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Restoring A Lucky Find: A Lionel Early No. 13 Cattle Car

By Brad Kaplan

The car as received (the three rivet trucks were added later)

A friend and I exchanged emails recently about scarce pieces we were looking for. He mentioned the early Lionel No. 13 cattle car, produced between 1906 and 1910, and that he has been looking for one for 12 years. I’ve also been looking for one, and a couple of days later on Ebay my eyes popped out of my head. Someone had Lionel tinplate 10 series cattle car parts listed. I looked at the lot closely and low and behold I saw the non-embossed ribs on his "parts" car. And then I saw the Lionel Mfg Co. embossing and the 2 piece roof. This was a scarce early No. 13 cattle car. The body was painted orange. The other part of this lot was a repainted green body for a corporation era No. 13 (1918 or latter) that essentially has no value.

I won the auction and received both cars a few days later. The early cattle car was missing both doors. There are no reproduction doors available for this early style cattle car. I went searching online and found the “” web site. On this site you can design parts like the doors I needed and have them produced.

I pulled up a picture of the early cattle car from the TM Standard Gauge book (I have a PDF copy of it from Tom McComas). Putting the body without the door next to the photo actually made it very easy to figure out the measurements. With I had the luxury of being able to be a lot more precise than even Lionel was as far as the door measurements. This was important because I wanted to make sure my doors fit without having to de-solder the body.

I decided to have the door made slightly shorter so I could fit it into the guides without un-soldering them. allows you to print out your design on paper to make sure it fits, and it did.

Photo comparison and paper doors used to check fit

So I ordered the pair of doors on 1/32” sheet metal. I actually ordered four pairs of doors, two for me and two for a friend of mine in case either of us ever encountered another early No. 13 missing its doors. Price wise it was not much more expensive to get the extra sets made. The total cost was only $80.

Center punching the replacement doors prior to drilling for rivet handles

I also needed rivets for the door handle. I determined that Lionel used 1/32” round head rivets. I bought 100 of them for $5, a lifetime supply.

Rivet handles - one was successfully peened with a center punch and did not need any solder while I attempted to peen the other and it did not lock, so a drop of solder was needed

The No. 13 was a mixed blessing. Sadly the orange repaint looked very recent, within the last 5 years. The previous owner stripped off the original paint and applied the orange. On a coupler and inside the two piece roof I saw some original green, but that was it. He also removed the couplers and the brake wheels and reinstalled them. The reinstallation was almost correct, but not quite. It was a shame that this person almost destroyed the piece, but then again that is the reason it came into my hands.

I needed original three rivet trucks for the cattle car. On Ebay someone listed a body for a Pridelines No. 8 trolley. I looked at the photo and realized that the trucks were original Lionel 3-rivet trucks. I took advantage of the buy-it-now price of $225, and then took the trucks off and re-listed the body without trucks. I got $100 for it. So the original 3-rivet trucks cost me $125. A fair price for a pair.

I had grand plans of stripping the cattle car, taking off the couplers and the brake wheels, and getting color matched paint for the yellow primer and the green. The doors arrived a week after I ordered them from and there the project sat for months. Finally, I realized I just had to get it done. And I realized the orange paint was stable enough that I could paint over it without stripping it. So I decided I would start my restoration, which would be fine, because if I ever change my mind, it will be no more work to undo my repaint as it would be to start from the present condition.

The No. 13 cattle car has two metal cross beams over the door for body strength. No. 14 boxcars lack these supports probably because the metal is not punched for a cattle car so it is stronger. One of these supports was glued back in place by the person who painted it orange. I used 200 watt solder iron and new solder and got the beam properly re-attached.

The proper paint colors are yellow primer for the bottom of the car, the interior and bottom of the roof, and the rest of the car green. The couplers and door handle are black. The first thing I did painting was to prime the whole piece with Rustoleum primer.

After allowing it to dry for 24 hours, I painted the body Rustoleum green, and painted the yellow areas with a paint brush. To get it done, I decided against using an airbrush. Otherwise the project might have gone into my twenty year backlog.

After everything was sufficiently dry. (I like to wait at least 48 hours with new paint because it can appear dry but the paint still soft) I slightly bent the doors to get them into the frame. Then I attached my 3-rivet trucks and lastly slid the roof in place.

The finished restoration

I am very happy with the outcome. I will not say it is as perfect as I wanted, but it is close enough for now. And in the future if I decide to do a better job, I can strip the paint off and re-do it since no further damage was done by this restoration.

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