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Lionel "Super-O" Track

A Historical Perspective

1957-1966  

  Lionel was at its postwar best in consumer interest as well as quality of
product during the late 1940s and into the early 1950s.  Like every other
successful company, Lionel was always looking towards the future to be
certain they were creating the demand needed to sell their products.  As the
50's progressed, however, their was a definite sagging of interest in their
"O" and "O27" gauge toy trains. Lionel was quite concerned as sales and
profits dropped. As they searched for fresh ideas to rekindle interest in
their toy trains they reviewed and tried many ideas. One major effort was to
develop a new track system. This was the start of "Super-O" track. Let me
tell you a bit more about Lionel "Super-O" track and try to spur your
imagination back to 1957 when "Super-O" was introduced for sale as well as in
the new Lionel Showroom layout (pictures of which are in the Classic Toy
Trains article listed below).
 
During the mid-fifties the space program and many new technological changes
were occurring within the United States and interest in Lionel trains was
dramatically on the wain. Lionel's (and for that matter their major
competitor American Flyer as well) sales were plummeting. Electric race car
sets, HO scale trains, space programs, chemistry sets, plastic models (of
cars, planes, boats, etc.) and many other venues were taking away from
Lionel's sales. Lionel needed to come up with something to try and capture
the imagination of the train buying public.
 
  One area that provided an opportunity was the unrealistic appearance of their
3 rail tinplate track system. Lionel had long been subject to criticism for
the "toy like" appearance of their 3 rail track compared to their main
competitor, American Flyer, who had a 2 rail track. There was no way they
could switch to 2 rail but they made a valiant attempt to provide a much more
realistic track system. "Super-O" was introduced in 1957 and was available
for sale through 1966. Of course, all "Super-O" remained 3 rail.
 
"Super-O" would continue to offer the main 3 rail advantage (ease of hook ups
for reversing loops) and be "scale like" in appearance to try and capture the
interest that was slipping to HO toy trains as well as the other hobby
interests. With its multitude of highly detailed dark brown railroad ties (16
per 9 1/2" straight track section compared to 3 for traditional tubular
track) which included a wood grain appearance plus simulated track plates and
spikes, realistic looking outside rails as well as "invisible" third rail, it
provided a most attractive alternative to traditional tubular track. Not to
mention that if it caught on it would spur a whole new group of purchases and
interests for their new track and hopefully revitalize interest in their
trains.  The patent was issued by the US Patent Office on March 30, 1954, as:

                                Patent Number 2,673,689 Toy Railroad Track
                                     Inventor of Record: Joseph L. Bonanno
                                The patent was applied for on March 26, 1951
  
"Super-0" was a most creative attempt to rekindle interest in Lionel trains.
Lionel advertised that "Super-0" would enhance Magne-Traction due to the flat
surface of the rail compared to the curved surface of "027" and "0" gauge
track systems.  The track system was made available with a complete package
of components that included conversion pins so "Super-0" could connect to
users of "027" and "0" gauge tubular track.  Most offered sections are listed
below:
   
  1.   Curves (#31)           
  2.   Straights (#32)       
  3.   1/2 Curves (#33)   
  4.   1/2 Straights (#34) 
  5.   Remote Control Set (#36) 
             Rails (2) only                    
             Button #90                         
  6.   Uncouplers (#37)                  
            Uncoupler Only               
            Button #90                           
  7.   Accessory Set (#38)            
  8.   Power Tracks (#43)              
  9.   Insulated Straights (#48)     
  10. Insulated Curves (#49)      
  11. Ground Lockon (#61)         
  12. Power Lockon (#62)            
  13. Electric Switches (#112)    
  14. 90 Cross Over (#120)         
  15. 60 Cross Over (#130)         
  16. Manual Switches (#142, #142-125, #142-150)  
  17. Power Bus Bar Connector (#31-7, #31-25, #31-45)
  18. Insulated Power Bus Bar Connector (#32-10, #32-20, #32-45, #32-55)      
  
  19. Steel Coupling Pins (#31-5)
  20. Insulated Coupling Pins (#32-10, #32-55)
  21. 1122-500 Adapter Set ("027" to "Super-0")
  22. T022-500 Adapter Set ("0" to "Super-0")

Not all "Super-O" items were produced throughout that time span but they were
available. As you probably know, the system never had the desired effect of
stimulating the type of interest Lionel had hoped. It seems if Lionel would
have elected to produce 54" and 72" radius track and switches it might have
helped but that probably was not the answer either. Its last year of
production was 1966. "Super-O" 's time had come and it slowly disappeared
from the market.

At this time there are a plethora of track systems on the market.  Never have
there been more track systems for "027" and "0" gauge trains.   One of the
advantages that "Super-0" still offers is it still provides maximum effect
for Magne-Traction locomotives due to the flat surface of the steel rail. 
Also, many competing systems are not magnetic.  "Super-0" is also now
available in the secondary market in any required radius.  Of course, the
switches remain 36" radius.
  
Classic Toy Trains (CTT) has a superb article about Lionel "Super-O" Track in
the November 1997 issue. I will provide a FREE pamphlet 'How To Assemble
Lionel "Super-O" Track' with your order. There is track planning software
also available.

In addition, there is an exquisite 24 page Lionel "Super-O" booklet that was
produced during 1962 by a then Lionel dealer, J. L. Rudley.  Not only are
there 18 pages of well detailed layouts but all layouts include the number of
"Super-O" trackage components (as well as their identification numbers)
required. It also includes 6 pages that include sections on Scenery,
Accessories, Wiring and Layouts.  It is a fine "Super-0" reference book.  
Don't miss it if "Super-0" is your interest.
  
Should you have further questions about "Super-O" track I would be pleased to
answer your E-mailed questions. I have developed an interest in this 40 Year
Old Track System and continually offer it for sale.

 

For information or purchasing Lionel Super-O contact


  hspanier@aol.com

This page Copyrighted 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000

Last updated December 23, 2000

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