In 1974, Marx introduced a steam freight train set, catalog number 2905, it called The Reliable 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 Reliable was part of the Great American Railroads series. It had catalog number 2905 and was sold only in 1974 and 1975.
The story behind the Marx Reliable train set
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.
The Marx Reliable train set, catalog# 2905
The Marx Reliable 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 steam engine and tender, a grain hopper and caboose to make up 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.
- 490 steam locomotive 0-4-0, black
- Southern Pacific tender, 4 wheel, black
- Lehigh Valley 4 wheel hopper, orange, #21913
- Southern Pacific 4 wheel caboose, green
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.
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 about as much as the train.
Marx made the set for two years, 1974 and 1975.
What the Marx Reliable set originally cost
Marx sold many of its toys through discounters, and The Reliable set was no exception. In the St. Louis area, S.S. Kresge, the variety store chain and sister chain to Kmart, discounted it to $8.88 alongside the Marx Meteor set# 2915. 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 everything together, pieces could and did get separated.
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 Reliable set turns up today, there’s no guarantee the person who finds it will recognize it as having any value.