JOSEPH L. MANIA TOY TRAIN REPRODUCTIONS AND RESTORATIONS
JLM TRAINS, L.L.C.
Lionel Super "O" Track
Lionel "Super O" track combines the realistic appearance of two-rail railroad track with the superior performance of the "three-rail" electrical system. Most all postwar Lionel cars and locomotives will operate efficiently on "Super O" Track. Through the use of various transition pieces, described at the end of this article, "Super O" Track can be combined with "O" and "O27" switches and crossings making it possible to convert to "Super O" gradually without discarding or obsolescing older Lionel equipment.
By H. Michael Spanier
was at its postwar best in consumer interest as well as quality of product
during the late 1940s and into the early 1950s. Like every other successful
company, Lionel was always looking towards the future to be certain their
products would meet their consumers’ future needs. As the 50s progressed,
however, there was a definite sagging of interest in their O and O27 gauge toy
trains. HO trains were quickly becoming the leading model railroad gauge in
America. HO track used two rails, while Lionel used three, and the ties of HO
track were much more realistic-looking.
was quite concerned as sales and profits dropped. They searched for fresh ideas
to rekindle interest in their toy trains. They reviewed and tried many ideas.
One major effort was to develop a new track system. This was the start of
Super-O track. Let me tell you about Lionel Super-O track and try to spur your
imagination back to 1957 when it was introduced for sale as well as in the new
Lionel Showroom layout.
Super-O was introduced in 1957 and was available for sale through 1966. Super-O would continue to offer the main 3-rail advantage (ease of hook-ups for reversing loops) and be "scale like" in appearance. With its multitude of highly detailed dark brown railroad ties (16 per 9 1/2" straight track section compared to three for traditional tubular track) which included a wood grain appearance, simulated track plates and spikes plus a realistic flat "T" profiled rail Super-O was very strong on realism. Ordinary O gauge track has 3 identical tubular rails. In addition to replacing the outside tubular rails with “T” rails, the inside third rail of Super-O track was replaced with an “invisible” third rail made of copper that provided a most attractive alternative to traditional tubular track. Not to mention, that if it caught on, Super-O would spur a whole new group of purchases and interests for their new track and hopefully revitalize interest in their trains.
The patent was issued by the US Patent Office on March 30, 1954, as:
Patent Number 2,673,689 Toy Railroad Track
Due to the small size and unique shape of the rails, thin strips of copper
were used as track pins. The plastic ties were designed to lock sections
The middle rails used clips which were pressed on top of two joining rails. This
method required operators to occasionally inspect the track bed and make sure no
clips were slipping off from the rollers moving over them.
all Super-O items were produced throughout the 1957 to 1966 time span. As you
probably know, the system never had the desired effect of stimulating the type
of interest for which Lionel had hoped. It seems if Lionel would have elected to
produce 54" and 72" diameter track and switches it might have helped
but that probably was not the answer either. Super-O was last offered in 1966,
as Lionel cut back on all areas of train production. Super-O's time had come and
gone as it slowly disappeared from the market.
Well, I would never be the one to perpetuate controversy but here is what I am led to understand from those who seem to have some insight into this situation. In the first place it was the common impression from "insiders" at Lionel, several years ago, that all the tooling for Super-0 had been scrapped. At that time, I had this verified from a rather high level Lionel (since retired) employee. Well so much for the validity of that information, at least in totality.
All the sudden, however, I know 3 individuals who say the tooling still exists! Now, what does that mean? Is it just for curves and straights? All items including switches? Or what? Well, I do not know the answer to all but take a look at this picture.
What you are looking at is a sample (left side of picture) of Super-0 track (ties and road bed only) that has been shot in 1999 / 2000 compared to a regular Super-O curved section. As you can see it is a curved section and black instead of traditional brown. I am also lead to believe that there are some straights shots that have been produced in white. Apparently Lionel was testing to determine the tooling's performance. Does the tooling still operate properly? The test appears to have been successful. Those who have the roadbed samples say it looks great. Many, many questions still exist about what other tooling exists and if Lionel would ever produce Super-0 track again. Certainly, the switches would present a formidable challenge as they work fine but can be fragile.
What about the Super-0 rail? If you remember, years ago Lionel made a flat car (#6805 from 1958, 59 and reissued in 1980 as #9234) that carried lit radioactive canisters. If you carefully think back, electricity to the canisters was carried thru Super-0 rails. So, up until 1980 Lionel either had left over rail stock or capabilities to produce or procure rail stock.
From several conversations with those who seem to have inside information and from conversations with some Lionel people who did not add much, I can say that it appears that Lionel still has the capability to produce "at least" curves and straights. Now, what do they do about #31-7 bus bars? What do they do about #31-15 steel coupling pins that must be used to join the track? What about ALL the other Super-0 parts?
The rumor was that Lionel was "considering" making a one time run of Super-0 track. No idea, really, when or if this is, or ever was true but........."IF" Lionel wanted to produce Super-O just to satisfy the pent up demand for curves and straights they certainly could. Is the market large enough? How much can we actually buy? Would it justify recovery of costs and a profit?
not that long ago the Coil Couplers of America (www.coilcouplers.com)
ran an article on what ideas us train people would like to see and the most
popular suggestion was for Lionel to reissue Super-O track.
Should you have further questions about Super-O track, I would be pleased to answer your e-mailed questions. I have developed an interest in this 40 year old track system and continually offer it for sale as well as continually look to purchase. I currently have an electronic mailing list, which features questions and answers about Lionel Super-O track.
Always Buying and Selling Super "O"
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