Lionel’s 2023 Volume II catalog came out this summer, and several of the new locomotives, pieces of rolling stock, and accessories captured my interest. Let me share the new entries that, from the perspective of a postwar enthusiast, caught my eye. Maybe something in the latest Lionel catalog will speak to you as well.
Since the dawn of the 21st century, Lionel has released more than one catalog annually. Besides occasional short catalogs devoted to Christmas-related trains and structures or focused on American Flyer S gauge models, there have been two big catalogs announcing the latest O gauge locomotives, freight and passenger cars, sections of track, control systems, and operating accessories.
The bigger of the two consumer catalogs typically arrives in the spring, not too long after the conclusion of the International Toy Fair held in New York City each year for more than a century. This catalog simply blows you away, thanks to the extraordinary assortment of brand-new models being offered.
Less than six months later, usually in the middle of the summer, Lionel brings out its second catalog for consumers. Even if the number of pages and array of trains presented don’t equal what you’ll find in the initial catalog, they suffice to leave operators quite impressed. And most amazing of all, there is seldom much of an overlap: The second volume has loads of new models.
Given the depth of the Volume II catalog, I had no hesitation about diving into its 80 or so pages to share my thoughts on what’s there that appeals to me. I chose not to explore the additional items found in the online version of the new catalog. There seemed to be plenty to occupy my mind in the glossy print version.
Like many of you, I pick up and study the new Lionel catalogs from the vantage point of someone who grew up during the post-World War II period and then returned to O gauge modeling during the modern era that lasted from 1970 to the middle of the 1990s – before command-control systems took over and massive and expensive locomotives boasting a variety of digital features became the rage.
It’s not that I’ve turned my back on the old stuff or reject out of hand the new stuff. I walk a balance beam when it comes to what’s hitting the market these days. And to be honest with you, I believe that’s an enlightened yet traditional approach adopted by many hobbyists, especially readers of Classic Toy Trains.
Okay – enough talk and introduction. Let’s dig into the latest catalog!
First, however, let me explain my technique for going through a catalog, one first developed by my much younger self in the late 1950s and refined very nicely ever since. Like most of you, I start at the beginning, of course, curious about the brand-new outfits. However, I keep in mind what I already own.
What does this mean? As a boy the new outfits had little appeal to me. I already had my basic freight set – steam engine, tender, and half-a-dozen pieces of rolling stock. I knew Mom and Dad weren’t planning to expand my O-27 roster with a second set – freight or passenger – and so I instinctively ignored the sets.
Additionally, the biggest, baddest, and most expensive locomotives had no more than minimal appeal. I was free to dream about getting a Berkshire or an F3 combination, but I somehow realized the odds were against me. My hobby budget had severe limitations, especially when I enjoyed other toys and activities. I had fun with my Lionel trains at the same time I was filling shelves with die-cast metal vehicles, flipping baseball cards, and tossing a football outside with pals.
Locomotives of interest
You’re getting the picture. When opening Volume II of the 2023 catalog, the Legacy-equipped steam and diesel locomotives described by Lionel as “Built to Order” and bearing the heftiest price tags were scanned and then passed over.
The F-19 Pacifics looked grand and will eventually become the focus of my attention when I’m updating the annual Lionel Pocket Price Guide. For now, unfortunately, I neglected them and the passenger cars made to match. Even less appealing were the giant articulated steamers each priced at close to $2,000.
Sandwiched between the monsters I spied a group of 2-8-0 Consolidations that I really liked. They come with Legacy command control, a great feature known as “Whistle Steam,” and details specific to their prototype. My favorite is the No. 2431390 simply because it sports a silver boiler and a Seaboard Air Line herald next to the figure whose right arm can be seen poking from a cab window.
Turning to the diesels, I found myself intrigued by a few of the SD50 road units. Ever since learning more about the history of Conrail when writing a short Collectible Classic for CTT a few months ago, that railroad has become more interesting to me. So I liked the No. 2433241 shown with the well-known “can opener” herald added in white to the striking Conrail Blue body shell of the SD50.
The traditionalist in me also gave a big thumbs-up to the neat assortment of GP30 road diesels seen on pages 32 and 33. Something about the boxy design and the elementary paint schemes got my heart racing. Years of listening to my terrific colleague Bob Keller rave about the New York Central convinced me the No. 2433131 model was the one to bring home, especially with the nose herald.
A final group of diesels fascinating me consisted of Alco S2 switchers presented on pages 40 and 41. Again, I preferred a paint scheme from the past, so the No. 2433330 Lehigh & New England with its bold white band on each side and the slick herald seemed like a winner. But right below that old-timer is an S2 decked out in black, red, and gray stripes with a red cab. In the middle of each side is a stylized NASA logo. I don’t know whether the National Aeronautics & Space Administration did own an S2, but I sure love the bold look of this baby.
To the rolling stock
By this point, I was heading right down the backstretch of the catalog. The Legacy sets, notably the No. 2422020 Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway train, were undoubtedly cool and imaginative. I had never heard of that unique heavyweight passenger outfit, but the deep blue paint scheme on the long cars was a knockout.
More to my liking was the rolling stock. Lionel always brings out modern types that have been overlooked in the past. I give the firm and its product design team tons of respect for their research and creativity. In this case, I have in mind the PS-5 gondolas. These covered models look great, with my top choice to bring home being the No. 2426270 LNLX with graffiti splashed across each long side.
Next to win me over were the PS-2CD covered hoppers. Out here in the Midwest, we often see these massive cars filled with grains of all kinds. This is why I’m voting for the No. 2442140 pack of three different regional co-ops. Besides, how could I ignore a set that has one covered hopper lettered for Rogers Grain Co. Yes, this business really does exist, based in a town in Indiana!
I’ve been a sucker for double-door boxcars since I learned about the No. 6468 Baltimore & Ohio model done in blue for the line introduced back in 1953. Lionel has made that terrific freight car a standard member of its roster in recent decades, so I wasn’t too surprised to see five handsome cars illustrated on page 59. My loyalties to Los Angeles where I grew up burst through when I glanced at the two double-door cars bearing the name of the fabled Southern Pacific RR.
Wrapping it up
The Volume II catalog wrapped up with locomotives equipped to operated using LionChief Plus 2.0. Those steam and diesel models attracted me because of their excellent operating features and slick array of road names and pant schemes.
Personal favorites ranged from the No. 2432010, whose 726 number and Lionel Lines name hearkened back to the classic Berkshire added to the line in 1946, to the No. 2434020 GP7 road diesel, whose Aberdeen & Rockfish RR markings reminded me of my college years spent in the state of North Carolina. That’s where the 47-mile-long short line with the unforgettable name is based.
This history buff in me insists that I put a plug in for the Bluetooth set honoring Looney Tunes cartoon characters as well as the rolling stock paying tribute to events in the American past. You can decide for yourself what you think about O gauge boxcars recalling the Boston Tea Party, the Gettysburg Address, and the invention of the airplane by Orville and Wilbur Wright 120 years ago.
Last to earn a smile from me were the reissued and updated versions of the classic Mickey Mouse handcar. In addition to offering a faithful rendition of the marvelous item introduced in 1934, Lionel shows on page 78 of the catalog a sweet variety of paint schemes, including one in silver never made in the past.
Wow! Plenty for even this traditionalist to discover and admire in the Volume II catalog for 2023. Have fun paging through it and figuring out which items among the many dozens Lionel has now introduced appeals most to you.
Read Chris Montagna’s thoughts on this catalog.
Read Hal Miller’s thoughts on the 2023 Big Book catalog.