How To Timeless Classics Lionel Sandy Andy Automatic Gravel Loader

Lionel Sandy Andy Automatic Gravel Loader

By Hal Miller | April 3, 2023

This 1970s accessory, powered by gravity, was a fun product of its time

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The Lionel Sandy Andy Automatic Gravel Loader was part of the catalog in the late 1970s. It’s a shame it didn’t last longer because it’s among the most interesting products the company ever made.

Lionel Sandy Andy Automatic Gravel Loader box
The Lionel Sandy Andy Gravel Loader box.

It’s not neat because of what it does; after all, Lionel produced numerous coal and gravel loading and dumping structures over the decades. It’s notable because it did it (at least in theory) with no electricity.

That also might have been part of the reason it didn’t last long.

Go inside the Lionel Fun Factory.

Lionel Sandy Andy Gravel Loader

The O scale kit hit the catalog in 1976 during the MPC era. Its well-illustrated box showed the built model and how it worked. The lid proclaimed “No wiring! No batteries!”

The Lionel Sandy Andy Gravel Loader with a hopper car
The accessory could dump into a supplied tub or a hopper car.

It could have also said, “Almost no metal!” The kit was composed of plastic parts, save for the brass counterweight and a piece of string that pulled the dump car back into position. Everything could be snapped together or glued if the user desired. The tower was reasonably robust, and the product as a whole thoughtfully engineered.

How it works

Basically, it’s powered by physics. A small shelf on the rear of the tower holds the weight. When the shelf is flipped down, the weight drops and hauls the dump car up the incline via a pulley. The car moves a trigger tab connected to the loading spout cover. The gravel goes down the spout into the car.

Lionel Sandy Andy Gravel Loader in the catalog
The MPC product lasted from 1976-1979 in the catalog.

When the gravel spilling into the car becomes heavier than the weight, the trolley rolls back down the incline while the spout closes and shuts off the flow of product. At the end of the incline track, a set of stops engage the car axles and a trigger under it hits a crossmember, pitching the car forward. He gravel empties into a trough, which directs the lading into an included plastic tub or a waiting hopper car (sold separately).

Now lighter than the counterweight, the empty car is pulled back up the incline, tripping the flow trigger to begin the cycle anew.

Not without its issues

Theoretically, it can operate like this over and over until the bin at the top is empty. The roof comes off to refill the container with plastic “gravel.”

Lionel Sandy Andy Gravel Loader box side
The graphics on the box certainly did all they could to sell the product.

While conceptually sound, the accessory does have a few issues. One is once it’s together, taking it apart is a recipe for breakage. Second – and this afflicts all coal-gravel loaders – the mess. There were a couple of places it happened: the loading spout and the dumping point. It’s hard to tune the cart-string-pulley-weight mechanism to avoid spraying gravel everywhere.

The fact that there was no button, activation track, sound, or lighting probably was a factor in its demise, too. Those have been a part of Lionel accessories since the early days, and the lack thereof made it a bit of an oddball.

The last year the gravel loader appeared in the Lionel catalog was 1979. It’s rumored there was a whole line of Sandy Andy products planned, but this was the only one that ever made it to market.

There must have been a fair number of them sold as you can still find them for $20-50 depending on condition at swap meets and ononline auction sites. There are even some as-yet unassembled ones floating around out there.

While many Lionel accessories have been brought back or re-introduced in improved form, the Sandy Andy Gravel Loader has been consigned to memory. If you were a kid who had one, it’s probably a fun reminisce. If you were the mom of that kid and had to pick the spilled gravel out of your carpet, maybe not so much.

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