Ironically it was my wife who saw them first and said to me how much she liked the look of the brass and no paint. Having collected Standard Scale for many years, I only became aware of prototypes in recent years and thought how great it would be to own 1 let alone 4.When I first saw them my initial impression was that they were something home made but on further inspection it became obvious that someone would need some pretty fancy tools to make such well-crafted pieces so, they very probably were prototypes/pre-production cars. The man I purchased them from gave me a brief history of how he got them and the person who was most familiar with their history. I contacted him thru the telephone directory and it turns out that he is also a long-standing TCA member (85 years old and very sharp). He started off by telling me that these 4 cars were originally owned by Mario Caruso who was, as we know, second in command with the founder Joshua Lionel Cowen of the Lionel Mfg. Co for over 40 years. That fact gave me some real hope that these were indeed the real thing.
We spoke for quite a while and he gave me the story of how they ended up at the TCA meet. He was very friendly the person who got them directly from Mario Caruso as a gift to supplement his very large collection. He told me that they were neighbors and ranch owners in the Bradenton, Fl. region and, as such, got to know each other over time and learned how they both shared an interest in trains. When he (Caruso’s neighbor) passed away, his entire collection was in the hands of his wife, who after her passing, left the 4 cars to a close friend. He in turn gave them to the gentleman I purchased them from at the train meet to sell for him.
I've done a considerable amount of research and have firmly established that Mario Caruso did indeed have property (a 4700 hundred acre Ranch) here in Florida (Bradenton) and the person he gave them to also had a ranch in the same town.
Mario Caruso sold his ranch in 1968 and eventually moved to his home town in the Naples, Italy region and passed away in 1986 at the age of 96
I have two pages of history and 17 supporting documents of the people and events surrounding these cars and it's signed by the 2 gentlemen who provided me with their movement into my hands. It would be great if after looking at the cars and reviewing the history if someone can give me their opinion and what else they can add to supplement what I already have.
The 4 cars are in excellent condition and I’d like to include the following observations:
The trucks used were correct for the period when Lionel first introduced the 200 series and are mounted with carter pins and have nickel journals except for the 214.
With the exception of plates on the 213 and 217 (hand made) all trim pieces are correct for the period including the couplers.
The 217 and 218 are the most interesting. If you look closely on the 217 one side is longer by about 5/8” including the roof and frame --- my assumption is this was a pre-production error.
The 218 has the most amount of hand soldering and simulation of embossing (unlike the other cars) and even has a repair on one support. It has two hand wheels consistent with the first actual productions. Compared with the car what was offered for sale, this one is different in both looks and construction. My assumption is that since there was nothing like it in the Lionel production line and it was “one of a kind”, a great deal of imagination had to go into its pre-construction.
The best would be is that this could reach someone who was, in some direct way, familiar with the Lionel Mfg. Co. and their prototype production or a relative of Mario Caruso.
In my research I learned that at the urging of Mario Caruso Mr.Cowen opened a factory (Societa Meccanica La Precia) in the Naples, Italy region for "experimenting, researching and manufacturing samples, models and tools". Mr. Caruso himself started in the company as a solderer.
For a differing commentary, also see: COUNTERPOINT: Comments on "A Prewar Prototype or one of a kind: The 200 Series Cattle car, Boxcar, Caboose, and Dump car