A GS-4, Freedom, Rejuvenation
By Ernest J. Montgomery
In early September of 2003, more than 25 years on a model train
platform, the locomotive of my HO American Freedom Train remained
lighted but immobile. Reverence did not allow me to do anything
more than a cursory, amateurish investigation. In some ways age
does make one wiser and I resisted a temptation to use a screwdriver.
Rather, after a telephone call, I set out for the A.B. Charles
& Son Hobby Shop from whence it came. Greeting by Mr. Charles
was in the same jovial manner treasured since my initial visit
years ago. At his usual pace of one young at heart we headed to
the trial track in the back. Lighted yes, run no. It needed more
Turning the locomotive over, we were surprised to see “Lionel”
on the bottom of the 1976 HO locomotive.
The hour return home granted time for thought. I pondered what
circumstances had prodded Lionel to birth a HO locomotive in 1976-77,
remembering Lionel’s dissatisfying experience with the gauge
History indicates that the first HO trains appeared during WWII
when Lionel was prospering by means of their corner on the O gauge
market. They were distracted from any realization of a rapid growth
and proliferation of HO trains.
The HOs were well received. They fit in restricted spaces of
the current domiciles. They fit limited budgets. Track of only
two rails was inviting.
Belatedly, in the 1950s with declining sales, Lionel realized
that they were partly due to growth of HO hobby. Still, business
being what it was, Lionel preferred not to invest in know-how
and machinery in order to establish a new division.
As an alternative, they contracted with Rivarossi in 1957 to
manufacture HO trains of railroad names provided by Lionel. In
the beginning Rivarossi, and Athern beginning in 1958, labeled
the cars with own names.
It seems that Lionel was lax in the quality control that had
endeared them to O gauge hobbyists. Thus, their acceptance suffered.
At long last, Lionel spent money and time in developing its’
own shops in 1959. They did not sell. The company was in disarray.
Profitability was nil. Losses steamrolled and by 1967 Lionel ceased
HO production all together.
A review of the workings of the 1976-77 American Bicentennial
Commission finds that it’s members desired to create an
American Freedom Train. The train was to travel throughout the
nation approaching almost all major metropolitan areas. The intention
was to give an opportunity for invaluable mementoes of the nation’s
first two hundred years carried on board to be seen by an untold
number of citizens who very likely might have no other means to
There was appeal for the train’s leader to be a special
and historical steam engine. Extensive search ended when an old
No.4449 GS-4 of the Southern Pacific Railroad was found in Oak
Park of Portland, Oregon.
In recent times, the Lima Locomotive Works in Ohio has received
deserved commendation for the manufacturing of Shay locomotives
emblematic of the lumber industry. One serves as prototype for
the Lionel Shays.
It is little known that the same company created the GS-4 in
the 1940s, one of the last and most revered steam powered locomotives.
Streamlined features evoke surprise that it is a steam engine
with a 4-8-4 wheel arrangement. It is indicated that three generations
preceded it before Lima was satisfied.
The life span of the GS-4 was short due to concurrent development
of diesels. On October 2, 1957 the No. 4449 of the Southern Pacific
Railroad made it’s last journey. It was the last GS-4 to
succumb to diesel power.
Fortunately, a champion was on the scene; a railroad enthusiast
named Jack Holst. He labored to maintain and preserve her right
up to the time of his death in 1972.
On display but unattended, the locomotive had developed ravages
of age by the time it was discovered by the Bicentennial Committee.
Time was very short. Nonetheless, with intense romance and determination
on the part of devotees, the stalwart No.4449 was rejuvenated
within four months in the Burlington Northern roundhouse. After
17 years of inactivity, she ran again under her own power. She
was decorated in a red, white, and blue motif.
The Freedom Train was the leader of a very important segment
of the patriotic celebration; very possibly, in numbers all other
aspects were outdistanced.
It was natural that a model of the train be built. Lionel, an
icon in the toy train industry, was elected to do so.
Lionel-Fundimensions did not disappoint when the models were
revealed. Train collectors shared in the enthusiasm of the Bicentennial
Celebration. They welcomed Lionel’s efforts to give them
a train that preserved and bring recall of their patriotic spirit.
The HO Lionel catalogue of 1976 shows two U.S. American Freedom
trains on a two-page spread.
One, No.5-3587, consists of five cars. Its leader is an Alco
It is followed trailed by replicas of two of the cars that carried
priceless cargo. On the outside they are adorned with pictures
of patriotic figures and historical events.
Next, there is a car with clear windows. It displays models of
the lunar rover, the Liberty Bell and an antique Oldsmobile. It
is what I consider one of my premium collectible rolling stock.
The train is replete by an observation car as the trailer with
a dignitary platform.
The second set, No.5-2586, has seven components.
The Alco engine is supplanted by modeling the GS-4 and its tender.
An additional replica of a car with valuable cargo is included.
The showcase car and observation car are the same as in the other
Track and transformer are included in each set.
Lastly in 1976 - LIONEL published a flyer with offerings of a
No.5-6500 HO Southern Pacific GS-4 locomotive model on one page
and a No.5-6501 Freedom Train GS-4 engine and tender model on
For me this study has been a pleasurable and memorable pursuit
that resulted from a temporary inconvenience from a “Little
Engine That Could.”
I anticipate a second reentry into the world of HO by Lionel
LIONEL, A COLLECTOR’S GUIDE AND HISTORY, VOLUME III: STANDARD
GAUGE, by TOM MC COMAS & JAMES TUOHY ©1978.
ALL ABOARD by Ron Hollander © 1981
1976 Lionel-Fundimensions catalogue and flyer.
P.S. My GS-4 was returned to me two days later with a charge
of $10 for servicing of the motor. It now performs as if all it
needed was a little R & R.
Ernest J. Montgomery
1216 Minnesota Avenue
Natrona Heights PA 15065