Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Object Lesson #4 - Lionel's 752E and Its Owner

In previous posts we looked at a 1934 toy train and what it says about the technology of the day, the values of the culture, and how it functions in said culture. But there's one more thing this object can tell us -- the character of its owner.

Although I never met Ken's father-in-law, we can deduce a few things about him through this Lionel 752E streamliner. The train's set box has the name of the West Virginia department store it was shipped to (via Railway Express), so we know where he lived (Ken’s confirmed this). While we don’t know how much money he made, we do have some clues that he made some, but was careful with it.

As outlined previously, this train was a big purchase, and consequently its led a gentle life. The minor nicks and scratches on the body are simply evidence of a half-century of seasonal use.

Ken's father-in-law also purchased some accessories along the way. These aren’t top-of-the line, but they're the kind of inexpensive accessories that most any department or dime store. Mostly likely they were bought within a year or so of the train set. The lights currently with these accessories aren’t original – as they burnt out, the owner replaced them with Christmas lights.

It may have been possible to special order the correct lights, but using readily available holiday lights would have been a much more economical way to keep these accessories operational. And interestingly enough, not a lot else has been added to this set. The train came complete in 1934, and there are no additional cars or locomotives.

The scale of this set is pretty big. Lionel was transitioning to O-gauge (about 1:43 scale) from Standard Gauge (about 1:24 scale) moving from the 1920’s to the 1930’s. The trains were smaller, and for the most part more affordable. Most O-gauge trains could navigate a 34” diameter circle of track.

The articulated 752E couldn’t, though. It required a 72” diameter curve – a considerable space investment. We know the owner lived in a house with at least one room big enough to accommodate something this size (Ken says it was traditionally set up in the sun room). So the price tag and the space requirements suggest someone living in a fairly nice house or apartment.

I could go on with more details about the model itself, but that’s not the point here. This train set has a story to tell – just like many of the objects that surround us in our own homes. I wonder what stories they could tell?

- Ralph

Part 1: Lionel's 752E and Technology
Part 2: Lionel's 752E and Cultural Values
Part 3: Lionel's 752E and Its Function

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