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General Trains Inc.

General Trains 2-rail Standard gauge Union Pacific M10000 Streamliner 3-car set #397 circa 1933


General Trains, Inc. of Chicago, Illinois created a pressed steel tinplate streamliner set of a Union Pacific M10000 type passenger train circa 1933. It was offered in 2-rail Standard gauge as either a 3-car or 2-car set with an oval of the company's 'Speed Rail' (12 pieces of track). The company was announced to the world via an ad appearing in Model Craftsman's February 1934 issue. The company was only in business for the two years of 1933-34.

In 1933, the Union Pacific Railroad was moving forward with a new concept in train design: the "streamliner". Advance promotion of this radical departure was accompanied by a great deal of hype, not to mention preliminary artist's images of these "revolutionary changes in train design." Those early drawings would prove to be substantially different from the trains that actually rolled into service the following year, but the Chicago manufacturer that called itself General Trains Inc. couldn't have foreseen that. General Trains raced into production with a Standard Gauge model of the "new Union Pacific type trains" before anyone had seen the real thing. Although very short-lived, their trains would come to hold several places of unique distinction in the pre-war Standard gauge world: the only streamliner; only use of aluminum for train, motors, or track, and only two-rail operation.

General Trains 2-rail Standard gauge Union Pacific M-10000 streamlined 3-car train Set in magenta & silver made 1933

At a time when even Lionel was beginning to see the writing on the wall for Standard Gauge, General Trains jumped in with both feet. They created mammoth cast aluminum passenger cars powered by entirely new aluminum frame motors on insulated aluminum wheels rumbling across two-rail aluminum track. Each car body was of cast aluminum with thickness from ⅛" to ¼". Silver trim panels were unpainted aluminum inserted into the castings. The only component that they didn't design and fabricate to their own specific need was the foot-long coiled steel spring that holds each articulated car tightly fitted into the next. These springs were readily available at the local hardware store as they were used to pull screen doors closed! The motors employed in these trains was of the induction type. Induction motrs have no brushes or commutator.

General Trains Model Craftsman advertisement circa 1933-34 The unique two-rail track system features both straight and curve sections. Aluminum solid rail is nailed to each wooden tie using metal spikes. Track sections are joined by tiny prototypical frog plates using nuts and bolts and a special hex-head nut driver. All of these above are, of course, made of aluminum. There are no crossings or switches, but one specialized piece of straight track did come with the 64-inch by 112-inch oval included in each set. General Trains Inc. included a basic control switch track section in its sets that facilitated operation of the trains at 2 different speeds. Mounted on a wood plate extending from beneath the rails, a simple lever switch pivoted between two brass screw heads. The included transformer was not equipped with a rheostat, but did provide both a high and a low power setting via two separate terminals, along with a third 'common' terminal. With the common wire attached to one of the frog plate bolts, lines from the high and low power terminals went to the two screws on the lever switch section of track. The operator could move the track switch lever to make contact with either the slow or fast brass screw head contact.

The 1934 General Trains Inc. Model Craftsman ad stated that the train came in kit form as a 3-car standard set #397 priced at $29.50 or as a 2-car 'Junior Model' set #132 for $21.50. There was also a General Dispatcher transformer advertised at $14.50. The General Dispatcher was promoted in the ad as the perfect model railroad control instrument. Its function was to enable running of multiple electric trains on the same track system while automatically avoiding collisions. Even though the General Trains ads from 1933-34 tout their trains as being offered in kit form, it is beleived that they only sold them fully assembled and ready-to-run.

Each General Trains set was serially numbered. A serial number was etched on the underside of each car, into either the casting or the sheet metal plate near the truck mountings. Each component within a set bore the same serial numbers. Based on research of General Trains sets in collections and appearing for sale, it is estimated that production totals were in the 500 set range.

Despite small production and a short commercial life, General Trains was apparently working on the "next steps." One metallic blue set exists that demonstrates more than just a deviation from the standard metallic dark pink paint. This set has a taller version of the power motor; and the nose casting is likewise different to accept the tall motor frame. An entirely different General Trains set also was made, using different nose and tail car castings that are much closer in appearance to the streamline trains that actually went into service on the nation's railroads. Painted yellow and brown with the same decals as the standard production, these sets utilized the same "short" motor as their bulbous pink brethren. Unlike all of those other sets however, they bear no engraved set numbers on the underside of their castings. Several of these "prototype" sets are known to exist.

Beyond the standard production color of metallic dark pink, one metallic blue streamliner has been found. It bears three different set numbers: nose unit #41, center unit #157, and tail unit #196. This blue train also has a substantially different "tall" motor assembly and casting inside the nose car. A prototype version in yellow/brown with entirety different nose and tail car castings also exists.

General Trains 2-rail Standard gauge UP M-10000 streamlined passenger train Set in magenta & silver made 1933-34

For collectors, the General Trains streamliners are a desirable oddball. Even in a substantial collection of Standard Gauge, non-collectors invariably single them out for admiration and questions far disproportionate to their- rarity or collector value. For those who operate Standard Gauge, these pink behemoths offer both special challenges and rewards. The fiber gear that transfers power from the armature to the wheels is remarkably susceptible to wear. And that sturdy original track is something of a necessity as no other manufactured two-rail track can withstand the pounding, especially the lateral weight and pressure on curves. But the look and sound of these trains slithering across a layout and clanking loudly when their articulated segments snap together are unlike anything in railroading!

Content for this article was gathered from the following sources:
Train Collectors Quarterly July 2007 (Vol.53, #3) "100 years of Standard Gauge" by John DeSantis

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