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Daniel Biessels’ Greatest Find

By | April 1, 2011

Postwar Lionel diesels changed the way he approaches model railroading.

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Inspired by the Lionel no. 2353 Santa Fe A-A diesels and two streamlined passenger cars purchased through a Dutch website, the author gave up HO scale modeling for O gauge and began focusing on postwar and modern-era Lionel models. Then he built a layout set in the Rocky Mountains that he calls the Glenwood Springs & Colorado RR. The arid scenery and sandstone landforms look great, set many thousands of miles from the western United States.
Amazing how one used magazine can have such a dramatic effect on your life!

In this case, I am talking about a dog-eared copy of the February 1996 issue of Classic Toy Trains. The cover story focused on the O gauge F3 diesels shown in Lionel catalogs during the 1950s, in particular, the less-popular road names. After picking up a copy of that issue, I learned about the models painted for the Illinois Central, the Texas Special, the Wabash, and the Baltimore & Ohio.

That article also gave me some valuable information about the well-known models decorated for the Santa Fe. I learned a good deal about the no. 2353 A-A combination, which Lionel offered from 1953 through 1955.

Of course, living in the Netherlands, I doubted that I would ever do more than look at pictures of Lionel’s postwar F3 diesels. Besides, my involvement in model railroading then amounted to HO scale Dutch trains.

My grandfather had owned some O gauge track and trains made by JeP and Märklin during the pre-World War II era, but I had never had much interest in them. Still, they had never been thrown away.

A little more than six years ago, in February of 2004, I was browsing advertisements in the section of “Marktplaats,” a Dutch trading website, that happened to include old scale and toy train models. To my surprise, I can across an ad that listed a Lionel 2353 A-A set of diesel locomotives with a pair of extruded-aluminum streamlined Lionel Lines passenger cars from the 2500 series.

Seeing the Lionel trains there came as a real surprise. I discovered that they had been on the website for a long time already; after all, no one in the Netherlands known very much about American O gauge modeling or Lionel trains. Between all the Fleischmann, Märklin, and Roco European HO scale trains, these Santa Fe diesels and passenger cars were odd ones.

Thanks to the CTT article, I had some clues about the Lionel trains. I decided to submit a bid on them. This turned out to be the only bid. After a bit of emailing with the seller, I bought the incomplete passenger set for 250 Euros (about $300).

A few days later, the trains arrived in a huge white box filled with newspapers. I felt just like a little boy on Christmas morning!

The author treasures the Lionel 2353 Santa Fe F3s that he purchased online and considers them the principal motive power on the O gauge layouts he has been constructing in a shed adjacent to the garden in his home in the Netherlands.
Out of the box came first a 2353 powered A unit with two horizontally mounted motors, an operating headlight, and Magne-Traction. It was completely intact, although the silver-and-red paint scheme showed some age and the striping was scratched. Details were great, but the 2353 no longer had the grab irons that Lionel once put on the nose of its diesel locomotives.

The matching non-powered 2353 A unit came with an operating headlight and a horn inside. No battery damage could be seen. There was a crack in the roof that had been repaired and so was hardly visible.

One of the cars was a coach with all the nameplates in place. The second was a Vista-Dome with its “canopy” in nice shape.

Quickly I went searching for my grandpa’s JeP and Märklin track, which I had saved for years in a box on the attic. Now was the time to get them out.

With that vintage track, I built what I consider my first O gauge empire. Powered by an ancient Märklin transformer, the 2353 grumbled along the tracks, the lights of the coaches and locomotives creating a fairytale atmosphere. Soon the attic smelled like ozone, and I had discovered an amazing new hobby.

I sold my HO trains and started learning about Lionel. Then I found out about new trains being made by K-Line, Lionel, and MTH. There followed other compact O gauge layouts on the floor of the attic. Next I finished a room in the shed in our garden and started a new layout, known as the Shed County Railroad.

When I realized that the JeP and Märklin track were too rusty to work well anymore, I discarded them and purchased brand-new track. Now I am operating and enjoying my best layout, the one you can see in these pictures, which I call the Glenwood Springs & Colorado Railroad.

Because of a magazine from 1996 that I found in a local bookstore, I had a faint idea of what I had come across when I saw the ad for the Lionel trains. That issue gave me the courage to spend money on something seemingly useless and unknown, and I still am one of only a few O gauge three-rail hobbyists in Europe.

So my greatest find is a combined one: a Lionel 2353 A-A and two passenger cars plus the February 1996 Classic Toy Trains. Together, they have seeded my growing interest in O gauge railroading and, in particular, Lionel postwar F3 diesels.

26 thoughts on “Daniel Biessels’ Greatest Find

  1. Great story. You are one of "many" Lionel O gauge three-rail hobbyists in Europe! We are a grup of about 10 Lionel Operators in Switzerland between Basel-Grenchen-Zürich with some friends in Germany (Stuttgart). All 3 years in October you can visit a big US-Train Convention in Adliswil (near Zürich), normaly with one of 2 big modular 3-Rail Layouts fom my friends. Convention info see http://www.trainmaster.ch/convention.htm
    More obout Lionel in Switzerland: perokni@bluewin.ch

    Greetings from
    Peter Knips
    CH-8332 Russikon
    Switzerland

  2. i am modeling and playing with n-scale due to now i live in a large apartment at a retirement center. no room for larger scale.my father got me a loinel in 1946 for my 7th birthday. i played with it for years got extra trck and all. built my own buildings and bridges with the help of my uncle ukie. but as time went by high school,college,girls, marry,kids i kept it but never ran it again.track got very rusty . i got rid of track,kept the train in orignal box.i had it tested at hobby shop it ran but needs mant. work on it. the train drew alot of attention,some peole never saw old train that old. i still own it and will cherish it. i was offered alot of money for it at the time also. i bought some track and long display casewas made,that is here it is.
    metal engine,threecars caboose. i am gathering tips from u as well as mrr magazine in constuction of my n-scale.i hadto tell some one. thanks for reading. my sons are interested in mrr,neither are grandsons. grandgirls are alot they love playing with the trains,painting when needed.a lot of enjoyment watching them get involved. again thank u . CRT&GRANDDAUGHTERS

  3. This is a great story. I just wonder how many people have been thrilled with this set since it was produced over fifty years ago. Isn't it great that every time someone receives this set it invokes the same type of excitement?

  4. I think you are super fortunate to find the trains "O" gage overseas! Let alone at that price!!

    I have the same Lionel 2353 A-A set of diesel locomotives that I bought in 1953. I lived in Boulder and my grandmother took me to Denver to buy the 2353's with the first $50.00 I ever earned! Today, 6/30/10, I still have them, with their original boxes. I know how proud you are!
    Robert Demmon
    Coronado, CA 92118
    rdemmon1@mac.com

  5. Great article! It is inspiring to learn of the interest in American trains that exists in Europe (and other continents as well).

    As a related aside, when my wife and I visited Germany in 2001 we were able to enjoy the Nuremburg Toy Museum. It had the expected unbelieveable array of German toys of all types, but can you imagine our surprise when we emerged from the elevator on the top floor to see a first class southwestern US Union Pacific-themed American Flyer S gauge operating layout that filled a room about the size of a double car garage!

    Thank you Daniel Biessel and CTT for sharing this terrific story.

    James Hough

  6. Great article……..received my f3 lionel diesel set in the form of the Canadian Pacific. What memories….received it in 1956 for my 10th birthday. Still have the set with the super o track…still running strong…….I must be honest….it loves the big 072 curves much better then the super o….

    Filbert Bucci
    filbuc @ yahoo.com

  7. Wow Memories flood back to 1953. I noticed the SF pass set in the 1952. My dad promised if I could come up w/$62,he would get one for me. By Halloween 1953 all those sets were gone from the warehouse where he delivered&picked up from. I had my $62,but no set. Christmas Eve my dad decided to call a furniture store where he bought our baby furniture in. He had 1 such set left:if we could get there before 4:00 the set was ours. So mydad,brother&I took 2 street cars to pick up the set on Maxwell street in Chicago. My dad&mom are gone,but that memory floods back in reading your story. ENJOY GREAT FIND!

  8. I had a couple of friends when I was a boy (11-14 yrs.), who had a set of 2343 A-A's. I had to wait till I was 61 yrs. to get mine. Paid $350 for them. When I switched scales in 2002 (from ho to o), they were one of the first things I bought. They are one of the best running engines I have. Would not trade or sell them for anything. It is a boyhood dream come true and a great way to relive my childhood. My basement is full of o scale trains, more than I could ever hope for.
    Thank you for letting me run on and on. Model railroading is fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Great article! There truly is something majical about Lionel Trains. I was into HO just like Daniel but once I pulled the set of Lionel trains that my parents had bought from Sears back in the late 50's I was hooked again.
    Good luck to you Daniel, and I hope that there are others over there that will be into Lionel too.

  10. Isn't it amazing how Lionel trains finds there way into peoples lives and hearts. I have all my Lionel trains from my younger years growing up in Cleveland Ohio. My favorite is the Seaboard 6250 Switcher and it along with all the others are still operating. I am presently in the planning stage for my next layout project to begin soon. Keep these fine articals coming.

  11. To: WALLACE MYERS JR from INDIANA.

    Okay this is too strange. I also live in Indiana now; I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio; I still have my first Lionel and my father's from his teenage years…one of which is a Seaboard 6250 set. All are now fully restored and operational. Who would've thought!

  12. It's an amazing set. I also have a complete set of the 2353 A-A Santa Fe Diesel units along with the 4 aluminum Passenger cars (2 Pullman, Vista Dome and Observation). All with original boxes with the original outer cardboard box for the set. On the outer box the marked sale price was about $85.00. Yup!
    Todays quoted prices at one large NJ Train Station Shop is $295.00 for each of the Alum cars and $500 for the A-A Units in really good shape.
    There was another listing for a set of 2353 A-A units in unopened boxes with a price of near $4,000.00.
    I enjoyed reading the article.

  13. I would say that any family story that comes to mind because of trains, represents good wholesome families.

  14. What is so great about this hobby of Model trains is that you never know where or when you can some thing that you want and get it that is on of the reason that we keep going. Good luck to all you train searchers. an a very good layout to all.

  15. It never ceases to amaze any of us in this Hobby – just how this Hobby and especially the PW Lionel's all have some sort of the same effect on those who truly appreciate these old trains. Great Story..and great buy! Dan – you are right about the PW F-3's – great trains with an equally great heritage..

  16. En mi pais por esos 50 no habia mucha oportunidad de tener un tren Lionel,ya que para nosotros eran muy pocos los lugares o tiendas de juguetes que los importaban,mi padre me compro un tren marklin ya que dueño de libreria universal era muy amigo de mi padre.Felicito a esas personal que si tubieron posible esa oportunidad de tenerlos.FELICITACIONES.

    In
    my country for those 50 not had much opportunity to have a Lionel
    train, because for us there were very few places or stores of toys that
    imported them, my father I buy a Märklin train since owner of universal
    library was a close friend of me father.
    I congratulate those staff that if possible tubieron that opportunity for them. Congratulations.

  17. I really enjoyed this article. I still have and run my first 224E purchased on Dec 7, 1941. and in the early 60s I got my 2353 AA. I still have all the trains from that era and operate them on my 14 x 16 ft layout. No HO for me.

  18. i have wonderful memories of my older brothers lionel santa fe ABA war bonnett on his layout(which i was not alowded to touch)in the early 50s.now at 67yrs old;i have my own&love the hobbie

  19. Great article, this article shows that as people and countries we have a lot in common and a lot of good things to share from memories.

  20. It.s interesting that a modeler in Europe would model a western U.S. desert scape for his railroad.

  21. I have been a subscriber for 10 years and today I went into the web site . Well salute CLASSIC TOY TRAINS I am truley imprest . I like what I have seen today. I will be back to learn more about the trains I have loved for 60 years . Thank you JAKE

  22. Nice article,I also have a story to tell about Lionel trains. So now you are not the only one in the Netherlands to own Lionel trains. I have quite a collection among which the SF and resolved the 50/60 cycle problem.If you are interested feel free to contact me at 0172434367. Fred.

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