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The Poor Man’s President's Special

by Jon Hinderer

Some of you may have seen this modified Lionel 8 running on the Standard Gauge Module Association’s display at York in October. It seemed to raise a lot of questions and memories on the part of visitors in the Black Hall. I recalled that I had some information in my files, as well as another unbuilt kit, and I thought assembling these materials might make an interesting article for the Times.

Apparently similar home built and modified engines were fairly common at one time. The Train Collectors Quarterly in October 1982 even shows one assembled from a mix of IVES, American Flyer, and Lionel parts. To my knowledge, however, only one individual, Franklin Shelly, ever approached production of the components for these specials.

According to an article he wrote for the September 1984 T.T.O.S. BULLETIN, Mr. Shelly produced a limited number of frame kits from sheet metal in the 1960’s before the pressures of family and jobs took him away from the project. About 1978 he returned to the idea, designing a mainframe similar to the Flyer President's Special, but built to accept the Lionel No. 8 body. Shelly collaborated with Dick Trickle to provide the cast side frames. However, by the time of production Shelly produced “less than a dozen per year”.

I acquired the engine pictured above in an Ebay auction several years back. According to the carton, it was built by a gentleman named Donald Dull.

Mr. Dull did a fantastic job of assembling what must have been a Shelly kit. Twin can motors provide power, and the engine runs well on 72 inch radius track and switches.

More recently, again from Ebay, I bought an unassembled original Shelly kit. The UPS label from the original shipping materials shows one William W. Hemberger of Baltimore as the purchaser, but I can’t date the shipment. Can anyone decode a tracking number of “NY 120-X30”?

The kit components are well made, apparently diecast, and correspond precisely with those of my special. Instructions and promotional materials included with the kit seem to mirror the information in the Bulletin article mentioned above. One promotional sheet, titled “NEW in ‘86” announces a truck kit to convert the American Flyer 4000, 4019, or 4039 to a special. Orders were being taken for May 1986 delivery, but I have never determined that any were manufactured.

I would appreciate hearing from anyone with more information on any of the above.

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