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Home / How To / Timeless Classics / Lionel’s no. 2211WS train set

Lionel’s no. 2211WS train set

By Roger Carp | October 1, 2019

All the O gauge action any youngster could want back in 1953

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What got you started with toy trains? If you’re like the vast majority of hobbyists whose roots go back to the post-World War years, chances are really good that a train set did the trick. Lionel, Marx, or American Flyer, no matter what you loved as a youngster, you probably can trace that passion back to a single large box in which you discovered a locomotive, a few cars, pieces of track, and perhaps a transformer.

Thousands of different O and S gauge sets – cataloged and promotional – were developed between 1945 and 1969. Think of the one you received for your birthday or a holiday. Maybe you can say with pride it was Lionel’s no. 2211WS.

An awesome responsibility
From the time Lionel offered just one outfit for the holiday season of 1945 until it was reduced to cataloging a mere one set 24 years later, the postwar era saw this giant of the American toy industry put on the market a mind-boggling array of sets. Freight trains and passenger expresses led by steam engines and diesels with anywhere from three cars to nine and even an accessory or two.

Sales executives, probably assisted at times by key people from the Advertising Department, had the responsibility – plus the pleasure – of selecting the items to package together as sets. Which new locomotive did they think should pull a combination of old and new rolling stock? How many cars ought to be included? Which road names might sell successfully? And at what retail price?

In retrospect, some of the outfits Lionel cataloged during the postwar era look a bit boring and dull. How anyone thought they would generate lots of orders is a mystery. They may even have disappointed the kids who received them.

Fortunately for Lionel and kids across North America, most of the sets that appeared in postwar catalogs were absolute winners. They promised untold hours of fun, with exciting and colorful motive power and a cool array of cars.

Count the 2211WS, one of the stalwarts of the O gauge roster for 1953, as among those champions. This is a train set any youngster would have begged for.

Outstanding components

What makes any train set great? Contemporary hobbyists would assert that including collectible components is the key. No doubt they’re right – which is the reason they treasure outfits led by F3 diesels or GG1 electrics.

Kids back in the day took a different approach. They cared about what a set could do: Whether its locomotive had a range of features, its cars offered animation, and the entire train opened up a new world to their vivid imaginations.

Collectors probably consider the 2211WS, a four-car steam freight set, somewhat mediocre – nothing rare or valuable among its components. Youngsters in 1953 gave it two thumbs up, thanks to the pair of operating cars, the brand-new boxcar and caboose, and the steam engine with a headlight, smoke, and whistle.

Lionel had updated its ground-breaking steam turbine in 1950 by adding Magne-Traction to the new no. 681. That 6-8-6 workhorse returned to the line three years later to lead a pair of O gauge sets, including the 2211WS. Coupled to it was a no. 2046W streamlined whistle tender lettered for the Pennsylvania RR.

The operating cars had been around for years, but they enabled a young engineer to pretend he was handling logs from a forest or a herd of cattle going from a farm to a stockyard. The no. 3461 black operating log car provided simple yet highly consistent action. The no. 3656 operating cattle car and corral was known to be temperamental and even frustrating for kids, but the operation did keep them busy.

New to the line were two near-scale models that reflected Lionel’s revived interest in more realistic modeling.

The no. 6464-75 Rock Island was among the first four boxcars in what would become a famous series. Kids used their imaginations when operating it to haul all sorts of cargo. The no. 6417 Pennsylvania RR porthole caboose captured a publicized prototype and was unlike any model on the market.

Eight sections of curved track, five straights, and an uncoupling section filled out the outfit box. The colors, animation, variety, and sheer fun in every Lionel 2211WS outfit delighted children almost 60 years ago and make this set a classic.

Lionel cataloged the no. 2211WS outfit in 1953. Greenberg’s Guide to Lionel Trains, 1945-1969, vol. 3: Sets (1999) valued this O gauge set at $325 in very good condition and $675 in like-new.

Buyer’s Checklist:

  • Locomotive: functioning headlight and smoke?
  • Tender: functioning whistle?
  • Cattle car: cows load in and out and move through corral?
  • Boxcar: bright paint and lettering, opening doors?
  • Log car: dowels thrown off via remote control?
  • Caboose: interior illumination, unbroken ladders?
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