News & Reviews News The man behind The Fabelmans and its Lionel trains

The man behind The Fabelmans and its Lionel trains

By Roger Carp | March 20, 2023

| Last updated on April 11, 2023

An Arizona restorer reveals how he became involved with the movie and identifies Steven Spielberg's models

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The Fabelmans’ Lionel trains have been the subject of some speculation lately. You may have recently seen the semi-biopic about Steven Spielberg’s life and wondered about the company that provided them. The movie was recently nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award.

The man responsible for the toy train magic is Gary Rushton, owner of Fun Factory Vintage Trains and Service in Phoenix, Ariz. In 2020 he was contacted by a prop master at Amblin Partners who needed Lionel trains for a production.

The Fabelmans Lionel trains

Amblin is the film and television production firm led by Steven Spielberg. The Fabelmans is based on his early life.

The Fablemans Lionel Trains
The locomotive hurtling toward its demise in The Fabelmans is a postwar No. 2026 restored by Gary Rushton at Fun Factory Vintage Trains and Service. Screen capture from the trailer.

The company needed several sets of the Lionel steamer and tender, and passenger and freight cars Spielberg had received during Chanukah in 1952. The prop master explained that 6-year-old future filmmaker hadn’t been given a cataloged set; instead, his parents had given him different models over the eight nights.

Rushton corresponded with Spielberg via email to figure out the engine and rolling stock line-up. Then Gary acquired several examples of each item and restored them to brand-new condition.

The models

He said it took him about 12 months to find and restore six examples of the Lionel No. 2026 steam engine and No. 6466 tender, along with the two No. 2420-series passenger cars, No. 6454 boxcar, and No. 6357 Southern Pacific-type caboose.

Lionel 2420 passenger cars catalog image
Spielberg received a couple Lionel 2420 passenger cars during Chanukah 1952, when the future filmmaker was 6.

Amblin needed several sets of equipment because they were being used to film a wreck. “Every one of them ended up being destroyed while Spielberg filmed the dramatic crash.”

Final touches

Before the demise of the locomotive and rolling stock, technicians at Amblin tweaked the smoke unit to produce more output, thinking it would make the scene look better. Prop masters at Universal Studios, which distributed The Fabelmans, created faithful reproductions of the Lionel boxes and wrapping paper for Sammy Fableman to open.

Rushton also supplied the correct Lionel transformer for him to operate the train. The tubular track was really the only element where Gary took liberties: Instead of a vintage loop of Lionel straights and curves, he opted for the shiny new pieces from Menards.

The search for the correct Lionel models was harrowing and hectic. Still, Rushton looks back on the experience as positive. He has since been given a similar assignment involving prewar trains for another production. Stay tuned to find out more!

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