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The “SUPER-O DUPER-OH” Ultimate Orange and Blue Lionel Locomotive

By Paul Olekson , TTML Moderator

So I'm standing in the Red Hall at the York Fair grounds during the Eastern Division TCA meet of April, 2006.

A dealer is apprehensively watching me show to another person an item I picked up off his table. The other person happens to be Bob Mintz, the editor of e*Train. In my hands is a Lionel 2341 Jersey Central FM Trainmaster. I have only held it for less than a minute and I am already confident that it is original. Bob had done much homework right down to purchasing a jeweler's loupe (at the suggestion of Gordon Wilson) in order to examine the fine details of this expensive engine.

He raises the loupe to his eye, but he is unconsciously trying to wear it like a monocle. He fumbles the loupe! It's dropping toward the 2341 in my hands! I'm not really looking! Pow! Bob's hand slams the 2341 downward as he grasps for the loupe!

I feel the impact against the precious object in my hands! Fortunately I am holding the engine tightly and firmly by its trucks. It barely deflects an inch, Bob catches the loupe, but neither Bob nor the dealer realized how close that engine was to being history. The only damage was to my blood pressure!

My heart was pounding at how close I came to being part owner of a smashed toy train with a $4200.00 price tag. I was suddenly glad it was excessively expensive because it was easy to quickly talk Bob out of it. I was able to put the engine down and although I wanted to run, we both walked away calmly.

I bought my Lionel postwar 2341 Jersey Central FM in the Silver Hall at York a few years earlier in October 1996. In fact, I believe to this day, that it may have been the first transaction in the new Silver Hall. By then, I had already made several failed trips to York with my main goal being the acquisition of an original boxed Lionel 2341. This time my pre-show “X-ray radar” was on. I nervously paced outside the York buildings before the 9:00am start. I imagined I could see through the walls and was able to see just what was on the tables. I was eventually drawn to the new hall, and hovered and circled and found myself outside the south doors at the end of the building.

Nine o'clock !

Charge!

In I dashed, unconsciously turned right and headed towards the aisle against the wall. Walked a few tables up the row and there on the right were two boxed Jersey Central 2341 FM's! “How much are they?”, I asked. “How much would you like to pay?”, came the reply. Nervously I answered, “I would like to pay ‘X' amount.” The reply: “OK” or something to that effect. I was jumpy and tingly like a school kid before summer recess and don't really remember much of the conversation. I inspected, I paid, and he packed. Within 5 minutes of the new hall's opening, I was the giddy owner of an engine I had dreamed about for many years.

As an aside to the whole affair, I later learned through my involvement on the Toy Train Mailing List, that the seller was a fellow TTML member named John Ochranek. John related on the TTML how rain was dripping on him from the new roof as we made our deal and he reminded me that the engine came from a collection in Hawaii . What a small world, and a very close TCA family!

Now I know you must be thinking, “this nut paid a fortune for an engine, and he examined it for less than five minutes.”

Follow along with me as I describe what I learned in order to make this once in a lifetime special purchase, and how I found myself helping another person in his quest for this magnificent Lionel postwar icon.

I decided years earlier that I would “go for” a 2341. There were several steps I had to take in order to buy something this expensive. The first thing I had to do was handle my money differently. This may not be important to some people, but being on a tight train budget; I saved up some money and kept it separate from other train funds. I had never done anything like this before. Usually, I would attend a train show and if my primary target was not available, I would spend the money I brought along on other “secondary targets.” The result was that I usually came home broke and had to begin saving all over again.

This was different. Every show that I attended where there was not a suitable Jersey Central – the “special money” was to come back home with me.

The second thing I did was buy and study the current toy train collector books of the mid- 1990's. I memorized the Greenberg and TM paragraphs on the 2341. I also attended every show within 100 miles of my house and surprisingly saw quite a few of these rare engines. There were many fakes too, and all but one or two dealers were honest about what they were trying to sell. I inspected them and compared what I had read to what I was holding in my hand. This was very important and illustrates the value of attending toy train shows. You gain experience and knowledge. You begin to recognize patinas and colors. You can eventually discern the difference between aged original paint and new paint. You can practice by comparing what you read to what you see. Take your time and have patience. During my search, the only 2341 that actually met all the criteria I had studied and set forth was the one that I eventually bought.

What were the criteria?

It had to be in my price range. I wanted an original box. The engine had to be in at least excellent TCA condition and all original. Also, the engine had to exhibit the vital features that I committed to memory from the collector's guides. As I went along, I learned about a few other features the books never mentioned.

There are common and oh so important features that must be present to help determine if a 2341 is genuine. In the 1990's hey day of collector guides, it was easy for me to gather information and learn the essentials.

Except for the decals, all the lettering on the Lionel 2341 is heat stamped. The spacing between ‘ Jersey ' and ‘Central' differs from one side to the other. Also, depending on the way the engine was produced, the depth of the heat stamping may vary. Some engines such as mine have a ‘hook' like mark off some of the letters in “ Jersey ”. This was not mentioned in any book I read, but I was put wise to this by another collector. The hook on the bottom of the J is particularly common. You may need a magnifying glass to see this feature on some engines and it may not be present at all on others. The orange stripe around the locomotive is “scooped” under the head lights. There are two blocked vents in the grill on one side of the 2341 FM's long hood. (Another feature not mentioned in a book.) The transition between the unpainted blue plastic body and the orange paint is fuzzy and even sloppy. It is a fact that reproduction paint jobs and graphics are often too perfect when compared to an original.

Bob asked me for help in locating one of these engines for him as he knew what I had been through in my quest. We were not successful at York in April due to prices and condition. We did find one boxed 2341 at a high moderate price but the seller would not negotiate even one hundred dollars off. As it became apparent there were no other boxed candidates, we headed back to the fellow who refused to haggle. Bob may have been willing to pay the seller's asking price rather than leave without the prize, but when we got back to the table in the Blue Hall, the seller had packed up and left the building by mid afternoon on Friday. It was a great let down. Bob hopefully hung on to his money for this October York. We will continue the search then.

I have included photos of other Lionel FM's made in the Postwar era. I think seeing these other units is helpful in understanding what to look for in a 2341. Hopefully other collectors interested in the Postwar Jersey Central will benefit from all the photos I included. The collector's guides, due to obvious production expenses, can not provide the large amount of photos needed to fully depict the original, unique, and important characteristics of this engine.

Good luck in your quest!

The first FM Trainmaster Lionel Produced was the 2321 Lackawanna in 1954. The early version had a maroon roof.
The first Lionel FM's had clear vents. None were blocked with excess plastic.
Later production of the earliest Lionel FM had a gray roof.
Note that this FM is a factory error in that the yellow pinstripe is missing from the top edge of the maroon band on the side. The other side of the engine shown in the previous photo has the yellow pinstripe.
The vents are still clear on the gray roof version.
The next Trainmaster Lionel produced was the 2331 Virginian. The early run was yellow and black with gold lettering. Note that two vent holes are now blocked. Future FM's produced in the Postwar era have the blocked vent holes in this location only.
Note the black stripe as it passes in a straight line under the head light just above the 2331 VGN decal. The black and yellow Virginian 2331 does not have the "scoop" that you must have on an original 2341 Lionel Jersey Central FM.
Here's a later production 2331 Virginian. The black has been replaced by blue and the 2 vent holes are still clogged.
Look closely and you will see how the blue stripe contours (scoops) around the bottom of the lower headlight just above the 2331 VGN decal. Lionel must have changed the paint mask when they went from a black stripe to the unpainted blue plastic stripe.
Here's an MPC Southern Pacific FM from the 1970's. Lionel fixed the tooling and the vent holes are no longer blocked.
Here's the star of the show! The Lionel 2341 Jersey Central Trainmaster FM from 1956. Note the scoop or contour of the blue stripe under the headlight. Most reproductions don't have this. Some repro makers are wiser now and have copied the scoop. Also note the slotted screw head which was common to this and all previous Lionel FM's. There has been some commentary that the Jersey Central could have also come with Philips head screws. I think it could be a cover story for an engine that's been messed with. For the money these engines cost, I would happier and more comfortable with the slotted screw.
The obligatory blocked vent holes on the 2341. Blocked vent holes do not guarantee a 2341 is original. It could be a repaint of an original Lionel FM body of another number. You have to add up all the details and then decide. However, you don't want one without the blocked vents.
Note the dart shaped hook at the bottom left of each letter in " Jersey ". I noticed that when I examined other 2341's that the hooks were more visible when the heat stamped letters were deeply pressed into the plastic. On my engine in the photo, the 'J' is deeper than all the other letters in Jersey . On the other side the letters were not pressed in too deeply and the "hooks" are not visible. Also look at the sloppy transition between the blue and the orange at the left of the catwalk. This "fuzziness" can be elsewhere on the engine. In this photo the "R" and "Y" show the depth and texture of heat stamping. It is not flat on the surface like silk screening, pad printing, or rubber stamping. You have to have heat stamping on this engine.
Compare the space between " Jersey " and "Central" to the spacing in the next photo. By the way, I prefer my FM catwalks tarnished.
" Jersey " is closer to "Central" on this side. Another non-guarantee of originality, as the repro people have this one down pat.
"Built 4-56 by Lionel" is obviously heat stamped and poorly done on many original Jersey Centrals. Note the filled in "B's" and the filled space between the "N" and "E". Also, note the fuzzy area between the blue and orange stripe. Not razor sharp as on repros. The decal is yellowed and on the verge of flaking. This is normal for a 50 year old decal that was slapped on by a factory worker's thumb. A FM decal with a bright white circle is a warning sign. Also the outer white circle is thinner when compared to the same on a modern FM decal.
If you are shopping for a 2341 and if you can look inside the cab, expect to see orange overspray near all the openings.
The last postwar Lionel FM was the 2322 Virginian. It was cataloged in 1965 & 1966. Except for the number, it was virtually identical to the blue and yellow 2331 of the 1950's.

For original article, check it out here.

 

 
 
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