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July 20, 2011 - M.T.H.'s Lionel Corporation Tinplate Super 381 Electric locomotive will begin shipping this August. Check out the locomotive's details in the photos below or click on the video icon to the left to see it in action.
By the mid-1920s, steam power was old hat, but electricity was still a new and magical technology. Lionel touted its electric trains as “More than a toy — AN ELECTRIC ACHIEVEMENT!” Out west, on a sparsely traveled mountainous railroad, General Electric Company and the Chicago Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway were trying to prove that electric power was the Future of American Railroading.
Their five huge Bi-Polar electric locomotives had tamed the mountains like nothing before them and garnered national press coverage — especially with stunts like a 1924 “Battle of the Giants,” in which a Bi-Polar easily won a tug-of-war against a pair of steam locomotives.
It was only natural, then, that Lionel would model its top-of-the-line locomotive on the Milwaukee Bi-Polar. The 381, introduced in 1928, was the largest and most elaborate of Lionel’s Standard Gauge electrics. But it had a fatal flaw: its single-motor drive was inadequate to pull Lionel’s top-end passenger cars, the State Set. The 381 was doomed to be forever categorized as a poor puller, and soon the State cars were led by the twin-motored, but more ordinary-looking 408E.
Consider, however, what might have been: At the same time the 381 was conceived, Lionel’s designers built one sample of a “Super 381” — longer and more realistic than the production 381, and equipped with two motors. Whether the Super 381 was built in New Jersey or by the Italian toolmaking firm run by Mario Caruso, Lionel’s works manager, is uncertain.
What is certain is that the Super 381 was deemed too large for production, and it spent the next three decades stuffed and mounted in Lionel’s New York City showroom, displayed alongside the legendary and even larger Brute. After the museum collection was broken up in 1960, the Super 381 moved through a succession of owners and resides today in a Pennsylvania museum.
Configured with traditional or contemporary drive trains, the Super 381 sports all the flash and excitement that makes tinplate model railroading so much fun. Traditional versions will conjure up memories of tinplate’s glory years with the classic smell & sounds of an AC Build-A-Loco motor and mechanical E-unit.
The Contemporary version’s modern motors and electronics smoothly & effortlessly power the locomotive down the rails with their full digital sound effects recreating a bygone era of rail transportation on your very own standard gauge empire.
On the heels of the 2009 sold-out replica of The Brute, Lionel Corporation Tinplate is proud to release this first-ever replica of the Super 381, along with matching State cars so you can operate the State Set That Should Have Been. Equipped with two powerful motors, we offer the Super 381 in as-built green livery or decorated like the real-life Milwaukee Road Bipolar.