Lionel Operating H0 Cars

In the early years of Lionel’s H0-Scale product line, the Company gave every indication that it was seriously pursuing the “scale” sector of the model railroad market.   Although the 1957 and the 1958 H0 items were produced by Rivarossi and by Athearn respectively, Lionel remained serious about pursuing the scale sector of the model railroad market.

By 1959, Lionel’s resolve was beginning to waver and by 1961, war had broken out in Lionelville.  Rockets and helicopters were flying everywhere, and while the mothers of America were concerned, clearly Lionel had tied directly into the psyche of a lot of American boys.  There was trouble on the horizon in the form of slot cars, and even Lionel would join the stampede, but the operating Lionel H0 cars are among the most interesting for collectors.

There were a group of Lionel H0 freight cars which had operating functions. Nor was Lionel alone in the 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Athearn marketed an “Automatic Coal and Sand Loader”, which dumped a measured load of dry material into a hopper car that was located below.

So, too, Revell offered a hopper car unloading ramp.

So, it was possible to have real loads of freight moving around the model railroad.  Other manufacturers offered operating cars, but it was Lionel H0 that had the greatest range of items. The early cars tended toward realism, but as time passed, the cars became more fantastic. Here, in numerical order:

0039 Track Cleaning Car:

Clean track is always a model railroad issue.  The Lionel 3927 Track Cleaning Car in 0-Gauge used a rotating sponge with wiping pad to clean track. 

So, too, the 0039 used two smaller rotating sponges, with the cleaning fluid being stored in the same plastic bottle that was used with the 3927.  The Lionel catalog image of the 0039 also points out the fact that the images shown in the catalog were not always the same as the item that was produced.  Compare the catalog image with the photo of the production item below.

Note that the actual car is lettered “Southern Pacific”, while the catalog illustration simply says “Southern”, presumably Southern Railway.

0300 Log Dump Car

The log dump car, as were many of the Lionel H0 operating cars, was activated by a special section of track, the 0900.

0301 Operating Coal Car

Like the 0300, the 0301 Coal Car used the 0900 operating track. 

0319 Operating Helicopter Car

The 0319 Helicopter Car used a spring driven mechanism that was wound up by hand. Once the spring was wound, the helicopter was placed on top of the drive and a trip contactor was extended from the side of the car:

As the car was pulled around the railroad in a train, when it passed a track attachment, the trip would be pushed back toward the car side, releasing the spring mechanism and sending the helicopter flying.  The 0319 used a red colored helicopter, the same as was used on the Lionel 0-Gauge 3619. Like the 0039, the catalog illustration for 0319 is different, showing a gray helicopter.  The 0319 should not be confused with the 0806 Helicopter Car, which did not operate.

0333 Satellite Launching Car

The 0333 shared the same launching mechanism as the 0319, and also shared parts with the 0-Gauge 3519.

0337 Operating Giraffe Car

If ever there was a model railroad car which caught the public's attention, then the Lionel giraffe cars were certainly it.  Produced ion both 0-Gauge and in H0-Scale, the giraffe cars were whimsical.  As the car rolled along in a train, the giraffe’s neck and head rode high, but when the car approached an overhead telltale, the giraffe would duck under it.  The 0-Gauge car used a mechanical connection, while the H0 car used magnets to draw the giraffe head downward.

The “telltale” itself is a now unfamiliar part of the railroad scene.  Prior to the 1960’s, most railroad cars had roof walks, which allowed the train crew to run from car to car as necessary.  There was a time when this might have been necessary, but with the progress of air brakes and the change in philosophy in train operation, there was little need for a crewman to be on the roof of the car.

In earlier times, the telltale was placed near a point on the railroad where there was limited overhead clearance.

If the train was going in one direction and was approaching a tunnel or low bridge, the telltale would strike a train crewman who was on the roof of a car, telling him that he needed to lie down on the top of the car to avoid hitting the bridge or tunnel portal.

As time progressed, railroads lowered the brake wheels of their cars and the roof walks on most freight cars went away.  In the case of the passenger car, crews could simply walk through the cars in the first place.

0349 Turbo Missile Car

The 0349 shot “turbo-missiles” from a spring mechanism at targets such as the 0847 Exploding Box Car

0357 Cop and Hobo Car

Another H0 car inspired by the Lionel 0-Gauge car, the Cop & Hobo car is another example of what was illustrated in the catalog was different than what was produced.  The 0357 production car was a box car marked “Hydraulic Platform Maintenance Car”. In operation, the car would approach the trestle bridge and one figure would get on the car as the other was getting off.

0365 USAF Minuteman Launching Car

The really heavy firepower in Lionelville, the 0365 had a small basis in reality.  In the 1960’s, there was serious discussion of mobile strategic missile systems, and Lionel was there first.  By the 1970’s, the U. S. military had come up with the MX Missile System, culminating with the LGM-118, which have since been decommissioned.  Like the many other Lionel H0 operating cars, the 0365 was fired by a trackside trip.

0366 Automatic Milk Car

Perhaps the most familiar of Lionel’s 0-Gauge operating cars, the 0366 neatly replicated the look and feel of its larger cousin. In operation, the 0366 had a blue plastic man pushing milk cans from the car to the loading platform. It is pictured here with the necessary 0900 Remote Track.

0370 Sheriff & Outlaw Car

The 0370 had a geared mechanism which raised and lowered the Sheriff and the Outlaw figures.  A plain version of the 0370 appeared in some special Sears Roebuck train sets sold in the early 1960’s.

800-Series Operating Cars

In addition to the 300-Series operating cars, Lionel also had cars in the 800 series which had operating-type characteristics. While the 300-Series cars had mechanisms, the 800-Series operating cars had either light-bulbs or passively operated mechanisms that relied upon the car’s motion in a train.

0805 Radioactive Waste Car

Well, you just can’t make this stuff up. Here it is, the Lionel 0805 Radioactive Waste Car, complete with blinking red light. On the other hand, like the 0365 Minuteman Launching Missile Car, the 0805 does have a small basis in fact. By and large, radioactive waste shipments today are made with tractor/trailer trucks on public highways, but you can see the possibilities of rail shipment. What was theoretical in the 1960’s is a reality today.

0834 Poultry Car

The 0834 featured a light bulb inside which backlit images of chickens.  Poultry in motion, if you will.

0847 Exploding Box Car

The receiving end of all of those missiles and rockets, the 0847 had an internal spring mechanism which, when the car was hit, caused the roof and sides of the car to blow apart.

0850 Missile Launching Flatcar

More firepower for your railroad.  The 0850 came with a white rocket, which was fired by a spring mechanism.

0880 Operating Maintenance Car

With all the explosions and mayhem, repairs were usually necessary.  The 0880 featured a moving platform with a spotlight for night operations.