Thursday, July 9, 2020

LGB's Wilson Bros. Circus Train

In 1991 LGB was flying high. Sales were brimming, The US market was a boon to the German business share and modern and improved production methods started to allow all kinds of series and alterations without braking the bank.

The US market had improved and grown dramatically. There were more than 2,200 LGB dealers across the USA and Illinois was a major LGB hub. The LGB Club of Chicago (LGBRR) was founded in 1979 and the area was home to some of the biggest LGB dealers in the country.

One of them, Depot G Hobbies in Winfield, what today is (near) Wheaton/IL had a brilliant marketing idea. Jim Marski, its owner had negotiated with LGB to manufacture exclusively for him a train set containing 11 cars and eventually one locomotive the Mogul # 22191. The set was to be a very limited special edition of 2,000 and Depot G would have the only distribution rights. In Jim Marski's announcement he said: "Due to the significant commitment required to produce this set, the production will span a four year period with one item being delivered every four month. The first item, the 'Advance Advertising Car" is available now. The set is offered on a subscription basis only, i.e individual cars will NOT be sold individually. Circus wagons are produced by Columbine Hobby Corp and are not available separately at this time."

LGB 3181 DG "Advertising Car" - Courtesy of
Depot G requested a down payment of US$ 200 for the "subscription basis only", which meant once you committed you had to take all 11 cars and one loco of the series and couldn't get out.

advertising the Wilson Circus train set in 1991/92 - Courtesy of SPUR II magazine 16/ I-1992
Depot G offered the complete package as a 'future option' (pun intended...) with installment payment plans. In the above advertisement he announced the expected delivery date for each item with the last one, the Mogul engine being delivered by May of 1995. That was a brave move....!

Depending of your choice of payment plan you ended up paying either US$ 1800.00 or US$ 1,680.00. If you'd had invested that amount in 1991 you'd look at about US$ 6,300.00 today. And that was exactly what Depot G's Jim Marski was betting on. His intend was to benefit from the inherent belief of the US LGB customer that the LGB product was an investment and would only appreciate with time. That was American business savvy and US capitalism at its best.

The first car was readily available and cost US$ 129.00. All prices for all products shown above were published at the time of announcement. And Depot G would have guaranteed sales of  US$ 3.3 to 3.6 mill. But would it work?
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ to be continued......................

Friday, June 26, 2020

LGB Mikado - # 24872, 25872 and 22871

By early summer  of 2002 LGB had reworked  the Mikado half way through (see last blog). With customers being unhappy and frustrated Rolf Richter decided to have two more Mikados manufactured with the changes made so far. In June of 2002 he had the Mikado # 25872 and # 24872 manufactured and later advertised. They would be out for delivery around Christmas. This time only for the American market.
LGB 24872 - Courtesy of Only Trains
The Baltimore & Ohio "4510" was in all black, came with sound and had an edition volume of about 500. The US customer also had the chance to get cars with the loco (additional purchase):
LGB # 35570, 35580, 35590 - Courtesy of Only Trains

The #  25872 was the green SRR "4501" SOUTHERN
LGB 25872 - Courtsey of Only Trains
This Mikado also came with sound and the edition volume was 586. It would have been great if it did work. But the complaints kept coming. LGBoA had nothing to make it any better. All that could happen were sending engines around the country to LGBoA and back to the customer since the motor blocks hadn't been reworked yet. That was going to happen in summer while these 'incomplete' Mikados were aggravating the customers. Eventually by October of 2002 the motor blocks were reworked completely

Not only did they rework/redesign the two motor blocks. LGB also decided to outsource the most complex changes and parts manufacturing to third partners. This was amidst the growing financial problems and the looming cuts in the workforce.

Well, dear reader and LGB enthusiast - you already put 2 and 2 together. It was too late. By the time the rework was done only one Mikado with the complete redesign would be going to enter the market. That was the LGB 22871, the "French Mikado" SNCF
LGB 22871 - TrainCraft by Klaus Owner: MSR Mark Rosenthal
The Mikado LGB# 22871 SNCF No 1244 was manufactured in 2004 with an edition volume of ONLY  301. It was advertised as an eXtra item (the ill-fated dealer program in Germany) and also available to the American customer. It did not have sound. But the engine did work. At last a Mikado in working condition. Alas - too late.
The B&O Mikado No 4500-Courtesy of the
B&O RR Museum
The archetypes of the above models are:
#24872: the Baltimore & Ohio Light Mikado class Q3 was built by Baldwin Locomotives in 1918 and was in service as No. 4500 until 1958. It was once one of the most modern types run on the B&O. She was retired in 1958 into the Baltimore & Ohio RR Museum where she was later restored. In 1990 she became a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. A No 4510 was never made for B&O. The greyish-white/silver smoke chamber is the very distinctive characteristic for the 4500 B&O - which LGB chose not to have.

SRR Mikado - Courtesy of
The Southern Railway 4501 was built by Baldwin in PA for Southern Railway in October 1911 and was in service until 1948. By 1964 she was starting her famous years being restored to various states of operation and re-restored after that multiple times. She also had a prosperous Hollywood career in more than 7  movies. Her current owner is the Tennessee Valley RR Museum and she was last operated in 2019 when she was dressed up as Louisville & Nashville steam locomotive  No. 1593 for the L&N Historical Society annual convention.

The SNCF Mikado 141 R No 1244 was built by the Montreal Locomotives Works after 1945. By 1975 all  Mikados built for SNCF were retired. Today the No 1244 is based in Switzerland and is still in working order.
Mikado No 1244 SNCF - Courtesy of Julien Vernet

Friday, June 19, 2020

LGB Mikado - Part 3 Design Flaws

After the first series of Mikado had serious design flaws LGB set to rework the engine design. In a first attempt  the coupler was fitted to the axle by making an axle with rectangular ends so the coupler could fit and transport movement without slipping.

This change had ramifications that required more design changes.

The first joint between the motor and the first cardanic shaft proved to be the weakest part of the design as the plastic pick-up was not able to handle the torque of the motor and carry the mechanical load. Consequently the joint between the motor and the first cardanic shaft was completely redesigned: the star-like brass wheel on the motor axle was replaced by a rectangular brass bolt. The cardanic shaft got a plastic pick-up shaped to fit the brass bolt.

re-designed cardanic coupler
copyright by TrainCraft by Klaus
This second re-design  however had a flaw of its own. As the star-like connection provided guidance (in the center line) for the first axle the new design did not. As the first axle tended to wobble, this wobbling movement was transported to the other end of the first cardanic shaft; which was only kept in place by plastic guides within the motor block and its top lid. Pretty early on these plastic guides wore out giving the axle more play than designed. This resulted in a constant rattling noise from the rear motor block.

new rectangular brass bolt
 copyright TrainCraft by Klaus
The ultimate and last re-design called for a total re-work of the two motor blocks. The first and last cardanic shafts were equipped with two ball bearings that now measured 12 mm (compared to 10 mm earlier in diameter). With the first axle being properly guided the rattling noise was completely eliminated giving the whole drive train an exceptionally smooth operation.

Production numbers for the Mikados No 20872, 21872 and 23872 (shown below in sequence)  had varied between 500 and 800 in the first production run. They were re-manufactured  in Summer of 2002 with all above listed re-designs. To some extend  just to replace those locos the customers had sent in. And some to fulfill increased sales for this Mikado type.

That means that there are still quite a lot of Mikados out there that already do or will produce one of the following failures:

the engine runs slowly or stops while the motor is audibly working  (the first generation plastic pick-up/coupler turns on the axle).

the engine simply stops with the motor running with grinding noise  (first generation plastic pick-up is worn out).

rattling noise in the drive train  (axles start wobbling because plastic guides are worn out).

These failures do also occur when the Mikado is operated in a 24/7 modus. If you are a heavy driver of your LGB loco(s) contact Klaus for POM treatments. It's a professional and easy fix to 'permanent operation' even for a Mikado.

With the fixes in production LGB set out to manufacture the next Mikados, the No. 25872 and the LGB # 24872 which was manufactured exactly one month later than the 25872....

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++ to be continued.......................................................

Friday, June 12, 2020

LGB Mikado - # 20872, 21872 and 23872

The first Mikado to hit the markets was the LGB # 20872
LGB 20872 - Courtesy of Only Trains
It was the  A.T. & S.F Santa Fee 3110 in all black with sound. MSRP was Euro 1,499.00 or US$ 1,995.00. Delivery was sometime in 2002.

The archetype was the Mikado class O-1 locomotive. This prototype built between 1916 and 1918 by Baldwin for the Great Northern/ South Dakota RR for freight. It was scrapped in 1953. The Santa Fe RR never used a Mikado on their RR.

For LGB the troubles started right away. Being designed and under pressure and without the decades long experience of Gunter Ruhland (retired 2000) and your Famous Klaus (emigrated to USA in 2001) the design flaws of the first LGB Mikado (generation) were manifold. The cardanic joints consisted of  one star-like brass gear wheel and one plastic pick-up/coupler. This joint was used throughout all of the drive train. And as mentioned in the last blog this plastic pick-up or coupler  was pressed onto the (round) axle. Fine in a light loco. But with the weight of this LGB Mikado the plastic coupler started moving on the axle and any motor power would no longer result in moving the loco. Fans were 'thrilled' looking at a Mikado with a running motor but standing still.

Fun Fact: since Rolf Richter had already advertised that 3 different Mikados would be available for the LGB customer, namely the # 20872, the LGB # 21872 and 23872, all three Mikados were manufactured during the same first time period in late 2001. Thus all three did feature the same malfunction.

LGB 21872 - Courtesy of Only Trains
The archetype for the # 21872 was the L1 Light freight class type Mikado built under the auspices of the USRA, possibly by Baldwin, somewhere between 1917 and 1920. The number '2809' used by LGB might be taken from another Mikado class. PRR itself was supposed to receive 33 L1 Mikados but refused receival.

LGB 23872 - Courtesy of Only Trains
The archetype for the # 23872 was a heavy Mikado class MK9 built by Brooks in 1920 for Union Pacific and was in service from 1920 to 1959. Number 2310 was scrapped.

 LGB customers started sending the Mikado back, either to LGBoA or to LGB Nuernberg/Germany. No repairs would help. The design flaw wouldn't be tackled until the next year. So the market had to sit and endure this flaw. Of the # 20872 about 500 were made in the first run. The PRR Mikado had a run of 649 and the Union Pacific # 23872 roughly 600. That would have qualified  for a 'perfect' small-series-production, limited-edition seal at a decent price. And all three had sound. Perfect for collectors.......if only.

Changes had to be made and the design team had one of their best back on the team, Gerd Zykora. They went to work in early January of 2002 and started on the mismatched plastic coupler/ axle first.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++to be continued

Saturday, May 30, 2020

LGB Mikado - revisited

In 2013/14 this blog wrote about the Mikado first. After a lot of interest for this LGB engine emerged we promised to revisit the LGB Mikado.

By 2000 LGB needed the American market more than ever. The American LGB fan shelled out big money for engines without hesitation where(as) the German and European customer was holding back when prices got 'too high'. And the Mikado was the perfect engine for that. A big steam engine, easy on the eyes with a history of success and some even built for narrow gauge it made for a wonderful engine to offer the US LGB customer.
A German built Mikado - Courtesy of Olaf

She needed to be designed. Molds needed to be made. LGB had never made a  2-8-2 Mikado before. In addition, Guenter Ruhland, head mold master LGB since 1968 had just retired. And your Famous Klaus who in the past had consulted Gunter Ruhland technically had just emigrated to the USA and had no longer any connections to LGB. Now what? A completely unfazed Rolf Richter just commanded to have a Mikado built and that was that, right? It would come to haunt him.

In short succession LGB announced these Mikado types as new engines to come:
LGB #     Year (of manufacturing/delivery)
20872 2001
22872 2002
21872 2003
23872 2003
24872 2003
25872 2003
22871 2004

A hand model was built and looked great. Well this one didn't need to operate. Tools were made. Manufacturing and partial assembling had been transferred to China. Rolf Richter was hoping for a deluge of small volumes so he could offer an onslaught of new models a few times a year. He had them advertised accordingly.....(see previous blog remarks on this topic).
Then the first Mikados were ready to be shipped and delivered to customers, mainly in the USA.
LGB 20872 hand model - LGBoA 2000 INFO
note the upcoming LGB Mikado numbers already listed

The complaints started coming as soon as the first LGB Mikados hit the track. Was LGB trying to catch lightning in a bottle or were they just in too deep? Facts were: The Mikado was the most challenging design of the LGB (built) locos with the largest wheels and it was also the heaviest LGB loco. That engine design required an articulate drive train.She called for a fully suspended drive with three kardanic shafts.
Rolf Richter ordered manufacturing of the most complicated engine design ever built by LGB at a time where he had shifted manufacturing to China (tool and mold testing?) and had lost the majority of his most experienced,creative and craftsmanship manpower (technical problem solving).
The man in charge tried his best: to keep it simple LGB utilized an old kardanic design which is to be found in the LGB 2066-1 Railbus. A plastic coupler was pressed on an axle and that was it. What is good and sufficient for the Railbus must not necessarily be fitting for the Mikado. Pretty soon these couplers started slipping on the axle with the disastrous effect that the Mikado axles got out of sync. More ramifications followed...

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++to be continued...................................

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Aster and LGB - Tssd Mallet # 25832 (conclusion)

In 2005 the cooperation with Aster was coming to an end. The last order was for the Tssd Mallet. Aster had already built the Tssd Mallet for LGB , 2 years earlier in 2003 (scroll down to blog 5/2/20). Now they built another 200 in green:
Aster/LGB # 25832 - Courtesy of
Fun fact: Since LGB numbered the loco "43" and if you're doing the math within the production linage of the original loco production, both Mallets represent the very same 'Oechsle' loco.

Nonetheless, this loco came with the wooden box, individually numbered as always within the Aster/LGB line. The brass work was beautiful. The price was at Euro 2,999.00 or about US$ 4,000.00 . The engine had sound. Even though it was advertised in Germany and Europe as well as in the USA the main focus was on the American LGB customer and his bigger pockets when it came to specialty loco models.

The Aster/LGB green Mallet was advertised in the main catalog 2006, page 165, for all LGB customers worldwide. 2006 was the last year of LGB's existence under Wolfgang and Rolf Richter. Bankruptcy and closing of the company were to follow starting in September of 2006.

It is very hard to find this green brass Mallet on the market right now. She certainly found her owners fast and most for good. Prices haven't budged and if one becomes available don't be surprised to find asking prices even beyond US$ 4,000.00

As for the archetype: it is just the very same loco as the DB 99 633. The manufacturer built 9 engines all in all with 3 engines in each series and with three series altogether. The first series started in 1899 with the number 41, 42, 43, the next series in 1901 with Nos 44, 45 and 46 and the last series in 1904 with Nos 47,48 and 49. For more detailed historic information about the original Oechsle loco please revisit

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Aster and LGB GG 1 # 23835, 24835, 24837

By 2005 LGB knew that chances of survival were getting slim. Short-time-work (state regulated system of compensation for work-sharing if not enough work is generated by regular market activity) was requested by and granted to LGB. Increasing sales volume, no matter how short run, murky or even imaginary, was prime target. The Aster-LGB cooperation was put on stress test. Four (4!) engines were ordered by LGB and made by Aster in 2005. Three of them, the GG 1's below, were never cataloged.

Deducing from the minimal edition volume they were exclusively made either for one US-dealer or for LGBoA top brass feeding only their most exclusive customer base. However, over the last decade some of these rare engines resurfaced in England and in Germany.
Aster/LGB # 23835 - Courtesy of

Aster/LGB # 24835 - Courtesy of Only Trains

Aster/LGB # 24837 - Courtesy of

The fourth engine made that year was the Tssd Mallet and will be reported on in our conclusion to this Aster/LGB blog.

As already mentioned, there was absolutely no adverting nor any mentioning to any regular customer about these locos. They were made for and sold to a selected few. Price wise only guesses are possible.
The Aster/LGB # 23835  GG 1 PRR 4872 had an edition volume of 79 engines, came in the wooden box with individual numbered plates (as before) and the 'official' price was published as EU 3,999.00. Chances are that the price received by whoever sold it on the American market was somewhere in the neighborhood of $ 5,900.00 and above.
The Aster/LGB # 24835 GG 1 Amtrak 927 had an edition volume of 79 as well, came again in the known wooden box and was given the same official price as the PRR above, EU 3,999.00. And here as well the fair assumption goes to roughly a requested price of about US$ 6,000.00 - maybe more.

The Aster LGB # 24837 GG 1 Conrail 4800 had the unfathomable small edition of 30 (thirty). At least Aster just had to do another paint job...The Conrail GG1 also came in the known wooden box and the 'official' price was again EU 3,999.00. It is anybody's guess what the US-dealer then actually did ask his customers to pay.

All three locos came with sound and the PRR 4872 featured that of "The Congressional".

The archetypes are: The GG 1 PRR No 4872 was originally built in 1939 for the PRR in the original coloring Brunswick green. In 1955 three GG 1 locomotives, the 4872 among them were painted silver with an 8" wide red band thus abandoning the stripes from earlier. Also a large keystone with white PRR monogram on both sides and one small keystone on noses with locomotive number. The No 4872 was used on "The Congressional" and Senator trains through the mid seventy's
Fun fact: the  4872 together with 4866, and 4880 were later re-repainted  to Brunswick green with standard livery.
The 4872 was scraped, maybe before 1981.

The GG 1 Amtrak No 927 started life as PRR 4934 but was transferred to Amtrak in 1971 when it became No 927. The Amtrak painting was put on in the mid 1970's.
Fun Fact: the Amtrak 927 was later renumbered to  4927 and survived at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union. She has been stored indoors and received another paint job back to Brunswick green (which an almost all photos has a black hue to it).

Conrail GG 1 -
courtesy of
The Conrail GG 1 4800 (quote from" is the only GG1 with a riveted body. It was the prototype for the GG 1 and became the Bi-Centennial GG1 Engine in 1976. Old "Rivets" wore Conrail "dress blue" (Railroading in the North East Collection). 4800 was owned by the Lancaster Chapter of the NRHS and at one time was on loan to the RR Museum of PA. The chapter donated it to the RR Museum of PA in 2000. For a couple years, 4800 was out in the weather and was showing signs of deterioration. In 2002 it was moved into the expanded car barn. In 2004 it received a new paint job and underwent some cosmetic restoration. All lettering has been painted over sometime in the mid-2000's. In 2009 it was moved outside again."

++++++++++++++++++++++++ to be continued....................................................