Libby's Is More Than Canned Food*
by Paul Wassermann
In 1973, prompted by my finding the Libby
pineapple and tomato juice cars, the late
Dr. Don Fraley and I co-authored an article
for the Lionel Collectors Club of America
concerning the 1963 Libby Lionel set. However,
neither of us owned the other components of
this interesting uncatalogued special. My
recent acquisition of a mint, boxed set at
the February Nor-Cal meet in Santa Clara rekindled
my interest in this intriguing promotional
outfit. I thought the TCA members would find
the results of my latest research of great
interest in light of the super surprise ending.
set was offered for sale in the fall of 1963. I have a
copy of an advertisement from Sunset magazine, October,
1963, indicating that for the price of $10.95 and 4 labels
from Libby products, you would receive "... a lot of train...and
it's a real LIONEL!" The set consisted of 6 pieces: complimenting
the ubiquitous #1062 steam loco, #6076 ATSF hopper, and
yellow #6167 rubber stamped Union Pacific caboose, were
three unusual items - a #1062T tender with a bold Southern
Pacific graphic, a #6050 Libby's Tomato Juice boxcar,
and a #6475 Libby Pineapple car. Ten pieces of 027 track
and a 1010 transformer completed the outfit. Also included
were the 1963 consumer and accessory catalogs. The whole
works came in a Lionel set box stamped No. 19263.
In reflecting on this set, I thought it
would be of interest to see if I could find
some of the original advertising for the
promotion. The thought of looking for fall
issues of 1963 magazines occurred to me,
but just on an impulse, during a lull in
my Monday afternoon office hours, I called
my wife Irene and asked if she had any Libby
products in the house. A can of Vienna sausages
revealed the corporate headquarters in Glendale,
California. A couple of minutes later, the
information operator had provided me with
a Libby's telephone number.
The company's switchboard operator and
I finally determined that perhaps their
Public Relations Department could help me.
A few minutes later I was transferred to
the Marketing Department. The conversation
that ensued had to be one of the most remarkable
experiences that I have had as a train collector!
was put in touch with a Mr. Olof Prila, who had been in
charge of the entire Lionel set promotion 39 years ago!
He informed me that he and his wife had come up with the
idea of putting together an expensive promotion in time
for Christmas 1963, and felt that the Lionel name would
induce a strong enough response to warrant the expense
involved. As he recalled, the project was not very successful,
perhaps because the promotional budget had been too lean
and the set was not heavily advertised. He recalled it
was only advertised in Sunset and also remembered
some heated corporate discussions about having a tank
car painted like a Vienna sausage. A prototype was apparently
actually made, but dropped in favor of the pineapple car!
Then he really made my day! "I believe I still have the
original contracts, advertising mats, and correspondence
with Lionel. Would you be interested in them?" You can
guess what my response was. He promised to get back to
me after he had a chance to check his files.
An hour or so later my office nurse informed
me that "some man about a tomato juice train"
was on the line. Mr. Prila seemed to be
excited himself as he told me that he had
found all of the information he had promised
and then he dropped the bombshell: "Our
inventory list indicates that out of the
10,000 units produced, we sold 5169, gave
away 697 to employees or local charities,
leaving 4102 undistributed units in warehouse
storage! Our records indicated that we shipped
14 units in February, 1964; 17 in March;
and 1 in April (The offer expired December
31, 1963). After that the unsold sets have
just been held in inventory."
You can well imagine that I was in total
and complete shock. The thought of over
4000 mint, sealed Lionel Libby sets piled
up next to pallets of fruit cocktail and
canned peas was overwhelming. "Would Libby
be willing to dispose of some of the sets?"
I asked as casually as possible. Mr. Prila
felt that contractual agreements required
that the sets be sold as advertised in 1963
(Yikes, I might have to find 16,408 Libby's
labels in addition to $44,916.90 to buy
them all), but when I mentioned that the
Desert Division of the TCA is part of a
non-profit organization, he suggested that
the sets could probably be donated to us
if we could cover the shipping expenses!!!
Then Olof (our conversation was longer
than this dialog implies, and by now I was
on a first-name basis with Mr. Prila.) dropped
one more bomb! He told me that a "sample
set" was knocking around the corporate offices
somewhere. This initial offering had not
met with the approval of management because
the Pineapple Car was an unattractive orange
and the black hopper was felt to be too
stark. Taken together, it looked like a
Halloween set, so Lionel agreed to change
to the blue and gray cars finally supplied
with the set. A light bulb went on when
I remembered that the Libby advertisement
actually showed the prototype set with an
orange pineapple car and a black hopper.
A special production prototype would certainly
be a welcome addition to any postwar collection.
I assured Olof that the extra set would
certainly be nice to have as well.
So as things now stand, I'm looking for
approximately 4000 cubic feet of storage
space. If you can help in this regard, let
me know. Shipping expenses for the lot could
be deferred if some volunteers would be
willing to drive a truck over to Glendale
and bring the sets back. Let me know if
you can help with storage and/or transportation.
I thought we could dispose of some of the
sets by selling them for $10.95 to each
TCA member (Desert Division members first,
of course). In addition we could require
4 cans of Libby's products for each set
and use this to stockpile our picnic inventory.
Wow, what an exhilarating experience that
was. The effort involved in researching
toy train history is its own reward, but,
in this case, the outcome was far beyond
my wildest dreams. I want to express my
sincere thanks to Libby's and Olof Prila
for their assistance and generosity in this
(* The above article was reprinted from
the TCA Desert Division's Newsletter, The
Dispatch. It has been a tradition for the
Desert Divison to celebrate April
Fools Day (Olof Prila) with a witty article to
get the collector's juices flowing.
All in good fun, of course. )