Gabe the Lamplighter is a beloved American Flyer post-war train accessory. It combines movement and light, providing something besides the trains that a visitor to a layout can control.
American Flyer’s postwar Gabe the Lamplighter
Its original catalog number was 23780, and it originally retailed for $9.95. An original in nice condition is worth around $400 today, although in the 1990s, they were worth closer to $900.
Gabe wasn’t a random name. The product was named for AC Gilbert employee Gabe Monaco, who was one of the model makers for the American Flyer product line.
It was derived from a standard American Flyer floodlight tower, but it was powered by an American Flyer reverse unit. When an operator pushes the green button on the controller, the reverse unit pulls a string that moves the animated Gabe figure up a single rung of the ladder. Each subsequent push of the button moves the figure up another run, closer to the top. When the figure reaches the top of the ladder, the lights will light when the operator pushes and turns the red button. Pushing the green button sends Gabe quickly down the ladder. Then the operator can start all over again.
Although it was primarily marketed for S gauge, the size is close enough that it works equally well on an O gauge layout.
The original was only available for 2 years during the postwar era, in 1958 and 1959. Flyer fans regard it as the last great American Flyer accessory to come out of A.C. Gilbert.
Both Lionel and MTH reproduced Gabe the Lamplighter in recent decades, with Lionel going out of its way to call the MTH version an imposter. The modern reproductions cost around $175, which is more than the originals cataloged for, but it’s about half the price of an original. You can usually find a used reproduction for closer to $100.
Also, keep in mind that the original retail price was closer to $100 in today’s money, so Gabe the Lamplighter wasn’t exactly an inexpensive accessory even when it was new. The new ones are more expensive than the old ones were, but the market was much larger then.
The Lionel reproduction sometimes has a green roof. Originals usually had red. Whether green roof originals ever existed is still controversial. Lionel still had the original tooling as a result of their 1967 merger. That meant they were able to make a very close reproduction. The Lionel version was last cataloged in 2001. Both the Lionel and MTH reproductions have their names on them to distinguish them from originals.
The Lionel reproduction lights automatically when the figure reaches the top of the ladder, where the original and MTH versions require you to push and turn the red button to light the lights.
While the Lionel versions of some Flyer accessories haven’t always been well received, such as the animated track gang, their version of Gabe did get a good reception.
Wiring Gabe the Lamplighter
If you lost your instruction sheet, connect to the black wire from the control box to the base post on the transformer. Connect to the yellow wire to the fixed voltage post on your transformer.
If you use a Lionel transformer, the base post is the equivalent to what Lionel called the common wire. The accessory post provides the required 15 volts.
Here’s a list of Lionel transformer pinouts if you need help figuring out which post is your common post, since it could vary from transformer to transformer.