Railroads: Model
 01 Dec 2009 
Copyright © 2009-2016 by owner.
 19 Jan 2018 

Except where otherwise noted, American Flyer S-gauge items displayed on this page were photographed by the author at local model train shows.
We are grateful to other photographers and collectors whose work is also displayed here in reduced resolution.
We urge viewers to view the original works at their outstanding websites.

If you've come to this page hoping to find information about luggage or bicycle racing, sorry, it's not that kind of "American Flyer."  If you've wandered onto this page with no idea of what "American Flyer" has signified in the minds and hearts of American kids from the 1930s through the 1960s, even until well after these kids have grown old, think: "like Lionel trains—only different."  For more in-depth background, you might want to switch to the branch line to "Notes on American Flyer Trains" before proceeding.

But if you've heard of A. C. Gilbert, if you know what "S-scale" means, and if you can tell a Geep from a Hudson, you're clear and green to highball down the main!


Everything Old Is New Again
Video of Faux Flyer in action

Faux Flyer: American Flyer Look-Alikes
Equipment Roster



My "American Flyer" Experience
Origin, History, and Details of the Faux Flyer Project

Notes on...
American Flyer Trains
Plasticville Structures

Websites for Those Who Demand Genuine American Flyer
American Flyer Club
American Flyer Displays
The Gilbert Gallery
My Flyer Trains (Chuck)

I'm a serious model railroader.  I model Baltimore & Ohio and connecting operations in the Appalachian region during the mid 1950s, and my chosen scale is HO (1:87).  I'm picky about getting my equipment to look as close to the real thing as I can manage with my aging eyes and shaky hands.

However, when I'm at local train shows, the inner child in me can't help being drawn to the American Flyer displays, which call to mind my own interests at that long-ago time in my life.  I fancy I'd really enjoy once again having an American Flyer S-gauge train chugging around the tree at Yuletide.  But these days, such equipment is ancient.  Most of it has been run to death by kids, and has long since been gradually deteriorating in dusty attics and damp basements.  It would require much expense and effort to acquire, repair, and maintain, not to mention the space to build and store an S-gauge layout on which to run it.

Then it strikes me:  Forget buying and refurbishing actual Flyer equipment, and building an S-scale layout.  American Flyer modeled real prototype equipment, the same (almost) as HO does.  And I already have an HO layout.  So the obvious solution is:

Model American Flyer in HO!

Under the tree, this HO stuff could easily be mistaken for American Flyer or Lionel—if you don't look too closely!

This early phase was an experiment, done on-the-cheap.  I didn't want to spend a lot on something that might turn out not to hold my interest, or that a playful cat might damage.  So most items here were retrieved from my own discard box, with the exception of the locomotive (purchased on eBay) and the flat car (an inexpensive, throw-together kit).

The project took a few years, passing through an initial "hand-me-downs" phase (2009-2011) and a "prototypes" phase (2011-2013), before my evolving idea of what I wanted and the evolving product finally coincided.  If you love "process" and "background," click here to view the origins and previous phases of the Faux Flyer project.  But if you're mainly interested in results, just continue scrolling down the rest of this page.


 Everything Old Is New Again – Just a Bit Smaller 

Here's the current Faux Flyer fleet, along with some details on how I chose and modified stock HO items to resemble American Flyer S-gauge equipment.  I sometimes operate the Faux Flyer equipment on the big cellar layout, where there's plenty of space to add more cars and let the engines cut loose on straightaways longer than nine inches.

FF13: Side by side
It's beginning to look a lot like the Flyer I remember!  But with some improvements.

Click here to view a ground-level video run-by.
You must have software compatible with .mov video files to view this item.
Please be patient. The 35 Mb file may take from several seconds to several minutes to download.

Faux Flyer: American Flyer Look-Alikes

In the "Flyer Look-Alike" phase, available HO model equipment is selected and modified to resemble corresponding units in American Flyer's S-scale line.  Modification includes adjusting details (such as ladders and roof walks), painting and lettering, and (where a load was included with a Flyer freight car) recreating the loads.

There are limits to this "look-alike" plan.  A car or locomotive already decorated and numbered for a desired prototype is left as is.  But when I redecorate a car specifically for the Faux Flyer roster, in most cases I apply (as nearly as I can duplicate them) Flyer's colors, road names, lettering, and numbering.  Exceptions include units representing S-gauge equipment lettered for "American Flyer" or "American Flyer Lines," which are mostly locomotives and passenger cars.  These are lettered for the prototype railroad (if decals are available).  As to numbers, locomotives (of which there are currently only two) receive prototype numbers, but passenger cars are numbered according to Flyer's practice.

Most early post-war American Flyer equipment was lettered in a uniform  G O T H I C  font, even though most prototype railroads of the time used  R O M A N  lettering.  In decorating the Faux Flyer equipment, in most cases I've used prototype lettering styles, since decals of these are what's commercially available to modelers, most of whom model prototype equipment, not toys.  But for units on which there are no long road names or other lettering strings, I can piece together the individual characters from an alphabet-number decal sheet to match what's on the Flyer car: black Roman for the C&NW flat car, white Gothic for the LNE hopper car, etc.


Equipment Roster

The table below displays the original American Flyer S-gauge equipment side by side (or one over the other, in the case of locomotives) with my HO replications of it.


Steam: the New York Central "Hudson"

Despite that I never owned one, American Flyer's Hudson has a double appeal for me.  On Flyer's steam roster, it was a coveted prize, second only to the stupendous Union Pacific class FEF-1 4-8-4 "Northern" type.  The Hudson also represented one of the real locomotives that daily charged through my home town.  And on a few occasions, New York Central's Hudsons (J-1's or J-3's) faithfully hauled me home after I'd been visiting my grandparents in Cincinnati, until the last of the Central's steamers were replaced by diesels in 1956.

American Flyer #320-326 4-6-4 "Hudson" type, New York Central class J-3a

Rivarossi 4-6-4 "Hudson" type, New York Central class J-3a 5405
(original, low-grade model, used)

The Rivarossi Hudson wears its original paint and lettering, except that the cylinder heads are changed from silver to black.  I don't think the engineer was standard equipment on this model.  However, he came with this pre-owned engine, and is welcome to stay as long as he enjoys the job and is willing to work for free!

There were several variants within the prototype New York Central's sub-class J-3a.  The most obvious of these were between streamlined or unstreamlined versions, and between 14-wheel "centipede" or 12-wheel conventional tenders.  Additional options included Scullin-disk or Box-Pok type driving wheels, and rectangular or cylindrical feedwater heaters.  NYC's number 5405 was an unstreamlined engine with a 12-wheel tender, Box-Pok drivers, and a cylindrical feedwater heater.  This combination was the prototype for both American Flyer and Rivarossi models.

Diesel-Electric: GM's Electro-Motive GP-7

The "Flyer look-alike" project poses a problem for my Baltimore & Ohio GP-7.  My research has revealed that American Flyer did not produce any Geeps in B&O paint.  So, since I'll sometimes be running mine on the big B&O layout in the cellar, I must find a road name in which Flyer produced its Geep that might credibly be found on B&O rails during the early 1950s.  Looking at the target production years of 1950 through 1957, I find that Flyer's Geep was produced in Texas & Pacific, Union Pacific, and Chesapeake & Ohio road names.  The T&P and UP were western roads completely outside B&O territory.  And the C&O, though it was in B&O's area, was also a bitter rival at that time, and not likely to be sharing trackage with B&O except in limited interchange or emergency service.  This leaves one possibility: the Electro-Motive GP-7 demonstrator, the first color scheme in which Flyer offered its Geep when it was brand new.  The Electro-Motive division of the real General Motors had produced three GP-7 demonstrator units, numbered 100, 200, and 300.  These toured many American railroads between 1950 and 1954, the B&O probably among them.

American Flyer had a reputation for good quality modeling (by the standards of the day).  In 1950, the company introduced models of two new diesel locomotives: an Alco PA- PB set that lived up to this reputation, and an EMD GP-7 that did not.

Aesthetically, Flyer's GP-7 was horribly botched, starting with the trucks, whose gross oversize might have been attributable to mechanisms borrowed from the larger Alcos.  From this key error of geometry, there ensued a cascade of other errors in an apparently panicked attempt to compensate.  (Even Lionel's O-gauge Geep looked more realistic!)  And to add insult to injury, Flyer's paint scheme was a crudely stingy reduction of the prototype's strikingly handsome markings.

Still, these units performed well (considering only four of the eight wheels were powered), and in the 1950s Flyer sold a fair number of them to an uncritical consumer base, to whom Geeps were a brand new, and thus not yet familiar, phenomenon.  Flyer's early GM units were typically included in short work-train sets; the later T&P, UP, and C&O units were packaged with military and freight train sets of up to six cars.

American Flyer #370 EMD GP-7, General Motors demonstrator (simplified)
(Photo by author at Dayton Train Show.)

Athearn EMD GP-7 demonstrator, GM 300
(modified, redecorated, budget model, r-t-r)

For this project, my old B&O Geep is partially de-modified from passenger service (roof-mounted "torpedo boat" air tanks are removed), and directional LED headlights are installed.  Cab window glazing is Microscale Kristal-Klear.  Added details, color scheme, and numbering conform to the prototype GM 300.

Paint: Polly Scale flat aluminum (body), caboose red (fuel fillers), and engine black (trucks and underbody); Modelflex B&O royal blue
Decals: Microscale 87-1003

Athearn's GP-7 suffers from the distraction of a slightly wider than scale hood, necessary to accommodate the open-frame HO motors of the 1950s.  Consequently, the Athearn unit's "chisel-nose" ends have a curiously blunt appearance.  But this minor deformity is insignificant compared to Flyer's bungled attempt to approximate EMD's then-newest product. So, in this case, the "Flyer look-alike" effort is set aside, in order to create a model that looks, not like Flyer's, but as Flyer's should have looked, had it stuck to its established standard of quality.  (Indeed, American Flyer's 1950 catalogue depicted the unit in (more or less) prototype geometry and paint.  Evidently, the marketing artist hadn't yet seen Gilbert's production model!)

Diesel-Electric: Santa Fe Alco PA/PB-1

Eventually I decided to abandon any pretext of justifying the running of foreign-road equipment on my B&O layout.  I had now accumulated three Faux Flyer trains, but only two locomotives to haul them.  The GP-7 was dedicated to the freight train, but the NYC Hudson had to do double-duty, switching off between the two passenger sets: the red heavyweights and the silver streamliners.  I decided that, if I could find one at a reasonable price, I'd add a look-alike for Flyer's 36x series Santa Fe Alco PA/PB set to haul the streamliners.  Fancy that: a pair of flashy silver Alco's in Santa Fe's wild-west red war-bonnet scheme, plying the Alleghenies!  Oh well, it'll only be for the holidays, I told myself.

American Flyer #36x Alco PA-1 / PB-1 in Santa Fe's red "war-bonnet" scheme
(Photo courtesy of The Gilbert Gallery.)

At the model railroad show in the autumn of 2017, I found and purchased a used Athearn set of Alcos for a fraction of the price that such items were fetching on eBay.

Athearn Alco PA-1 / PB-1, ATSF #75
(budget model, r-t-r)

As with the S-gauge American Flyer Alcos, only the lead cab unit is powered; the booster unit is a dummy.  Once properly lubricated and adjusted, the Athearn unit runs well enough, albeit rather noisily.  It had a few superficial blemishes, but these have since been touched up, and a directional LED headlight has been added.

As replacement power for the Hudson on the streamlined passenger train, the Alco PA and PB units together are longer than the Hudson and its tender.  However, the Hudson can't run without its tender, but the Alco cab unit can run without the booster.  By itself, the cab unit is short enough that the train length on the small Yule tree layout can be extended, from two cars with the Hudson, to three with the PA.

Freight Cars

The first complete "Flyer look-alike" freight train, with one of each of the eight basic freight car types, prowls the Alleghenies in 2014.

These American Flyer S-scale cars...
(Photos in this column are of others' equipment.
Photo sources other than the author are noted.)
...are represented by these Faux Flyer HO cars.
(All photos in this column are by the author and of his own equipment.)



The following three cars were manufactured either by or for Gilbert-HO.  They are used without modification, except for installation of Kadee magnetic couplers for operational compatibility.  Even the 500-series numbers for Gilbert HO cars have been left unchanged.

Cars made by Varney used different casting dies from those used by Gilbert, but in most cases were decorated similarly.

AF "Gulf" tank car
AF #625 / 925 Gulf tank car, GRCX 5016
(Photo courtesy of The Gilbert Gallery)
(I owned one of these!)

The Gulf tank car was one of the few American Flyer cars that displayed both a prototype car number and Gilbert's unit number.  As far as I know, no prototype Gulf tank cars were ever painted aluminum; most, if not all, were black.

Gilbert-Varney #500 36' tank car, GRCX 5016 "Gulf"
(original, budget model, used)

Note that this Gilbert-Varney HO car has black tank ends, dome cap, ladders, and handrails, whereas these components on the American Flyer S-gauge car are the same aluminum color as the rest of the tank.  (Some HO units were produced without these black accents.)  Some Varney tankers (including the one above) were shipped without side ladders.  I corrected this before putting this car into service.

Varney-made tank cars (above) were a scale 36 feet long with standard frames, whereas Gilbert-made tankers (below) were a scale 40 feet with fish-belly center beam frames.

AF #912 Koppers chemical tank car

(Photo by author, Dayton Train Show 2015)

This black Koppers car was the second of American Flyer's chemical tank cars.  (The first, #910 bearing the fictitious "Gilbert Chemicals" name, was discontinued after only one year.)  Although Flyer had made oil-refinery tankers early on, it did not produce a chemical version of the car until 1954, after the changeover to knuckle couplers.  Hence, there were no chemical tankers in Flyer's 600 numbering series.

Gilbert-HO #518 40' chemical tank car, KPCX "Koppers"
(original, medium-grade toy, r-t-r)

I acquired this car at a swap meet in early 2016.  Although the Gilbert-HO car is similar to the S-scale tanker, subtle differences include the ladder height, frame type (standard on the S car, versus fish-belly on the HO), dome vent details, and dimensional data.

AF #642 / #942 SAL "Silver Meteor" box car
(Photo by author, Dayton Train Show 2015)

This was among the first of American Flyer's die-cast postwar box cars to be produced in a prototype paint scheme.  There was also an action version of this car, featuring a man pacing to and fro along the roof walk.

Gilbert-HO #514 40' box car, SAL "Silver Meteor"
(original, medium-grade toy, r-t-r)

This was my first piece of HO rolling stock, acquired about 1960, as I was in the process of trading in my S-gauge American Flyer equipment.

This Gilbert unit is very primitive: no corner steps, grossly oversize door guides, crude and inaccurate details all over, and topped off with a stick-on paper "Seaboard" herald.  Only the sprung Bettendorf trucks look fairly prototypical.  The car looks quite out of place with the better detailed equipment I've purchased since.  However, I keep it in the Faux Flyer roster for old times' sake.

In later years, Gilbert outsourced much of its HO production to other manufacturers.  Gilbert-made cars looked more like Flyer S, but Varney-made cars were more prototypically accurate.



The following HO models have been selected and modified to resemble American Flyer S-scale equipment, using Flyer's (in some instances non-prototypical) paint schemes and numbers.
(Listed in approximate order of production by American Flyer—except the caboose, which marked the end of virtually every American freight train in those days.)

AF C&NW log car
AF #628 Chicago & North Western "log car" 42597

(Photo by author, Dayton Train Show 2014)
(I owned one of these!)

The C&NW flat car was one of a few cars that displayed prototype car numbers instead of American Flyer unit numbers.  It displayed little else, aside from reporting marks.  Prototype CNW flat cars were oxide red with white lettering.  (That they ever hauled stained wooden dowels is probably as fictitious as the gray color.)

Athearn 40' flat car with log load, C&NW 42597
(redecorated, budget model, kit)

For the "log" load, I used 3/8" diameter basswood dowels with walnut stain.  The tie-down straps are Evergreen styrene strips painted black.

Paint: Polly Scale CSX gray.
Decals: Microscale 90002 black "Railroad Roman" alphabet set.

AF MP cattle car
AF #629 / 929 Missouri Pacific "cattle car"

(Photo by author, Dayton Train Show 2014)

(I owned one of these!)

Some versions of the Flyer stock car had prototypical slots in the sides, whereas the only open slots on this one are in the doors.  My guess is that the manufacturer decided to close the slots, either because open-slotting increased production costs, or because a slotted body didn't have enough strength to withstand rough use as a toy.

Trainline 40' composite stock car, MP 929
(redecorated, high-grade model, r-t-r)

This is the only high-grade model in the Faux Flyer fleet, since it was the only model available that conformed acceptably to Gilbert's design—never mind that the diagonal bracing goes in the opposite direction!

Paint: Polly Scale (mix): mineral red + caboose red.
Decals: Microscale 87-189; Westerfield 8801.

AF #931 T&P gondola
AF #631 / 931 Texas & Pacific gondola
(Photo by author, Dayton Train Show 2013)
(I owned one of these!)

Prototype T&P gondolas were painted black with white lettering.  The dark green was the toymaker's choice, presumably to add a bit more seasonal color to Christmas-tree displays.  Flyer at least saw fit to print loading data on this car.

Mantua 40' 11-panel gondola, T&P 631
(redecorated, budget model, used)

The Mantua 11-panel gondola is a close match to the Flyer car.  However, the American Flyer gon has full ladders,.  For this Faux Flyer copy, though, I left the bare climbing rungs, true to the T&P prototype.

Paint: Polly Scale (mix): 10 parts sylvan green : 1 engine black.
Decals: Microscale 87-183, 90051 white "Block Gothic" alphabet set, 91111 (data).

AF #632 Lehigh & New England hopper car
(Photo courtesy of
The Gilbert Gallery)
(I owned one of these!)

Prototype LNE hoppers were painted black.  Flyer chose gray instead, apparently feeling black (on anything other than a steam locomotive) would be too gloomy.

Athearn 34' 2-bay flat-end offset-side hopper car, LNE 632
(redecorated, budget model, kit)

Paint: Modelflex NYC light gray #1.
Decals: Microscale 87-2 (data); 87-882 (heralds); 90101 (markings).

AF #633 / 933 Baltimore & Ohio box car
(AF also produced #633 B&O box cars in red with white or silver lettering.)
(Photo by author, Dayton Train Show 2014)
(I owned one of these!)

Although in shape and proportion this car resembles some of the ARA box cars run by the real B&O, the prototype box cars were typically painted in varying shades of oxide red with white lettering, or in a few cases in the flashy Sentinel and Time-Saver schemes—never in brown-over-white.  This color scheme was entirely concocted by Gilbert, and slightly variable, with ladders and grabs white on some cars and black on others.  It was also skimpy on markings: no reporting marks or load capacities, but only some dimensional data.

Train Miniatures 40' ARA box car, B&O 633
(redecorated, budget model, kit)

This ARA car, with Youngstown doors and Dreadnaught ends, is similar to the American Flyer box car.  However, since there was no prototype for the brown-over-white paint scheme on the real B&O, it took a while to find an appropriate set of black decals for it.

Paint: Polly Scale light freight car red (roof & ends); Modelflex antique white (sides). Door rails, ladders, and grab irons blackened with felt-tip pen.
Decals: Champ HN-99; Microscale 87-2 (data).

AF #637 Missouri, Kansas & Texas "Katy" box car
(Photo courtesy of The Gilbert Gallery)
(I owned one of these!)

AF #937 Missouri, Kansas & Texas "Katy" box car
(Photo by author, Dayton Train Show 2014)

The real MKT operated many box cars in typical freight-car red with white lettering.  However, it did up a few with yellow sides and black lettering, though the roofs and ends remained red.

Flyer's 637 and early 937 MKT box car bodies were yellow all over—sides, ends, and roofs.  Later 937s (as in the lower photo) were two-toned with red roofs and ends, as on the prototype. 

Train Miniatures 40' ARA box car, MKT 937
(modified, budget model, kit)

In 2014, I acquired another Train Miniatures ARA boxcar with the correct details to simulate a Flyer box car, and in 2016 I located an appropriate decal set on eBay.  I was originally inclined to model the all-yellow 637 (which was what I'd had in my AF fleet), but decided to go with the more prototypical red-over-yellow 937.  I could always paint the roof and ends yellow if I changed my mind, and it would just represent the earlier version of the 937.

Note "The Katy" lettering is located higher on this car than on the AF car shown.  However, a few AF Katy boxcars had this lettering in the higher position, which was closer to prototype practice allowing space for dimensional data below the logo.

Paint: Modelflex reefer yellow sides, with original TM boxcar red roof and ends. Door rails, ladders, and grab irons blackened with felt-tip pen.
Decals: Champ HB-1.

AF #947 NP plug-door refrigerator car
AF #647 / 947 Northern Pacific refrigerator car
(Photo by author, Dayton Train Show 2013)

Now here's a Flyer car in prototype colors!  The NP reefer was, to my eyes, one of the most strikingly good looking cars in American Flyer's early freight fleet.

I never owned a Flyer reefer, but I sort of "need" one in order to complete a set of basic freight car types.  So now I have an HO look-alike for a Flyer car I never had.

Trainline 40' plug-door refrigerator car, NP 647 "Main Street of the Northwest"
(redecorated, budget model, used)

The car's original 1940s metal-grid roof walk was swapped for a 1930s wood-plank one to match Flyer's anachronistic design.

Paint: Polly Scale light freight car red; Modelflex UP Armor yellow + reefer orange mix.  Door rails and mechanism, ladders, and grab irons blackened with felt-tip pen.
Decals: Microscale 87-488

AF #911 Chesapeake & Ohio gondola with pipe load
(Photo by author, Dayton Train Show 2013)

By 1953, American Flyer had gotten over its postwar aversion to black and other dull prototype colors.  At the same time, however, some prototype paint schemes were getting flashier.  But changing from oxide red to satin black was C&O's idea of "flashy."  Still, the pipes jazz it up a notch.

There are only 6 pipes in the American Flyer car's load.  The area below the car sill, which might appear to contain 3 more pipes, is instead occupied by a filler block.

Over the years of production, Flyer used various colors for the pipes—aluminum, gray, even red.  Late versions of this car (1958 and later) featured yellow lettering and a stripe along the bottom of the side, following the prototype C&O's evolving freight-car art.

Mantua 40' 11-panel gondola, C&O 911

(redecorated, budget model, used)

For the C&O gon, I decided to grind off Mantua's bare climbing rungs and add full ladders to match Flyer's configuration.  The full 9-pipe load in this car is Evergreen 3/8" diameter styrene tubing, resting on 3/32" stripwood to clear the car's interior bracing..  The 0.030" thick styrene stakes make for a snug fit to hold everything in place.

Paint: Modelflex engine black (car), reefer yellow (stakes); Polly Scale flat aluminum (pipes).
Decals: Microscale 87-1045.
(This decal set is for a hopper car, and the "C&O for Progress" herald is aesthetically too large for the gon.  Still, it fits the available space—barely.)

AF #924 Central of New Jersey cement car
(Photo courtesy of The Gilbert Gallery)

This is one American Flyer freight car that defies duplicating in HO scale!  As far as I'm aware, there never was a prototype for it.  In the 1940s, prototype railroads first experimented with covered hopper designs by applying hatch roofs to standard open-top hopper cars.  This would enable transport of bulk products that had to be kept dry—e.g., cement, flour, grain—without the laborious and time-consuming loading and unloading of box cars by men with shovels, as had been the practice for such loads until that time.

However, the cars used for these experiments were typically outside-braced—either vertically ribbed or composite truss designs, not the more capacious but somewhat weaker offset-side design.  The extra strength of outside bracing was important because of the greater density of bulk cement compared to coal.

Flyer's problem was that the only hopper car in its S-gauge roster at the time was an offset-side model.  So that's what was used, prototypical or not.  Also odd about Flyer's car were the reporting marks.  All prototype Jersey Central cars I've seen had "CNJ" markings; I've never come across one lettered for "CRP."  But that's what Flyer used, and so have I.

Athearn 34' 2-bay flat-end offset-side hopper car, CRP 924
(budget model, new, modified with scratch-built 8-hatch roof)

As with my other Faux Flyer hopper cars, the cement car is based on a stock Athearn open-top, offset-side hopper.  I imitated the Flyer add-on roof, using a Camino milled basswood roof-and-floor kit, plus some Plastruct styrene "T" stock for the roof bracing, but omitting the five small edge braces along each side of the roof, judging them too tiny for my clumsy old fingers to deal with.

I initially thought of using strip wood or styrene to build up a crude approximation of the rectangular roof hatches.  But then I decided to check my discard bin, where I found an old Varney covered hopper.  I cut the hatches from the roof, and rubber-cemented them into place on my Faux Flyer unit.

Paint: Modelflex CB&Q gray
Decals: Microscale 87-231 ("Liberty" heralds); 87-1 (data); 90102 (Gothic letters, numbers).

AF #801 Baltimore & Ohio hopper car
(Photo courtesy of The Gilbert Gallery)

Did you happen to notice this car number seems out of sequence?  That's because Flyer opened the sparsely populated 800 series when the rapidly filling 900 series was about to overflow in 1956-57.  So no, I haven't gone dotty.  Newer production cars were added to the lower-numbered series.  The cars are in chronological production order, even if not numerical.

Athearn 34' 2-bay flat-end offset-side hopper car, B&O 801, with coal load

(redecorated, budget model, kit)

I'd already borrowed this car from the model roster for the "Hand-Me-Down" phase.  So, all I had to do to make this a permanent Faux Flyer unit was change the number.  Good enough!

Paint: Floquil engine black.
Decals: Champ HC-77.

AF #630 Reading caboose
AF #630 Reading caboose

(Photo courtesy of
The Gilbert Gallery)
(I owned one of these!)

Rather out of sequence both number-wise and chronology-wise here, but appropriately bringing up the rear of this freight consist.

Varney centered-cupola steel caboose, RDG 630
(redecorated and illuminated budget model, used)

The faithful old caboose now has updated paint, lettering, and interior lighting.  The window glazing is Microscale Kristal-Klear.

It's plausible that Reading cabooses might sometimes appear on Baltimore & Ohio rails, since at one time B&O owned RDG, and they shared trackage rights in some areas.

Paint: Polly Scale caboose red (body), Armour yellow (handrails & ladders), engine black (trucks and underframe).
Decals: Microscale 87-883.


Passenger Cars

The only American Flyer passenger cars I owned were from the standard fleet, an assortment of Osgood-Bradley "New Haven" style cars and one Pullman heavyweight observation car.  I craved a streamlined passenger set, like the ones that dazzled me as they daily whooshed through town on the real New York Central, drawn by real Hudsons.  But that wish was never granted.  However, now I have a reasonable facsimile in HO, so I'm not complaining!


Except for the dome car, I can recall the scene below from real life, when NYC's Ohio State Limited stopped at Winton Place (suburban Cincinnati) depot!  This photo also captures all four structures in the Winton Place ensemble (craftsman laser-cut wooden kits by Mountaineers Precision Products).

The Pacemaker streamliner, hauled by the NYC Hudson, pauses to load passengers at Haydn Place depot.

The Chief streamliner roars along the viaduct toward Union Station.

All coupled up to the Alcos, this four-car streamlined set makes a nice approximation of American Flyer's Chief passenger set from the early 1950s, which included the combine, dome, and observation cars, but not the coach (which was available separately).  The full set can be run only on the big cellar layout.  Just three of these cars are all that will fit behind the single PA1 unit on the tiny Yule-tree layout, without fouling the switches for the passing track.

In 1950, when American Flyer produced its first model of a passenger diesel-electric locomotive (an Alco PA/PB-1), it also introduced a line of four streamlined passenger cars to go with it: a combine, a coach, a vista dome, and a round-end observation.  The initial design of these cars generally mimicked Budd prototypes, but were seriously flawed in details:  The side fluting unprototypically continued over the vestibule doors, which had windows at the same level as the chair windows rather than at standing eye-level.  In 1952, these flaws were corrected, and a second lettering board was added above the windows.  In most cases, "American Flyer Lines" was the name displayed on this upper board in both the 66x and 96x series; however, a briefly produced 500-503 series bore the name "Pullman" on the upper board, and "American Flyer Lines" on the lower.  Eventually, the streamliners even showed up in a couple of the pricier steam passenger train sets, behind the UP 4-8-4 and the NYC 4-6-4.

Athearn's HO streamlined passenger cars provide a visually pleasing and adequate, if less than perfect, match to American Flyer's four-car streamliner set.  Compromises include the following:

  • Athearn does not offer a streamlined baggage-club combine, so I've substituted a postal car as an aesthetic stand-in with a similar window-and-door pattern.

  • Most of American Flyer's streamliners were lettered for American Flyer Lines.*  There being no "American Flyer" decals offered in HO scale, I applied American Flyer's car numbers, but lettered the streamlined cars for New York Central (since the Hudson was pulling them at the time).

  • Now that the Santa Fe Alcos are hauling the streamliners, I'm contemplating re-lettering the cars for Pullman (as was an uncatalogued 500-503 series of Flyer streamliners in 1952-53), so they can credibly be coupled to locomotives from any major American railroad of the mid 20th century..

AF #660 streamlined baggage-club combine

Athearn streamlined 60' RPO (railway post office) car, NYC 660
(budget model, used)

The previous owner cemented the body onto the frame, so there's no way of getting into it for adding details or lighting, without risking significant damage.

AF #661 streamlined coach

Athearn streamlined 70' coach, NYC 661
(illuminated budget model, used)

AF #662 streamlined vista dome car

Athearn streamlined 70' vista dome car, NYC 662
(illuminated budget model, used)

AF #663 streamlined observation car

The American Flyer cars pictured above are from the initial production of 1950-51.  The retooled 1952 line corrected the annoying flaws.

Athearn streamlined 70' observation car, NYC 663
(illuminated budget model, used)

Decals: Microscale 87-1352 (all streamlined passenger cars).

When I began acquiring cars for the Faux Flyer streamliner in 2010, the project was still in "minimum cost" mode, and second-hand Athearn cars were cheap and plentiful.  During the "prototypes" phase of the project, the NYC Hudson steamer was the sole passenger power available.  I resisted the temptation to add a dome car, since the prototype New York Central never operated them.  But since evolving to the "Flyer look-alikes" phase, the standard has been revised accordingly, and I've relented.

Recently, however, I've been looking at Tyco 70-foot "shorty" streamliners, which are much closer to American Flyer designs, and which include a baggage-coach combine.  I'm now considering replacing the Athearn streamline set with Tyco cars, assuming I can find some in acceptable condition and at an agreeable price.


The Hudson pauses at Haydn Place with its three-car set of heavyweight Pullmans.

This consist resembles American Flyer set 4612 / 4613, produced from 1946 to 1948, except that this train has only one sleeping car, whereas the Flyer set had two.  Even just three of these cars are too long to fit on the tiny Yule layout behind the Hudson, without fouling the switches for the passing siding.  So, I use just two of the cars on the small layout—though which two might vary from day to day.

Heavyweight passenger cars are an afterthought for the Faux Flyer project.  I've already put together a complete freight fleet, and a four-car streamlined passenger train.  But wait!  As a boy, the only Flyer passenger cars I'd owned were the non-streamlined "standard" variety.  So, since the purpose of Faux Flyer is to lend tangibility to my own childhood memories, I ought to be running the older style cars.  So that's been my focus in 2016.

American Flyer produced its standard passenger cars in both red and green versions.  My boyhood passenger set had been green, and the prototype NYC ran green heavyweights behind its Hudsons.  So, in planning the Faux Flyer version, I'd intended to use Sylvan Green as the base color for the set.  However, three factors ultimately caused me to opt instead for red:
[1] in American Flyer's passenger train sets, catalogues show the Hudson locomotive with red cars;
[2] if Faux Flyer should ever acquire an HO PRR Pacific, that Pennsy engine would definitely look more at home with red cars; and
[3] on the little holiday layout, gleaming red cars traversing white snowscape would offer a festive contrast to the dark green Yule tree.
And that's why the Faux Flyer set ended up red instead of green!

These American Flyer S-scale cars...
(Photos in this column are of others' equipment.
Photo sources other than the author are noted.)
...are represented by these Faux Flyer HO cars.
(All photos in this column are by the author and of his own equipment.)

AF #653 heavyweight baggage-club car
(#953 "Niagara Falls" pictured)
(Photo by author at Dayton Train Show.)

Athearn heavyweight 70' baggage-club combine, Pullman 653
(budget model, kitbashed)

Athearn doesn't make a baggage-club combine, so I cut up and spliced a couple of used cars—a baggage car and a sleeper—to approximate Flyer's head-end heavyweight.  I've retained materials from the former sleeper to replace the odd-spaced windows (near the vestibule end of the car) with an additional set of paired windows—if I ever work up the courage to complete the transformation.


AF #652 heavyweight sleeping car
(Photo by author at Dayton Train Show.)

Athearn heavyweight 70' sleeper, Pullman 652
(budget model)

AF #654 heavyweight platform observation car
(Photo by author at Dayton Train Show.)

The American Flyer cars in the photos above look darker than they actually are, owing to the poor lighting on the swap-meet display tables.  As I recall, actual AF passenger car colors varied considerably over the 12 years of production.  Greens swung from dark pine to a slightly bluish medium green, while the reds fluctuated from a somber "Tuscan" to an exuberant "Ferrari."  The red on my Faux Flyer fleet, seen under "cool-white" fluorescent lighting, lies somewhere between these extremes.

Athearn heavyweight 70' observation, Pullman 654
(budget model)

The Athearn cars' window dimensions and spacing do not match American Flyer's. However, considering the less-than-expert level of my modeling skills, a smooth if not entirely faithful overall appearance is far preferable.

These cars do not yet have interior lighting, but I hope to add this feature in time for the next holiday season.

Paint: Modelflex "Caboose Red" (body); Floquil "Brass" (platform railing).
Lettering: Microscale 90101 "Railroad Gothic" white alphabet set.

Modelflex's caboose red is somewhat darker than its competitors' equivalents, and thus makes for a more dignified appearance than the brighter shades produced by Floquil or Scalecoat. Still, I've chosen to use a gloss finish, rather than matte, on these "varnish" cars.

It seems I've overshot the project target.  The Faux Flyer freight roster now sports more than one example of some car types—three box cars (B&O, MKT, and SAL), two gondolas (T&P and C&O), and two hopper cars (LNE and B&O).  Such a situation doesn't trouble the big railroads in the least, for they routinely haul a hundred cars per train, and thousands of trains per day, over tens of thousands of miles of track.  But because the small Yule layout can accommodate only an eight-car train behind the GP-7, it won't be possible to run all the cars on that layout (if our frisky kitty ever mellows enough to allow its return), unless I enlarge it (the layout, that is; the kitty is self-enlarging).  But as long as Faux Flyer operates on the cellar layout, with 1.5 scale miles of double-track loop, the sole limiting factor is the pulling power of the locomotives.



Setting up the little portable layout alongside the big permanent one makes one thing glaringly apparent: the smaller layout's shortage of scenery and buildings.  Building any permanent scenery on the portable layout poses a clearance problem when the layout is being moved or in storage.  However, like rolling stock, individual buildings can easily be removed and boxed when the layout is put away after the holidays. 

Gilbert made many structures to go with its S scale American Flyer trains.  But in most cases, no HO equivalents were offered.  However, other manufacturers made kit buildings intended for use with Flyer and Lionel trains, as well as downsized versions of these for HO layouts.

For the under-tree layout, I've used Bachmann Plasticville HO kits, painted (when necessary) to mimic similar S-scale structures made by or for Flyer—with one overall deviation:  Since these buildings will be used exclusively on the Yule layout portraying a winter scene, the tops of the buildings receive a thin and unevenly airbrushed coat of white and glitter, leaving just enough of the building's roof color showing through to suggest a dusting of snow rather than white-painted roofs.

These S-scale structures...
(Photos in this column are of others' equipment.
Photo sources other than the author are noted.)
...are represented by these HO structures.
(All photos in this column are by the author and of his own equipment.)

Plasticville O/S suburban station
(Photo by author, Dayton Train Show 2015)

(I owned one of these.)

Plasticville's suburban station includes an auxiliary platform, but the station itself is similar to American Flyer's #788.

AF #788 suburban station
(Photo courtesy of The Gilbert Gallery)
This sample is missing its chimney!

Flyer also offered an action version of this station (#789), featuring a baggage handler. These replaced Flyer's original "Mystic" station in 1956.

AF #589 passenger & freight station
(Photo by author, Dayton Train Show 2015)

Flyer's first post-war station was this crude sheet-metal job.  Produced from 1946 until 1956, "Mystic" station (named after a town in Connecticut) wore the cartoonish white-and-red color scheme that dominated Flyer's railroad structures of that era.  There was also a "talking" version (#755), as well as one with a platform-mounted freight crane (#612).

Plasticville HO #45173 suburban station ...track side...

...street side
(redecorated kit, new 2009)

Plasticville HO structures are downsized versions of the same maker's O/S structures.  But they aren't exact reductions.  There's often some difference in details or colors.

For example, instead of the green roofs and doors of the larger-scale station, in the HO version these parts are produced in gray.  I left them in the original color for a time, but in 2015 I repainted them green to mimic Flyer's #788 station, and added the "Mystic" name to call to mind the #589 as well.  The window glazing is Microscale Kristal-Klear.

While the roofs have the obligatory dusting of "snow," I did not apply it to the station platforms, since a conscientious station master would surely see to the prompt removal of all such hazards for safety reasons.

Most early Plasticville buildings had a rectangular cutout at ground level, to allow low-voltage wires strung across the living room floor (where many temporary home layouts were set up for the holidays) to provide power for interior lighting.  Since all wiring on this layout is hidden beneath the surface board, I've blocked these unsightly openings by various means, such as strategically placed shrubbery.

Plasticville O/S #45608 Cape Cod style houses

(Photo by author, Dayton Train Show 2015)

Plasticville made a multiple-dwelling kit, from which a variety of small houses could be built by mixing and matching parts.  The nearest American Flyer equivalent was the #161 bungalow, produced in 1953.

AF #161 bungalow
(Photo courtesy of The Gilbert Gallery)

Plasticville HO #45131 Cape Cod style house
(redecorated kit, new 2009)

I chose this tiny Cape Cod house to represent a "pocket-size" version of our own home, with green roof, shutters, and awnings.  Unlike the O/S scale Cape Cod, the HO version has ornamental gables.

The passenger station and the Cape Cod house were the first structures to be added to the portable Yule layout.  Previously, the portions of the layout surface not covered by tracks had served as a platform for the tree and gifts.  But there are fewer of the latter, now that there are no children living with us.  So, a few buildings, vehicles, shrubs, and trees help make the white space more interesting.

AF #590 control tower (made by Bachmann)
(Photo courtesy of The Gilbert Gallery)

This S-scale tower is illuminated and has opening doors.  An architectural oddity of the #590 is the apparent application of roofing shingles to the walls just below the window sills.  I wondered whether there was an actual railroad prototype for such a feature, and if so, what the reason for it might have been.

Some time later, I came across some photos of prototype Baltimore & Ohio towers with just this feature.  I still don't know whether it served a useful function or was just ornamental, but there was a prototype for it!

This plastic #590 control tower above replaced Flyer's original #593 sheet-metal signal tower (shown below for comparison) in 1956.

AF #593 signal tower
(Photo courtesy of The Gilbert Gallery)

Plasticville HO #45132 control tower
(redecorated kit, used 2015)

This is the HO version of the S-scale tower that Bachmann made for Flyer.  Though it's no longer in production, I managed to pick up a used one at a train show in 2015.

Though the S and HO versions are similar, there are some differences.
1. The place-name placard is in a different location, and on the HO model it initially read "PLASTICVILLE."
2. The sides of the HO building were originally gray, and everything else was reddish brown.
3. There are no shingles to be seen on the HO version, not even on the roof, let alone the walls.  (The roof is simulated tarpaper, and the walls are clapboard from top to bottom.)

I painted the HO tower to approximate the S scale Flyer's colors: tan and green.  The staircase and walkway were left in the original color, but were sprayed with dull clear lacquer to kill the plastic shine before the building got its obligatory dusting of "snow."  I placed a new placard over the molded-on original, changing the name to "CEDAR HILL JUNCTION" to match the Flyer #590.  The window glazing is Microscale Kristal-Klear.

AF #596 water tank
(Photo courtesy of The Gilbert Gallery)

Flyer's trackside tank came in black-legged and gray-legged versions.  Its roof has a yellow "North" arrow and a red aircraft warning light.  Pressing a remote control button lowers the spout over a locomotive's tender.

Plasticville's #45798 O/S scale water tank (not shown) had a red tank and light gray spout and supporting structure—the opposite of the original colors of its HO counterpart.

Plasticville HO #45153 water
(modified and redecorated kit, new 2015)

The radial configuration of the Plasticville tank's support structure differs noticeably from Flyer's arrangement of four separate trusses under the perimeter of the tank.  While I don't think my Faux Flyer paint job and aircraft warning LED will fool any diehard Flyer enthusiasts, perhaps my artful efforts will distract somewhat from the structural differences.

Let there be light!

I've illuminated all the Plasticville structures in time for the 2015-16 holiday season.  Each structure has a separate lighting unit, comprising a light-emitting diode, a current-limiting resistor, and an RCA phono plug, which mates with a low-voltage supply jack mounted at the building's location on the layout.  During set-up, the lighting unit is plugged in first, and then the building is placed over it; removal is done in reverse order.  This arrangement permits easy removal of structures and lighting units for maintenance and storage.

Building walls and roofs molded in light-colored styrene are semi-translucent, and thus exhibit an other-worldly glow when the interior lights are turned on.  Since the layout's holiday theme is Yuletide jollity, not Hallowe'en creepiness, I've taken steps to render the walls thoroughly opaque.  I first paint the building's interior surfaces with a dark undercoat, to block interior light from falling directly on the walls; I then apply a reflective lighter color over the dark, to reflect and diffuse the light through the windows.

LEFT: The control tower's lighting unit is shown plugged into its jack.
RIGHT: The tower itself can now be carefully placed over the lighting unit.
(Wood strips glued to the layout keep structures properly positioned.)

The freight train passes by the Cape Cod house, the water tank, and the signal tower.

The passenger train pulls into Mystic station in late afternoon...

...but this time of year, it gets dark rather quickly.  (Some say as fast as flicking a light switch!)

Still, something's missing.  Hm.  Why did I leave all that bare space in the middle?

Oh, now I remember...


With the layout perched on a table, the tip of the little 41/2-foot tree crunches against the ceiling!
(Well, it's a low ceiling.)

Okay, so the gas meter isn't exactly festive.  Still, it's symbolic of warmth—like a perpetually replenished stack of cordwood, sans soot and ashes!

We'll try the new tree in the living room—without the trains—and evaluate the feline reaction.  Maybe we'll have to collapse the tree and hide it in a closet whenever no one's around to supervise Tippy.  But if he gets attuned to it, perhaps we can eventually move the seasonal layout back to the living room and set up the old six-foot tree.  We'll see.




The "Faux Flyer Frolic" is a holiday diversion.  My main model railroading interest still lies in the big cellar layout, which is still in a discouragingly underdeveloped state, in serious need of buildings, scenery, and circuitry of all sorts, plus from-the-ground-up construction of a point-to-point branch line for a more hands-on operating experience than the double-track mainline loop allows.  But that's the fun of a hobby like this one.  There's no hurry, no schedule—unless you choose to operate on a timetable or hold yourself to project deadlines.  You do whatever you want to do, whenever you feel like doing it (and can afford it).  You can sidetrack your main operation at any time for as long as you like, in order to indulge a whim or fancy (or even work).  No one will holler at you or dock your pay.  After all, a hobby is supposed to be a fun, leisure activity—not a second job!