The Lionel 6111 is a rather common, unheralded Lionel postwar freight car. But it’s fun, at least as an oddity. It’s also a very versatile car.
The 6111 and its brother, the 6121, don’t bear a model number anywhere. It’s just a sheet metal car, formed into the shape of a log car, painted a solid color and bearing the word “LIONEL.” Allegedly adapted from the prewar caboose frame, it was a cheap and simple car to make. The difference between the two was just the load. The 6111 came with logs and the 6121 came with pipes. If the load ever became separated from the car, it became impossible to tell a 6111 from a 6121.
Although they look like prewar cars, they were postwar production, made from 1955 to 1957. In spite of the short production run, there are lots of variations, and these cars are easy to find. They are a much less heralded prewar holdover than, say, the 115 station, but they are charming and have their own appeal. You’ll see why in a minute.
Lionel 6111 and 6121 colors
The Lionel 6111 and 6121 came in three basic colors: yellow, red, and gray. There were three shades of red, two shades of yellow and four shades of gray. The Lionel name came in black or white, but yellow cars always had black text with gray and red cars always had white text. The text could be in sans serif or serif, heat stamped or rubber stamped.
Chasing down examples of every variant can be challenging, but inexpensive. There are, allegedly, 17 different variants of colors and lettering. Some of the Lionel books have ringers, and this would be a good place to sneak in a ringer.
I’ve seen pristine examples of these cars sell for $25, but in less than perfect condition, they are very inexpensive. They are common in bargain boxes at train shows and hobby shops. I’ve paid between $3 and $5 for most of mine, and have heard of people scoring them at the end of the day at a train show for 50 cents. Lack of a number makes the cards harder to identify, but they are surprisingly easy to find on Ebay.
This humble car can make a useful transition or conversion car. As long as the condition isn’t pristine, you’re not damaging a precious collectible, and if you get one missing a truck, nothing says you need to restore it with a like example.
Disassembly is a bit tricky as the truck attaches underneath the retaining bracket for the load. There are three tabs on the underside that hold the retaining bracket in place. Carefully straighten the two tabs closest to the sides of the car, just enough that you can tilt the bracket up. Then you can mount the truck.
You can install a prewar truck or a Marx truck to make interoperability easier. I like to use a 4-40 machine screw and a stop nut (also known as an aviation nut) to attach trucks when I make a conversion, because it makes future changes super simple if I ever have the need or desire.
After attaching the truck, tilt the bracket back down, and carefully work the tabs into the slots. They can break fairly easily, so work slowly. Rather than cinching them back down, consider just twisting the tabs enough that they’ll hold. Stressing the metal differently cuts down on metal fatigue and the risk of breaking a tab.
The tinplate design makes a 6111 or 6121 an ideal car for the job, as it blends in with prewar Lionel very well, blends in with Marx tin almost as well, and doesn’t look any more out of place with Marx postwar plastic than it does with Lionel plastic.
Of course you can run them as-is too.
Operating tips for the Lionel 6111 and 6121
The 6111 and 6121 are cheapest if the load is missing. To an operator, that’s no big deal. It’s easy to cut lengths of dowel or tubing to fit and load the car down.
The way the trucks mount to the body makes the steps prone to damage. Also, if someone accidentally bends the steps inward, it can interfere with operation. Make sure the steps are relatively straight for best results when operating these cars.
As long as the car is in good mechanical condition, it runs happily on any diameter of Lionel O and O27 track, including the sharpest O27 curves.
While technically an O27 car, log cars are supposed to be short, so a 6111 looks just fine in an O gauge train. And if you want to mix O and O27, you can disguise the difference in size by putting one or more 6111s in between the two types.