The Marx 556 caboose was a staple of Marx’s 6-inch line, running from 1937 to 1952. All the variants are minor and only the lighted version is rare or valuable. The 556 is a good car for toy train operators, and also makes a nice Christmas train or display piece because of its color choices.
Marx red 556 caboose
The 556 was derived from an earlier model, the 694, but had more colorful lithography to match the rest of Marx’s product line from 1937 onward.
The Marx 556 caboose had a red body with details printed in a combination of black and cream. With the additional colors, the details pop a little bit better. It still looks like a toy, but it doesn’t look as cheap as the 694 did. Introduced in 1938, it continued until 1942. Then it ran again from 1946 to 1952. All other Marx 6-inch cabooses used the same tooling.
I don’t know if the design was intentional, but a 556 looks good finishing off a string of green 552s under a Christmas tree. The red design gives good contrast with the green colors on the 552.
You can find a 556 caboose on a variety of frames. It came on four-wheel and eight wheel frames, both with and without with the lithograph detail, including the silver frame, and with fixed or sliding tab in slot couplers or the automatic one way couplers.
None of the 556’s typical train teammates are especially rare, but they tend to be slightly more valuable than a comparable 556, for one key reason. You can run a train of multiple freight cars of the same type. Doubling up on cabooses could happen, but it wasn’t something you saw a lot. So that’s why the 552 gondola and 553 tanker are worth a couple of dollars more.
The New York Central
The 556 was lettered for the New York Central, one of the major railroads of the time. New York Central trains were a common sight in the major population centers in the US northeast, especially Boston and New York, and as the name suggests, to other cities in upstate New York like Albany and Buffalo. But the NYC also connected to other cities in the east and even the midwest, including Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis. The NYC served the major population centers of its day, so the name was a familiar sight to Marx’s audience.
Marx 556 illuminated caboose
The only scarce or rare 556 is the lighted version, which used the same frame and lighting mechanism as Marx’s lit Montclair and Bogota passenger cars and observation car. Marx only made it for about 3 years before World War II, and didn’t resume production after the war, so if you can find an illuminated 556, and it’s factory original, you can expect to pay a premium over the other versions.
It’s easy to tell when a 556 came illuminated from the factory.
Look for the unpainted brass eyelets next to the windows holding the window glazing in. If there are no eyelets, you’re looking at a workshop special, not a factory original. It’s entirely possible to build up a lit 556 from parts of other cars and attach glazing with glue or tape, so don’t pay a premium if you don’t see the eyelets. Not having to build it up yourself is worth something I suppose, but its value is as an operator piece or a curiosity rather than as a collectible.