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MTH Enters The 2 7/8 Inch Market! JLM Trains Responds
An Interview with Joe Mania
by Bradley Kaplan

Both above pieces are JLM Trains Repros of the #200 Gondola
On the left is the Type II gondola (which is what MTH will be making) and is a replica of the gondola as manufactured in 1902. On the right is a Type I gondola, which was originally manufactured in 1901 by Lionel. (Note: It is believed that Lionel did not start to produce trains until 1901.) Other pictures in article are from JLM Train's gondola.


What was your initial reaction to MTH entering the 2 7/8-inch market?

I was not that upset because I knew they would have to make a lot of concessions for mass production to produce them in the

Many people are not aware of this, but back in 1999 Lionel was
considering producing their own #200 for the Century Club.

When Lionel tried, they purchased one of mine to use as a prototype but scrapped the project due to the complexity. Their head electrical engineer did not understand the unique characteristics of the motor and they did not feel the design was suitable for mass production.

In fact my repro resides in the Lionel visitor’s center and was featured
as “The Original Lionel” on the History channel shows “History’s Lost and Found.”

Are you the only one making 2 7/8-inch? What happened to Jim Cohen and Bob McCoy?

Currently I am the only one making them. I purchased the tooling from Jim Cohen in the early ‘90s. He got the tooling from McCoy in the ‘60s. Among the three of us, none produced 2 7/8 Inch Gauge pieces at the same time.

Have you seen any pictures of the MTH version? What does his description lead you to believe?

I have not seen any photos of it yet since his website says “picture currently

The first thing the description mentions is that it has a die cast frame; where the
original is cast iron.

The description also says it will be run off an AC transformer, which is not following the original design. This would lead me to believe they are redesigning the motor to some extent. The original motor uses a solid cast iron field core design which dictates the use of DC for efficiency.

The MTH website also states that their reproduction is the first time that the #200 gondola is being reproduced. This is incorrect. I have been producing this piece since 1994 as part of my 2 7/8-inch gauge offerings. Neither Jim Cohen nor Bob McCoy ever made the wooden #200 gondola.

What is the difference between him using “die cast” vs. you using “cast iron”

Die casting technology will produce much more repeatable results in regard to part dimensions. The fitting and finishing of the parts is reduced as compared to the use of cast iron. Obviously the metals are completely different. Cast iron is obviously iron while die casting is an alloy composing mainly of zinc.

To be authentic I use all cast iron parts, just as the original. This requires extensive
cleaning and machining of the castings. I feel this is necessary for the authenticity.
Also as I mentioned before the original motor design had a solid cast iron field core. (Note: When these trains were manufactured, the predominate power source was “direct current”, as furnished by Edison generating plants in lower Manhattan.)

How is your 2 7/8-inch gondola made? Can your production be more streamlined? Is it how Lionel originally built it?

My reproductions are built exactly like the originals using methods of production that were common in the early 1900s. The way the original motor is designed does not lend itself to have a machine winding the armature so they must be wound by hand. This is also true for the field.

I would only assume that if MTH’s #200 gondola sells they are going to make more 2 7/8-inch pieces. Are you looking forward to the competition in the market?

I don’t feel that we sell to the same markets; they're two completely different groups of collectors. My customers tend to demand authenticity and appreciate the hand made nature of the product and attention to detail. I would guess that the MTH customers are satisfied with a copy that looks very similar, yet takes some liberties to lend itself to mass production.

I am very excited about MTH entering the 2 7/8-inch market as this will draw more
awareness to the product and that can only be good for the hobby.

If you are interested in purchasing one of Joe's repros you can contact him via his
website: If you are interested in purchasing a MTH version, please
visit their website at

Another Photo of Joe's repro #200 gondola



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