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Lionel/Converse 2-7/8" Gauge #300 Trolley Variations

by Jim Kelly

Lionel/Converse 2-7/8" Gauge "City Park" Trolley ca. 1902

As with the rest of the short-lived Lionel 2-7/8" gauge line, the Lionel-Converse #300 "City Park" summer trolley was only made for five years: 1901-1905. However, during that short period of time the new Lionel Manufacturing Company made a number of changes to existing products as well as adding new products to the line, resulting in identifiable "significant" variations. By "significant" I mean a variation that can be definitively linked to a precise year of manufacture.

Lionel tag affixed to a Lionel/Converse #300 underbody

David Doyle, in his comprehensive "Standard Catalog Of Lionel Trains: 1900-1942" published in 2005, lists three #300 Lionel/Converse trolley variations (types):

TYPE I: 1901 trolleys have a cast controller lever, wood stand with cast control stand top, round cast journals, and stamped brass wheels, and are thought to have had trolley poles mounted on top.

TYPE II: 1902 trolleys are similar to the 1901 in description
but lack the trolley pole.

TYPE III: 1904-5 trolleys have cast wheels and
coupler pockets.

According to Doyle, the difference between the 1901 and the 1902 trolleys is the presence or absence of the trolley pole mounted on the top of the roof. However, since the trolley pole could easily have become detached and lost over the years, the absence of the pole from a particular surviving early trolley does not conclusively rule out the possibility that it is of 1901 vintage. Doyle lists no other significant variations save the 1904-5 trolley. Fortunately, there are other characteristics that are useful in establishing additional significant variations, particularly in the case of older versions of the trolley.

L: Morton E. Converse trolley body

(the two truncated steel strips attached to the underbody are what remains of the floor trolley wheel brackets )

R: Lionel Mfg. Co. 2-7/8" gauge frame/motor/reverse unit

The #300 2-7/8" gauge Lionel/Converse summer trolley, made using bodies purchased from The Morton E. Converse Company of Mass., as well as the #200 "Electric Express" wooden gondola, were the two products catalogued in the very first Lionel catalog that included electric trains, a four page folder believed to have been published in 1901. A review of the 1901 Lionel folder as well as the existing literature on Lionel 2-7/8" gauge production, combined with an examination of an intact original early trolley reveals at least four significant variations.

TYPE I (1901) AND TYPE II (1902)

The purported 1901 Lionel catalog, a four-page folder, is reproduced in the Oct. 1992 Train Collector's Quarterly (V.38 N.5) with illustrations. It is included in an article written by Max Knoecklein. Page four of this 1901 catalog folder describes a motor brush holder configuration for the brand new trolley and the "Electric Express" gondola, the only two cars listed in 1901:

"Diagram of the mechanism of the cars, with view of the brush holders and brushes showing the simplicity of the construction and perfection of each individual part. The brushes are removed by turning the brass fingers which hold them in place, to either side."

The folder also lists replacement motor brushes as being available for $0.10 a set.

The 1901 motor brush mounting configuration - photo courtesy Ted Woodruff

The 1902 catalog contains no mention of motor bushes and brush holders whatsoever, and does not list replacement motor brushes. The motor brush configuration was changed and improved for 1902. The 1901 motor had brushes held in holders and that the brushes were replaceable, but not adjustable and were held against the commutator by pressure from the "brass fingers.")

Motor brush arrangement ca. 1902

However, the 1902 motor had a new arrangement and a different type of motor brushes.

Motor bushes ca. 1902

The 1902 motor brushes are made of formed strips of copper or brass alloy screwed to a fiber block, brushes that can be adjusted and are held against the commutator in tension, as described in the 1903 catalog:

"The COMMUTATOR AND BRUSHES are scientifically designed, both as to wearing quality and simple adjustment. (Refer to directions on car.)"

Ca. 1902 motor brush adjustment and replacement instructions

The motor brush configuration provides a distinct and reliable indicator of the year of manufacture of the early (1901 vs.1902) trolleys. It is likely that 1903 and later 2-7/8" motors have a third distinct arrangement for motor brushes: brushes inside of brush tubes.

1903 and later brush tube arrangement - photo courtesy Ted Woodruff

Additionally, in a tiny box at the bottom of page 2 of the 1901 folder, mention is made of a potential problem with a brass current pickup brush that rests on one wheel and conveys current to the motor:


"It sometimes happens that in transit the brass brush which rests on one of the wheels becomes separated from it and does not convey the current to the motor, with the result that the car will not operate. This may be easily remedied by bending the brush back in place so that it rests lightly on the wheel."

1901 wheel brush configuration - photo courtesy Ted Woodruff

This externally-mounted current pickup brush was easily subject to being bent out of position on the 1901 trolley.

Improved 1902 underbody current pickup arrangement - this wheel has an insulated hub

The 1902 catalog does not have this cautionary note reprinted in it because Lionel changed this current pickup configuration for 1902, to an internal arrangement located under the car body and between the wheels and axles, where it is nicely protected and thus would be much less likely to become malformed in transit. This provides yet another clue to determining whether a particular trolley is of 1901 or 1902 vintage.

Finally, it apears as though 1901 #300 trolley frames did not include crossmembers. The side frame castings are plain and do not have the nibs necessary to hold the cross members in place. 1902 and later trolleys have the crossmembers and side frames with nibs.

1901 #300 trolley frame sans crossmembers and nibs

TYPE III (1903) AND TYPE IV (1904-5)

The Train Collector's Association (TCA) publication "Lionel Trains: Standard Of The World, Second Edition" published in 1989, states that

"In 1903 all items were all metal construction...with a control lever made of bent wire, stamped metal control stand top, square cast journals..." (p. 132.)

This information establishes the likelihood of another significant #300 variation, the 1903 version, since 1903 trolleys would have bent wire (not cast) control levers, a stamped metal (not cast) control stand top, stamped brass wheels and square cast journals (not round turned brass journals,) motor brushes mounted in brush tubes, and no coupler pockets.

Controller stand (wood), cast brass top and cast brass control arm

It should be noted that the 1903 Lionel catalog states that:

"the controller in front cast and nicely finished"

which, if true, appears to be at odds with the TCA book's description for 1903 cars as having bent wire control levers. Even so, a trolley could still be pegged to a 1903 date of manufacture if it has square cast journals and no coupler pockets. The presence of motor brush tubes also indicates 1903 and later.

1904 and 1905 trolleys are distinguished by the presence of coupler pockets.


In summary, I believe it is possible to posit the following four variations of the #300 Lionel/Converse "City Park" trolley, each with significant identifiable physical characteristics as noted:

TYPE I: 1901 trolleys have a cast controller lever, wood stand with cast control stand top, round cast journals, and stamped brass wheels, brushes held in place by brass fingers, an externally mounted brass current pickup brush that can be easily knocked out of position in transit, have plain frames and no crossmembers, and are thought to have had trolley poles mounted on top.

TYPE II: 1902 trolleys are similar to the 1901 in description but have adjustable motor brushes made of formed strips of copper or brass alloy screwed to a fiber block and a motor current pickup arrangement located under the car body and between the wheels and axles. Side frames have nibs and crossmembers.

TYPE III: 1903 trolleys have bent wire control levers, a stamped metal control stand top, stamped brass wheels and square cast journals, but no coupler pockets. Motors have brush tubes.

TYPE IV: 1904-5 trolleys have cast wheels and coupler pockets.

Thanks to Ted Woodruff for the photos he provided. The author would be grateful for any information, comments, or photographs that shed additional light on variations of the Lionel/Converse 2-7/8" gauge trolley.


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