Marx The Meteor Diesel Freight set 2915

Last Updated on May 4, 2023 by Dave Farquhar

In 1974, Marx introduced a diesel freight set it called The Meteor, catalog number 2915, that ran on a 6 volt lantern battery and sold through discount stores. If you have one today, it’s worth more than its original retail price, even adjusted for inflation.

The Marx Meteor train set was part of the Great American Railroads series. It had catalog number 2915 and was sold only in 1974 and 1975.

The story behind the Marx Meteor train set

Marx 2915 The Meteor train set from 1974-75
The Marx 2915 The Meteor train set ran on batteries but the battery pack attempted to make it look like a more expensive transformer that plugged into the wall. The fake black trucks on the cars are a hallmark of 1974 and 1975 sets.

It was 1974. Marx Toys had merged with Quaker Oats 2 years before, and Quaker brought in Spike Fitzpatrick, the former sales manager for A.C. Gilbert’s American Flyer trains in the 1960s. They didn’t give him much budget to work with, but they asked him to do what he could to refresh a 20-year-old product line and reinvigorate sales.

Fitzpatrick redesigned the packaging to include a large photograph of the train set in a realistic looking setting, and improved the paint schemes, modernizing them, and accentuating some detail that the initial design obscured. He dubbed his new, improved line the Great American Railroads series.

One of the first two sets in the series, set# 2915, commemorated the Lehigh Valley, a railroad that primarily operated in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Marx sold it alongside a steam freight set called The Reliable.

The Marx Meteor train set, catalog# 2915

The Marx Meteor train set was very similar to other 4 wheel plastic sets they sold at discount stores a decade before, but it operated on batteries. It consisted of a battery operated power pack, 10 pieces of track, a diesel switcher, and three cars for a four unit train, rolling on four plastic wheels with fake truck sides to make them look like eight wheels, with fixed plastic knuckle couplers.

  • Lehigh Valley GE 70 ton diesel switcher, red, #112
  • NYC gondola 4 wheel, green, #715100
  • ATSF box car 4 wheel, white, #3280
  • Lehigh Valley 4 wheel caboose, red, #95050
lantern battery required by the Marx Meteor set
The large 6-volt lantern battery that powered the Marx Meteor set is uncommon today. It was readily available in 1975 but at $1.09, added an additional 12 percent to the cost of the set.

The battery pack was bright primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. The main color of the controller varied. I’ve seen blue, but others own sets with red controllers. It included bright colored stickers you were supposed to attach. It looked like a Fisher Price product, perhaps betraying that Fisher Price management was running Marx in 1974. The battery pack used a 6v lantern battery, normally used in large flashlights.

I’ve seen complete boxed sets sell for more than $60. A nice box can drive the value higher. The box is flimsy and that’s probably part of the reason it’s worth as much as the train. The box car and caboose don’t seem to get much attention when sold individually, but the engine and the green gondola may be worth $30 to someone wanting to complete a set, if they are complete and don’t have any broken parts.

Marx made the set for two years, 1974 and 1975. Marx marketed battery sets like The Meteor as starter sets, intending for consumers to upgrade to an electric set like The Eagle Express or better yet, its top of the line Mohawk set in subsequent years. It didn’t work out how Marx hoped.

What the set originally cost

Newspaper ad for the Marx 2915 Meteor set, Dec 1974
Discounters like SS Kresge pushed Marx’s Meteor train set hard during the runup to Christmas 1974.

Marx sold many of its toys through discounters, and The Meteor set was no exception. In the St. Louis area, the Ontario discount chain sold the set for $10.87, putting it on sale for $8 flat just before Christmas. S.S. Kresge, the variety store chain and sister chain to Kmart, discounted it to $8.88. Kmart also sold the sets, though I wasn’t able to find any ads to confirm Kmart’s price.

The battery it needed, a 6 volt lantern battery, didn’t come with the set. At the time, discount stores sold 6 volt lantern batteries for $1.09.

A combination of factors likely drives the value up today. The survival rate of the sets was fairly low, since replacing the lantern battery was expensive. The lantern battery ran a long time, since it only needed to power a DC can motor, but once the battery ran out, parents didn’t necessarily replace it.

Marx sets with transformers came in sturdy corrugated boxes with a high survival rate, because they were durable. But battery and windup sets tended to come in thin, flimsy boxes that didn’t hold up well and were more likely to be thrown out. Without the box to keep the parts together, they easily became separated. Even if the pieces stayed together, identification becomes much harder without the box.

And the 4 wheel plastic cars tended to have less interest than other Marx trains. Even now, a fairly small number of Marx collectors know the 4 wheel cars with black sideframes were only produced for two years and some of them are scarce. So when a Meteor set turns up today, there’s no guarantee the person who finds it will recognize it as having any value.

An unexpected legacy of the Marx Meteor train set

The Marx Meteor set bears more than a passing resemblance to the Rock Island train set of the late 1980s. A company called Great Lakes imported and distributed the set, produced from old Plastimarx tooling. The Rock Island set only lasted about three years on the market but it also was battery powered and used the same tooling. It’s the spiritual successor of Marx’s Great American Railroads experiment.

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