Transcripted from the CTT video series Truck’s Toy Trains. Trains.com members can watch it here.
The Lionel Corp. released its first operating barrel car in 1954, which was two years after it brought out the no. 362 barrel loader.
Contents of the box included the car and an insert that held a box of barrels and an envelope of components. The tray was on the side and the inspection slip was tucked under the mechanism for the worker on the end of the car.
The car has several variations but all operated like this: Wooden barrels were loaded into a metal trough in the car and would vibrate up it until they came to a worker that would maneuver them so they rolled out of a notch in the side. The lading would fall into the included tray.
Later models featured a tab under the worker mechanism that, if the operator desired, stopped the barrels from unloading.
Barrel car variations
The first variation of the car (no. 3562-1) is black with a yellow middle trough, the latter similar to the color of the no. 362 barrel loader. The next variation is also a black car with a black trough.
Lionel also offered a couple of variations painted in gray. The lettering is heat-stamped on the more scarce of the pair in red. Blue markings are more common.
Next is a painted yellow version with a black trough (no. 3562-50). They can be identified by their slightly different shade and reflectivity from the molded-yellow car. Also, imperfections in the paint are common.
The last barrel car, 3562-75, was catalogued in 1957-58. It’s molded in orange with a black trough and has the locking tab under the worker to keep the barrels in the car.
In terms of collectability, the most common cars are going to be the unpainted yellow ones, followed by the orange. A red-lettered 3652-1 variation might be the scarcest. Look for examples with the box, insert, and all the little goodies that come with it.
You can read more collecting information about the 3562 cars here.
Lionel dealers also sold separate packages of barrels to go with the cars and the loader. They are fairly easy to find. Marked 209, 0209, or 362-78, the real collectability is in the packaging. Early boxes are stamped “O.P.S.” which stands for the Office of Price Stabilization, a federal agency that controlled prices during the Korean War. Boxes also have various shades of orange.
The barrels themselves came in different shades of brown stain, some with hints of green. The most scarce are sets of red barrels thought to have come with early runs of the barrel car itself.
Lionel in 1966 started offering some of its separate-sale products in clear blister packs. Potential buyers could see the item under the clear vacuum-formed plastic bubble. Many of the packages were made to hang on racks for display.
One of the items is a no. 154 automatic highway signal. It’s marked B154 to denote it as a blister-packed item rather than in a traditional box.
The back of the blister packaging had a complete list of accessories offered that way. Perhaps the most scarce is a can of track cleaning fluid (no. B3927) as the contents were known to leak and destroy the package if it was stored on its side or upside down. Also somewhat scarce are the no. B310 billboard set in perfect condition as they hung on a rack and dealers sometimes trimmed the cards to display more of them. Additionally, the billboards only came in that set.
If you would like to collect Lionel blister-packed accessories, look for items with cards that are unstained and with corners that aren’t cut or bent. The blister should be nearly perfect with no cracks. That way, you know the product is brand new.