scale length, making it look much larger in proportion to the F3 Diesels (real F3s and FMs are about the same size).  The 2321 was produced with twin motors, a trademark of the design and one that would never change throughout the FM's production run.  It also had a battery-operated horn.  The simulated fuel tank under the frame was die cast, giving the engine additional heft.  The inner wheels on both trucks were flangeless, allowing the engine to negotiate O-31 curves despite its length.

 

So successful was this initial design that Lionel did not significantly alter the outward appearance of the Trainmaster for nearly 50 years.

 

   

 

The first 2321s were produced with maroon-painted roofs. In late 1954 or early 1955, Lionel stopped painting the roof, leaving it all gray.  Maroon roof versions are more highly sought after.

 

 

 

#2331 Virginian (1955-58)

 

 

         2331 w/Black Stripe                                      2331 w/Blue Stripe

 

Lionel introduced the FM in Virginian colors in 1955, giving it the number 2331.  Internally it is identical to the 2321. 

 

Three variations of the 2331 exist. The first models featured a black stripe and matching black roof.  In 1956 Lionel switched to a blue stripe and blue roof.  The early blue models had both the blue and yellow painted on over a gray body mold. Later blue 2331s were molded in blue, and only the yellow was painted on.  The blue models with the gray body mold are the hardest to find. 

 

 

#2341 Jersey Central (1956)

 

             

    

 

In 1956, for the third year running, Lionel introduced another road name to the FM line, this time decorating the engine for the Jersey Central.  It was included in only one set and was a slow seller, and the 2341 was discontinued after only one year.  It was made in two production runs, with some engines having a slightly glossier tint than others.

 

The 2341 was such a poor seller that it is perhaps the rarest of all Postwar-era locomotives.  More importantly, it has also been reproduced many times, and quite a few 2321s and later production FMs have been repainted as 2341s.  Therefore, it is extremely important to closely examine any 2341 before buying.  (See below for the section on 'identifying an original 2341').

 

Incidentally, 1956 was the only year that all three road names used on Postwar Lionel FMs (Lackawanna, Virginian, and Jersey Central) appeared in the same catalog.

 

Special Note:  Spotting a fake 2341

 

Over the years many reproduction Jersey Central FMs have been produced.  Unfortunately, some have been passed off as originals.  When examining a 2341, check the following:

 

1.  Body Screws--the original Lionel screws used to secure the shell to the frame are blackened flathead screws.  The the screws are not blackened or are Phillips head, odds are the engine has been tampered with. It may still be authentic with just the screws replaced, but a closer look is warranted.

 

 

2.  The 'FM' decal--original 2341s are all well over 50 years old. The white in the 'FM' decal on the side will have yellowed.  Bright, white FM decals with a lot of flash around them are not original.

 

3.  The frame--original 2341s all have blackened steel frames. If the frame is non-blackened aluminum, it is not original.

 

4.  The lettering--originals are heat-stamped. If you gently run your fingernail across the 2341 numbering on the cab, you can feel the indentation   where the heat melted the numbers into the plastic (it is very slight).  Most reproductions have the lettering painted on, which leaves it flush with the shell. Also, the 'J' in Jersey Central differs slightly between an original and a reproduction, as it is more deeply stamped.  This feature requires a trained eye to catch.

5.  The shell mold--there is a very tiny, discernable difference between a Lionel FM shell (left) and one made by Williams Reproductions (right).  On the roof, just in front of the cab, there is a small ventilation fan molded on.  It is larger on a Lionel engine than on a Williams model.  Note that the border around the grate on the Williams model is thicker than that on the Lionel.

6.  Lastly, if still in doubt, ask to have the shell removed.  Many restorations are stamped on the inside of the shell. Also, take a look to make sure the insides look like those of an original Postwar engine.  Yes, that sounds obvious, but some faked 2341s had electronic e-units and can motors, and eager buyers were so focused on the shells that they didn't bother to look under the hood.

 

 

 

 

#2322 Virginian(1965-66)

 

      

                         

 

The 2321 and 2341 FMs left the Lionel catalog after 1956, and the Virginian was discontinued in 1958.  The Trainmaster did not return until 1965, when it was reintroduced in Virginian colors and given a new number, 2322.

 

Externally, about the only way to tell a 2322 from a late-production 2331 is to look at the number printed on the ends.  Internally, there is a subtle difference, with green and red wire used to wind the armature and field coils, in place of the orange wire used the other Postwar FMs.  Also, the information on the battery plate on the bottom of the engine is printed on a sticker on the 2322, versus the etching present on the battery plates of the other FMs.

 

Like the 2331, the FMs have two variations, one with the blue and yellow colors painted on the shell, and one with just the yellow painted on a blue plastic shell.  Also like the 2331s, the version with both colors painted on brings a slight premium. 

 

MPC-Era FMs

 

After 1966, the FM Trainmaster went away for another 13 years.  During that time General Mills and its subsidiary Model Products Corporation [MPC] took over Lionel’s train production in 1969-1970.  MPC started by producing just smaller, basic engines and cars, but throughout the 1970s the Lionel line slowly grew in size and complexity. By 1979 they were ready to bring back the FM.

 

#8950 Virginian (1979)

 

      

 

Someone at Lionel must really like the FM in Virginian colors.  For the third time, the famous engine appeared in Virginian blue and yellow. Numbered 8950, the engine was very similar to the 2322, with the only differences being the elimination of the battery-powered horn.  More subtly, but more importantly, the shell and frame were ever-so-slightly altered, eliminating the problem of screw hole cracks that plagues all Postwar FMs.

 

A great running locomotive, a 8950 can be picked up for a fraction of the price of a 2331 or 2322 in Like New condition.

 

 

#8951 Southern Pacific (1979)

 

           

 

The 8950 had a 'sister' engine, the 8951 Southern Pacific.  This engine actually had a predecessor; according to the Lionel Collectors Guide and History, Volume 2, by McComas and Touhy, Lionel produced a prototype SP Trainmaster and displayed it at the 1954 Toy Fair, but decided not to produce it.

 

Mechanically identical to the 8950, the 8951 is a great running engine that can be had at a reasonable price today.

 

 

#8056  Chicago and Northwestern (1980)

 

     

 

Over the years, Lionel has shown a propensity to stick with a winner.  The 8950 and 8951 were successes in 1979, so in 1980 Lionel introduced another FM, this one in Chicago and Northwestern colors.  The only difference between the 8056 and the previous year's models was the paint.

 

Rumored to have been overproduced, the 8056 is perhaps the easiest MPC-era FM to acquire.

 

 

#8157  Santa Fe (1981)

 

  

 

For the third year running, Lionel introduced another new FM in 1981.  This one was decorated in Santa Fe colors, and was the first FM to include an electronic horn.

 

The 8157 is hardest to find of the regularly catalogued FMs from the MPC era.  1981 was a banner year for Lionel, with many exciting top of the line engines and sets, and the 8157 was not given a prominent place in the catalog.  Other pieces seemed to attract collectors' attentions that year, making the 8157 a tough find today.

 

 

#8378 [550] Wabash (1983)

 

      

 

Through the 1980s Lionel made special-production engines available exclusively through JC Penney. In 1983 the FM design was chosen and the engine was painted in Wabash colors.

 

This is an extremely difficult engine to locate. It was made during the ill-fated move of Lionel's factory to Mexico, and as a result the engine had an extremely short production run. According to Greenberg's Guide to Lionel Trains, 1970-91, Lionel originally planned to make 5,000, but perhaps as few as 800 were actually made.


The engine has the same features as the 8157 Santa Fe FM, and also included a display case. The engine and case were packed together in a brown shipping carton.

 

 

#8687 Jersey Central (1986)

 

   

 

The last of the MPC-era FMs was produced in 1986, just before Lionel became Lionel Trains, Inc.  This engine was decorated for the Jersey Central, but unlike the orange and blue 2341 from 1956, the new 8687 FM was painted in a subdued green and cream paint scheme.  A matching boxcar (7404) and caboose (6917) were also produced.

 

The engine was quite popular and a good seller.  It is mechanically identical to the two previous FMs and included an electronic horn.

 

 

 

Modern-Era FMs

 

In 1986 Detroit real estate mogul Richard Kughn bought the Lionel train business from General Mills.   Kughn's new Lionel Trains, Inc. (LTI) set out to restore Lionel to its place atop the train world.

 

 

#18301 Southern (1988)

 

 

The first Modern-Era FM was the 18301 Southern.  Like its 8687 Jersey Central predecessor, the Southern featured an electronic horn.  It was the first Lionel FM to have blackened handrails and platforms--all previous Trainmasters had chromed parts.

 

The 18301 sold well and it pretty easy to find today.

 

 

#18309 [863] Reading (1993)

 

 

After serving as the Official Top of the Line Diesel for ten years, the Trainmaster disappeared from Lionel's catalog until 1993. That year it was offered up again, this time in Reading markings.

 

The engine had a realistic appearance, perhaps too realistic, and the rather blah-looking 18309 (it even lacked the red and white 'FM' logo on each side) had the 'blah' sales to match. Today it is harder to find than most of the regular-production FMs from the '70s and '80s, but can be had at a very good price.

 

 

#18307 [8699] Pennsylvania (1994)

 

     

 

The following year the Trainmaster appeared again, in the same shade of green but with Pennsylvania markings.  On the 18307 Lionel restored the FM logo to the side of the engine and installed a radio antenna along the top of  the roof, the first and only time this enhancement was featured on a Trainmaster. 

 

It is interesting that that PRR FM came out a year after the Reading unit, but had a lower number.  This seems to hint that the engines were planned concurrently, and that somehow the Reading FM jumped ahead of the Pennsy in production planning.

 

Like the 18309 Reading, the Pennsy FM was a slow seller. Besides the Spartan appearance of both, another factor in their slow sales was the lack of Railsounds.  Both engines were equipped with electronic horns instead, and by the mid-1990s collectors were demanding more features in their top of the line engines.  When the FM returned a few years later, this would not be a problem.

 

 

#18321 [2341] Jersey Central (1999)

 

 

After 1994, the FM went into hibernation for another five years.  It returned as Lionel was preparing for its Centennial,  and the engine was reintroduced as part of the Postwar Celebration Series, a collection of reissued Lionel pieces from the 1940s and 1950s. The first Celebration FM was the #18321, a remake of the legendary 2341 Jersey Central FM from 1956.  The shell is almost a dead ringer for the original, but Lionel put a small 'PW' mark next to the number on each side.

 

Unlike the FMs of the mid-90s, the 18321 comes fully loaded, with Railsounds and Trainmaster Command Control (TMCC).  Externally a reproduction of an engine from the mid-'50s, internally the 18321 is state-of-the-art and was at the time the most advanced FM ever made by Lionel.

 

The 18321 shows up occasionally for sale, but not as often as some other Postwar Celebration pieces. This is likely because the Jersey Central Trainmaster is one of the most-reproduced items in the O Gauge world, with many other O Gauge manufacturers producing the engine in the 1980s and 1990s.

 

 

#18322 [2321] Lackawanna (1999)

 

 

 

Lionel in fact reissued all three Postwar-Era FMs in 1999. The 18322 was a reproduction of the 2321 Lackawanna with a maroon roof.  Like the 18321 it featured Railsounds and TMCC.

 

#18327 [2331] Virginian (1999-00)

 

 

 

The third member of the Postwar Celebration FM triumverate was the 18327 Virginian.  Decorated in the yellow and black-stripe scheme found on the early 2331s from 1955, it is mechanically identical the 18321 and 18322, with Railsounds and TMCC, along with the standard top-of -the-line FM features like dual motors and die-cast trucks.

 

Like the 18321 Jersey Central, the reception of the Lackawanna and Virginian FMs was lukewarm.  Other O Gauge train makers like Williams Electric Trains and MTH were cranking out FMs throughout the 1990s, and had already produced Jersey Central, Lackawanna and Virginian models before the Postwar Celebration engines arrived. This likely depressed sales a bit.  These three engines are a bit harder to find than the regular production FMs from 1979-88.

 

 

#18340 Fairbanks-Morse Demonstrator [Century Club II] (2000)

 

      

  

In 2000 a special 2-unit FM set was part of a series commemorating Lionel’s Centennial, called the Century Club.  In 1996 the first edition of Century Club engines were released, all of which were reproductions of Postwar engines.  In 2000, Century Club II was announced, and it was a more eclectic mix of top-of-the-line engines and sets.

 

The 18340 FM set was decorated in Fairbanks-Morse's 'demonstrator' paint scheme, which was the livery used when FM sent the engine out for testing on various railroads. These models come fully loaded with Railsounds, TMCC, marker lights, and the Odyssey speed control system.  Both engines are powered. The set also included a certificate of authenticity.  The engines also featured the first major external design change to the FMs in 45 years--redesigned trucks which look much more realistic than the older 6-wheel truck design on previous FMs.  The fuel tank was also slightly redesigned.

 

 

Uncatalogued, this engine set is hard to find today.

 

 

 

#18375 [850] Lackawanna [Powered] and 18376 [851] [Non-Powered]  (2006)

 

    

 

     

 

In 2006 the Lackawanna FM made another appearance, but it was quite different from the previous gray and maroon Trainmasters.  This new Lackawanna engine , #18375, featured a paint scheme that was more historically accurate, and the engine features Railsounds, Trainmaster Comand Control, the Odyssey speed control system, and a fan-driven smoke unit.  Internally the engine was essentially a repeat of the 18340 Century Club engines and feature the redesigned trucks.

 

2006 also marked a first for FMs--a matching non-powered unit (#18376). All previous Lionel Trainmasters had been powered.

 

#38300 [2331] Virginian (2008)

 

 

For years, Lionel's policy had been to install additional features on its locomotives.  But by the late 2000s, it seemed that it was becoming a bit too much for some Lionel fans.  In response, in 2008 Lionel announced the Conventional Classics, reissues of Postwar-era engines and sets.  Similar to the Postwar Celebration series, the Conventional Classics differ in that they do not have modern refinements like Trainmaster Command Control and Railsounds.  Almost dead ringers for the originals and priced much lower than their fully-loaded counterparts, the Conventional Classics were a hit when announced in the second 2008 catalog.

 

The 38300 Virginian was the first of the separate-sale Conventional Classics engines.  It is very similar to the 2331 Virginian with the black stripe from 1955. While externally very similar, internally the engine has modern components such as an electronic reverse unit and electronic horn. This disappointed some collectors, who were expecting exact replicas of the originals down to the mechanical e-units and battery-powered horns.

Very popular, the 38300 sold well.  Being the first in a new series, early engines had some teething problems, but these were resolved and the engines are reliable performers.

 

#38302? [2321] Lackawanna (2008)

 

Image courtesy of Lionel.com

 

Lionel also announced a full set in the Conventional Classics line featuring an FM, this time with the engine in the familiar Lackawanna paint scheme.  The set, numbered 31776, was a reissue of the 2219W set from 1954.  The diesel has the same features and overall appearance of the 38300 Virginian Trainmaster, with the only difference being the paint.

 

The individual model number is speculative; Lionel did not put the number on the box, but this number would fall in line with those being used for the Conventional Classics.

 

#28307 [550] Wabash (2009)

 

 

In 2009 Lionel offered the FM in Wabash colors, similar to those used on the 8378 FM from 1983.  This is the first Trainmaster to included Lionel's Legacy Command System, and Legacy Railsounds, greatly enhanced versions of the original TMCC and Railsounds systems that provide even more interaction between the train and operator.  It also features a fan-driven smoke unit, direction lighting, and spinning roof fans!

 

With the introduction of the Conventional Classics and the Wabash FM, Lionel now offers the engine with both the refinements of modern technology and the simple innocence of the 1950s originals.

 

 Boxes and Packaging

 

   

 

The original Postwar-Era FMs were packed in plain brown corrugated boxes with the number stamped on the ends.  The boxes have an inner liner to hold the engines in place, with decorated brown paper wrapped around the engine itself. The boxes have been reproduced, so care is needed to ensure that the box is original when paying the price for an authentic box.

 

The MPC-era FMs from 1979 to 1981 (8950, 8951, 8056 and 8157) were packed in silver boxes with the logo of the railroad on the front.  The boxes have Styrofoam liners and plastic bags to protect the engines.

 

Early Modern-Era FMs [8687, 18301, 18309 and 18307] came in orange and blue Lionel boxes designed to replicate the original Lionel boxes of the 1950s. This is ironic, considering the Postwar FMs were never packed in orange and blue boxes.  These boxes were the same dimensions as the MPC-era boxes and had the same Styrofoam interiors.

 

The #8378 Wabash FM was packed in a plain brown shipping carton that held the engine and the matching display case. The engine did not have an individual box, just a liner, so don't think you got ripped off if you buy a 8378 with no box.

 

The Postwar-Celebration FMs have boxes like the ones used on early the early Modern-Era models, but they have the special Postwar Celebration markings, and the outer boxes are not as thick and sturdy as those used previously.

 

The new Conventional Classics FMs are packed in boxes reminiscent of the original Postwar boxes. They are plain brown on the outside with an inner liner and plastic to wrap around the engine.  Lionel did not print he actual model number on the box.

 

All FMs were originally shipped with instruction sheets.  The #18340 Century Club II engines also included a certificate of authenticity.

 

 

 

Conclusion

 

The Trainmaster has become part of Lionel lore.  It is considered by many the best-pulling engine of the Postwar Era. Over the decades the FM has evolved from state-of-the-art-model to a reminder of Lionel's Golden Age, but the engine's tough, simple looks are still very modern in their own way.  Trainmasters look at home either on the shelf or on a layout, and no Lionel collection seems complete without one. We are sure to see the Trainmaster in many more Lionel catalogs for years to come.

 

Additional Information

 

--The Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains, 1945-69, by David Doyle. A comprehensive guide to Postwar Lionel. Lots of pictures and information.

 

--The Standard Catalog of Lionel Trains, 1970-2000, by David Doyle.  A complete treatment of the MPC era and the early Modern Era.  Terrific source of information and reference.

 

Acknowledgements

 

All of the photos and much of the information in this article was obtained through observations here at Trainz.com.  Lionel’s catalog listings were of great help as well. 

 

The above-mentioned volumes were also of great help, as was Greenberg's Guide To Lionel Trains, 1945-69, Volume 1, Eigth Edition (out of print),a nd Greeberg's Guide to Lionel Trains, 1970-91, Volume One (out of print).

 

The photo the actual FM and the FM-engine-equipped submarine are courtesy of wikipedia.com.

 

 

 

 

Tommy Feldman

General Manager, Trainz.com

July 2009