How Ives-branded track clips ended up in Lionel sets

How Ives-branded track clips ended up in Lionel sets

Ives-branded track clips for Lionel O27 track are relatively common, and although they are often mistaken for pre-1933 items, they were actually manufactured for several decades after the Ives brand name disappeared from the marketplace, and by Lionel, not its erstwhile rival Ives.

Lionel stamped the Ives name on track clips to protect the trademark. If you don’t use a trademark for several years, someone else can apply for it and start using it. Lionel didn’t want that.

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How to remove paint from a tin litho toy or train

It isn’t terribly rare to find old tin lithographed toys or trains that have been overpainted. Boys will be boys, after all, and have you ever met a boy that didn’t love paint?

When it comes to restoring these toys, there are no guarantees. Removing the paint without damaging the lithography beneath is tricky, at best. And, of course, there’s a pretty good chance that whatever lies beneath that paint is scratched up or otherwise damaged. Generally speaking, it’s the well-worn toys that get painted, not mint-condition ones.

But if you’re feeling brave and at least a little bit lucky, you can remove the paint, see what’s under it, and maybe, just maybe, it will prove to be salvageable.

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The story of MTH vs. Lionel

Inc. Magazine published a story about the MTH v. Lionel lawsuit which ultimately led to a $40 million judgment against Lionel.The article has a lot of good information in it, including insights on how Lionel and MTH came to be such bitter rivals. There’s lots of hearsay out there but aside from combing through very old magazine articles I never found much about the MTH/Lionel relationship that existed in the 1990s. This article isn’t a complete picture either but it gives details that I hadn’t seen elsewhere.

The article mostly paints a sympathetic picture of MTH, at one place saying “[MTH owner] Mike [Wolf] is not sparkling lily white in all this,” but not really elaborating. But I can’t blame the author for this.
Mike Wolf and MTH are willing to talk and Lionel isn’t.

It’s a story of industrial espionage and the downsides of using (or being) contractors, outsourcing, and overproduction, and the rise and fall of the American Dream. The question, yet unresolved, is whether it’s Mike Wolf’s American Dream that’s falling, or Joshua Lionel Cowen’s. Or both.

Side note: Speaking as a journalist, this article is a good reason why it’s good to talk to the press, even when your lawyers may not want you to. You have to win, or at least compete, in the court of public opinion as well as in the court of law. Run what you say through the lawyers if you have to, but make sure you say something. If you decline comment, the next-best place for the writer to get information about you is from the other side, which is the last place you want information about you to come from.

In this case, to look less like the bad guy, Lionel wouldn’t have had to say much of anything that damaged the case. Make some general statement about the case. Even if it’s rehashed from a press release, it looks better than “Lionel and its owners declined to comment for this story.” And then go in for the kill. “Why don’t you ask QSI what it thinks of MTH?” QSI is a former MTH subcontractor currently engaged in a separate lawsuit. QSI might not say much, but now the writer has some dirt on the rival to go chase down. It might have only resulted in one more line being in the story, something like, “Ironically, MTH, years after being a Lionel subcontractor, is now engaged in a separate and unrelated lawsuit with QSI, one of its former subcontractors.” With that information in the story, Lionel still doesn’t look like a poor, innocent little puppy (it isn’t), but it makes MTH look less like one (it isn’t either).

Troubleshoot your locomotives on the floor!

I’m not going to write up a comprehensive tutorial on troubleshooting old Lionel, American Flyer, Marx, and Ives trains just yet. But I’m going to present a hard-learned lesson.

When troubleshooting a locomotive, set it up on the floor, not on a table.I was working on an Ives locomotive this evening. A lot of Ives frames were made of cast iron, where Lionel and American Flyer had a tendency to use pressed steel, or when they were feeling saucy, brass. And Ives locomotives were top heavy.

Now that I’ve totally trashed Ives’ quality, let me say that their lithography was gorgeous and their motor design is absolutely brilliant and so simple that anyone can understand it, and therefore, has a chance of fixing it if something goes wrong.

Lionel was afraid of Ives. Very afraid. Ives was the most trusted toymaker in the United States at the turn of the previous century. When Ives decided to start making electric trains instead of just windups, Joshua Lionel Cowen approached Ives & son with an offer. He wanted to sell out.

The elder Ives wasn’t impressed and said no.

That was the wrong thing to do because J. Lionel Cowen was a very ruthless man. He soon took out advertisements comparing his quality with Ives’. He always compared his priciest offering with Ives’ cheapest, but that didn’t matter. In one of the ads, Lionel showed what happened when both an Ives locomotive and a Lionel locomotive fell four feet off a table.

The Ives broke into a large number of pieces. I don’t remember if it was 17 or 24. The Lionel suffered dents and paint scratches.

There was an upstart called Dorfan whose locomotives would usually survive without a dent if you threw them, let alone if they fell, but Lionel prefered battles he could win. Dorfan went bust when impurities crept into its alloy and caused it to crumble. So time could do what throwing a Dorfan across the room at a concrete wall would not. But I digress.

I now know from personal experience what happens when an Ives locomotive of that vintage falls to the floor.

Mine’s only in four pieces. Today we have glues that can put such problems back together. Those didn’t exist in 1920. We also have putties that can fill or disguise any seams or gaps that result from gluing it back together. Those didn’t exist in 1920 either.

If we have to, we can even cut a length of brass to fit and cover it with putty textured to look like cast iron if we can’t find one of those pieces, which is what happened to me.

Fortunately for me, this Ives locomotive had virtually no collector value because it had been repainted, badly. Its only value is to someone who wants to run it, and a reconstructed frame isn’t going to affect that at all.

Even still, watching an 85-year-old locomotive tumble to the floor isn’t an experience I wish on anybody. Even if you have the ability to fix it up like it never happened. And even if the locomotive you’re working on is a Marx 490 that’s worth about $7.

So, as you’re doing your preliminary break-in after cleaning the driver wheels and the commutator and applying a bit of light machine oil, run it on the floor. Once it’s running smoothly as Phil Hartman’s Rocket Fuel Malt Liquor again and can pull some cars, then it’s safe to put it on the table.