By Tony Cook
Wishing for a train set for Christmas is a well-remembered investment of a young model railroader’s time. Exploring the world of Tyco trains, what could have appeared under your tree 50 years ago?
Before diving into TYCO’s catalog, let’s take a moment and briefly review the HO market of the mid-1960s — a prime period in TYCO history. Following the early 1960s burst of popularity for slot cars, the HO train market went into a bit of slump, and a number of changes took place during this time. The model train market then was mostly HO with O, S, and TT occupying smaller percentages of popularity. A coming challenge for HO and the other scales was the boom in N-scale model trains arriving in 1967. Though N (1/160) had been around for some years prior, the influx of companies offering N-scale model railroading items really took off in the late 1960s.
By 1966, Lionel was all but gone from the 1/87 segment of model railroading, as was Revell. Both companies had introduced HO-scale trains between 1956 and 1957. Lindberg’s line, introduced in 1962, was essential ly dormant at the time. Gordon Varney had just acquired Penn Line, and his Varney was in its final years with Life-Like ownership ahead by 1970. Athearn had recently decided to focus its efforts on the more serious end of the hobby, abandoning a proposed slot car line and leaving the train set market behind too. AHM was expanding rapidly during the mid-1960s with classics such as its U25C diesel and Big Boy steam releases arriving; however, AHM was not at a major player in the train set end of the market during the 1960s. TYCO’s future competitor, Bachmann, was still a few years away from its late-1960s launch into N scale and expansion from Plasticville kits into a full line of HO around 1970. Atlas and Walthers offered limited lines in HO and neither possessed train sets in their mid-1960s catalogs.
Today, companies develop products expressly with movie and TV themes. When TYCO licensed “Petticoat Junction” and Walt Disney’s Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad properties in 1966, this was a less common practice. Illustrated is TYCO’s high-end “Petticoat Junction” set for 1966. Note the inclusion of the program’s stars across the top of the set’s box lid and CBS’s eye logo in the lower right corner. These short-lived “Petticoat Junction” sets disappeared with the 1968 catalog.
Alcos, Petticoats & Corvettes
The manufacturer’s 16-page HO Electric Trains Roadracing Accessories 1966–1967 contained color illustrations presented in a horizontal format. This publication is the only TYCO catalog of the 1960s (of which I am aware) to feature a wider-than-taller format (12×8 inches). The cover followed the look of past efforts, presenting what appears to be a father and son illustration fondly looking over TYCO’s products. The GP20 diesel locomotive decorated for Chicago, Burlington & Quincy sits next to the company’s 1890 Ten-Wheeler 4-6-0 steam locomotive wearing “Hooterville Cannonball” livery, and a green Chevrolet Corvette convertible is pacing the pair of trains made up the cover models.
General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division (EMD) had just introduced its GP40 to market in 1966, but TYCO bet on Alco’s Century 430 as the diesel to produce for its HO catalog. This back-cover catalog illustration shows the new additions to TYCO’s HO line for 1966. EMD built more than 1,200 GP40s by late 1971. A wide range of North American railroads rostered the GP40, yet Alco finished up its Century 430 production with 16 examples divided among Green Bay & Western, New York Central, Reading, and Seaboard Coast Line. TYCO never produced the illustrated Green Bay example and avoided the other prototype owners during this model’s 1966–1993 availability.
Train Sets for 1966
HO-scale model trains occupy 11 of the 1966 catalog’s 16 pages. Train sets include an almost even split between those, with steam and those with diesels on the point. This situation was rapidly changing; diesels became TYCO’s predominate train set power by the 1970s.
Collectors can check the set box lid of a TYCO offering and get an idea of its age by the stock number. Following a practice employed throughout most of the decade, TYCO numbered train sets with the year of release as the leading numerals. For example, the company’s first GP20 diesel set from 1961, “Black Diamond,” was stock number “6110.” A “T” appeared on the lead of train set stock numbers with the advent of the company’s slot car line. Slot car sets received a leading “S” in their numbers. For 1966, train sets began with “T66” and then included two additional digits to identify them. Finally, a letter appeared on the end of a stock number to reveal the road name. For example, TYCO sold its F9-powered “Transcontinental” passenger train set as “T6610A” for New Haven and “T6610B” for Santa Fe.
TYCO’s 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotives appeared on the point of “The Royal Blue” set (above) and “The Super Freighter” (below). Steam locomotives in train sets were the majority, with 12 of the 22 illustrated 1966 releases featuring steam. Steam dropped to four out of 15 sets a decade later in 1976. That “Super Freighter” set might be the collector’s choice for 1966 with respect to contents. Not only did it include seven freight cars, caboose, and that Pennsylvania Railroad 4-6-2, but also you received TYCO’s animated brakeman boxcar, unloading hopper trestle, and unloading freight depot with this impressive $49.98 release.
New for 1966, TYCO licensed CBS-TV’s “Petticoat Junction,” as well as Walt Disney’s Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad. Licensing products in the 1960s wasn’t commonplace. CBS-TV was the home of television’s “rural comedies” during the 1960s with programs such as “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Andy Griffith Show” as examples. In an early case of licensing a media product for hobby use, TYCO presented train sets featuring the popular show “Petticoat Junction.” The two “Petticoat Junction” sets included essentially the same components: the 1890 Ten-Wheeler 4-6-0 decorated for C&FW Railroad with Hooterville Cannonball on its cab, an 1890 combine and two 1890 coaches, plus oval track plan. Without power pack, “The Hooterville Cannonball” (#T6609) sold for $29.98, while the power pack-equipped “Petticoat Junctioner” (#T6625) sold for $34.98.
The same 4-6-0 Ten-Wheeler steam locomotive did service for TYCO in its Walt Disney sets. Just as the manufacturer did with its “Petticoat Junction” offerings, the same contents essentially came in the two Walt Disney sets. TYCO’s “Disneyland Special” (#T6626, MSRP: $39.98) included a steam locomotive, 1860 water car, 1860 horse car, an 1890 combine, and two 1890 coaches with oval track plan. The same set minus a power was TYCO’s “Disneylander” (#T6611) selling for $34.98. TYCO promoted these items as, “Famous trains from the magic worlds of television and Disneyland.” The company would return to licensing in the 1980s for its “Rambo,” “Transformers,” and “The A-Team” sets.
TYCO’s train set photos for its mid-to-late 1960s annual catalogs included a stacked mock up with scenery applied. Passing a reflective pool of faux water is TYCO’s “Mile Maker” with a Santa Fe GP20 on the point. Above that set is a Santa Fe 0-4-0 heading up “The Highballer” offering from 50 years ago.
Steam locomotives in TYCO’s 1966 line numbered nine versus five diesels and one trolley. TYCO’s big steam locomotives included a 2-8-2 Mikado, 4-6-2 Pacific, followed by the year’s new 2-6-2 Prairie model, and on to small steam offerings such as the Big Six 0-6-0 with tender, Little Six 0-6-0, Shifter 0-4-0 with tender, and Booster 0-4-0. Older steam prototypes included the 1860 General 4-4-0 and 1890 Ten-Wheeler 4-6-0.
Diesel motive power selections included TYCO’s GP20 diesel locomotive, introduced in 1961, plus the long-serving F9A and F9B units. TYCO’s center-cab industrial diesel switcher was nearing the end of its run with the company by this time. The little switcher appears on the point of that year’s Hustlebuck train set that sold for $19.98, as well as separate sale offerings for $7.98 each. New for 1966 was TYCO’s Alco Century 430 diesel locomotive model. Three road names for TYCO’s Alco Century 430 appear in the 1966 catalog: Green Bay & Western; New Haven; and Spokane, Portland & Seattle.
The model wasn’t ready by the time of the catalog’s publication, and a Green Bay & Western artist illustration serves as a stand-in. The illustration is an accurate one with respect to a model version, down to depicting the open slot on the front pilot with X2f coupler present and the re-use of TYCO’s GP20 fuel tank on this Alco Century 430. A black New Haven Century 430 did make it to production; neither of the other two road names is known to exist. Though the illustration of a Green Bay & Western Century 430 makes it another year for TYCO’s 1967 catalog, the road names that second year accurately reflect early production with New Haven joined by Burlington and Santa Fe (red-andsilver Warbonnet).
TYCO’s operating or action accessories were in their infancy in 1966, eventually expanding into a substantial number of items during the 1970s. An unloading coal hopper on an elevated trestle and unloading freight depot make up the two offerings for 1966. Various revisions of these items remained in TYCO’s catalog into the 1980s. Collectors can find TYCO’s Freight Handling Depot in its earliest form as a battery-operated release. This popular fully assembled accessory included a freight depot structure on a raised base (to hide the mechanical apparatus located below) with a moving tractor outfitted with a blade that extended forward to shove pipe sections off an included 40-foot flatcar. Early versions included a trio of narrow-radius pipes that ran nearly the length of the flatcar, while later offerings presented TYCO’s cement-colored, wide-radius round culvert sections. The battery-powered version with three long red pipes is the early release to look for at train swap meets and online auctions. These 1966 accessories carried a $6.98 suggested retail price.
TYCO’s HO-scale slot car line was enjoying its fourth year with the arrival of the company’s 1966–1967 catalog. As mentioned, slot cars enjoyed big years around 1963 and 1964 and had receded somewhat in sales by 1966. TYCO devoted four of 16 pages in this 1966 publication to its slot car line.
Four slot car sets appear in this catalog, and none is the interesting combination of racing and trains, though TYCO does catalog a slot car track segment with brass HO rail crossing. TYCO’s assortment of HO slot car selections included a Buick Rivera, Pontiac Grand Prix, Chevy Corvette, Jaguar XK-E, Ferrari Testarossa, and Ford ’s Hot Rod Coupe and Thunderbird. You could buy individual slot cars from $2.98 to $3.49 each in 1966. The base Figure 8 Competition slot car set retailed for $16.98. At the high end, TYCO’s International Grand Prix road racing set carried a $36.98 suggested retail price.
Big changes in the years ahead came when TYCO became part of Consolidated Foods in the early 1970s. The company was one of many that found itself part of a diversification business plan by a large corporation. In addition to TYCO’s change in ownership, General Mills acquired Lionel, and Nabisco bought Aurora in the 1970s. None of these food companies remained hobby players in the end.
TYCO’s line continued to enjoy massive expansion with structure kits and more locomotive and rolling stock introductions. By the mid-1980s, TYCO was its own entity, having moved away from its prior owner that also baked Sara Lee sweets. TYCO’s fortunes reportedly ebbed and flowed with its electric trains and slot cars enjoying various ups and downs in sales as the years progressed. TYCO’s HO train line began to decline in the mid-1980s, shrinking in the number of pages it commanded in each successive year’s catalog after 1985. Ultimately, slot cars may have been victorious over trains. TYCO exited the HO train market after 1993, while slot cars remained in the company’s product line.
Regarding those 1966 retail prices, one reference I found estimated that a U.S. dollar in 1966 translated to approximately $7.44 today. Therefore, TYCO’s $39.98 “Disneyland Special” train set would be $297.37 for Christmas 2016. TYCO’s Alco Century 430 carried a $14.98 suggested retail in 1966, which would convert to $111.42 for 2016. When comparing the retail listings for HO train sets and basic entry-level diesel locomotives in today’s catalogs to 1966, that conversion appears to have a sol id degree of accuracy. Bachmann’s “Harvest Express” set reviewed in the December 2016 edition of Model Railroad News carries a $239 retail. TYCO’s GP20 sold for $12.98 in 1966. That same tooling is the basis for Model Rectifier’s current Mantua Classics offering that retails for $84.98. Based on our earlier dollar-for-dollar equivalency, $12.98 retail would convert to $96.57 in 2016 dollars. Given the betterment in the drive mechanism and quality of its decoration, those new Mantua Classics GP20s at $84.98 represent a better value at a lower equivalent retail when comparing 1966 and 2016 figures.
What train set would I wish for under my Christmas tree from TYCO’s 1966 catalog? I like “The Mile Maker” with a GP20 and five freight cars, plus a caboose. This set came in Canadian National; Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; and Santa Fe. Think I’d enjoy the Burlington version. I guess I’ll have to start looking for that set now. What would be your pick of TYCO’s sets from 1966? You can view the complete color catalog online at my HO-Scale Trains Resource web site.