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Lionel Red Primer 10 Series Freight Cars

By Brad Kaplan With Contributions By Don Lewis

Red primer Standard gauge freight cars are an important, yet overlooked, segment of collecting Lionel ten series freight cars. You may not even realize that you may own a red primer car. Red primers are the rarest and least documented variation of ten series cars and they are the most difficult variation of ten series cars to collect. Yes, even more difficult than the yellow primer cars. Every ten series freight car was offered in red primer: the 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17.

Some background on ten series freight cars is helpful. Lionel started production of the ten series freight cars in and around 1907. The first cars were “flat side”, with the bottoms and interior painted with a yellow primer. All of these early cars had “short straight couplers.” (see photo with couplers and definitions) The first production of these early cars have flat pieces of sheet steel soldered together.

The above photo reflects the 4 types of couplers addressed in this article. What we have observed is the long and short straight and short crinkle are usually attached with a round headed pin from the underside of the car. The long crinkle is usually attached with a pin inserted from the inside of the car and crimped on the end to hold the coupler on the pin. This of course does not apply to the 15 or 16 where the coupler pin is always inserted through the top side of the beam.
As pictured: Short straight: The end part is bent down. Short crinkle: The end part has a crinkle in it. Long straight: The end piece is bent down and longer than short straight. Long crinkle: The end part has a crinkle but is longer than the short crinkle.

Lionel moved its factory to New Haven Connecticut in 1909. The production process of the ten series freight cars remained the same but the couplers changed to “short crinkle.” The earliest ten series cars had yellow primer and came with “solid side 3 rivet trucks.” (Type 1) Even before the New Haven move the trucks switched to “open side 3 rivet trucks”. (Type 2) This change in truck was continued after Lionel moved to New Haven.

Type 1: Closed 3 rivet truck.

Type 2: Open 3 rivet truck.

Type 3: Eyelet (Hollow Rivet) no side frame rivet detail.

Type 4: Large Rivet with bolster material behind side frames cut.

Type 5: Eyelet (Hollow Rivet) side frame rivet detail.

Type 6: large rivet with bolster material not cut behind side frames.

Type 6 is not mentioned in the article. The Type 1 and 2 examples have scooped wheels. The type 3-6 examples have dished wheels. Type 3 trucks can come with scooped wheels. Example 5 has the dimple protruding downwards for mounting the truck. This downward dimple is for the 15 and 16.

In conjunction with Lionel's ability to engineer more tooling, the design of some of the ten series cars significantly changed. The newly designed cars are the visually more common ten series cars that most collectors know; the red primer cars were part of the new look. The 11 and 16 did not change. The 15 changed but the changes were not as extensive as the changes in the 12, 13, 14 and 17. The roofs on the 13 and 14 changed from two-piece construction (catwalk was a separate piece) to a one-piece roof (catwalk now formed as part of the roof.)

When referring to the 12, 13, 14, and 17, the more noticeable design change is often referred to as “embossed” bodies. “Embossed” pertains the ribbing and rivet details being stamped out on the cars. Here the term embossed refers to the period after the flat side cars ended production. The first run of the embossed cars retained the yellow primer and kept the short crinkle couplers.

Bottom piece “flat side” yellow primer.

Middle piece “embossed” yellow primer.

Top piece red primer.

Yellow primer embossed freight cars have been found with 3 rivet open trucks (Type 2), eyelet (hollow rivet, type 3) and solid rivet truck (type 4.) It would be difficult to validate whether the trucks in some cases were factory installed on a particular piece as only a single screw holds each truck in place. A limited amount of these embossed yellow primer #13 and #14 cars are with the slightly later “long straight” hook couplers. Long straight simply means the short piece bent downward at the end of the coupler is extended. Most of this series of yellow primer freight cars have short crinkle couplers.

Now we will discuss the freight cars which are the actual focus of this article. They are the red primer ten series freight cars. As the term “red primer” suggests, Lionel used red primer. Collectors are aware that Lionel used red primer on the earliest examples of 18, 19, 190 and the 180, 181 and 182 Pullmans. These cars can be a study of a different article along with the use of red primer on the earliest interurban and inside the cabs of some 1910, 1911, 1912 locomotives as well as some of the 5 and 6 steamers. A study of the 116s which may also be found with red primer is also a topic for a different article.

Three rivet trucks (type 1 and type 2) are not seen on the red primer ten series cars. We do see both the eyelet (type 3) and large rivet trucks (type 4). We only see hollow eyelet (type 5) only on the #15 tank car with long crinkle couplers.
Another change on the trucks is that the wheels transitioned from scooped to dished. Some large eyelet (hollow rivet) trucks have been found with either dished wheels or scooped wheels. This particular truck appears to be when Lionel switched the wheel type.

The 1910 engine which was offered from 1910-1911 has been found with both of these wheel types. It is more frequently found with the dished wheels. Using the 1910 engine as a gauge we will state that the wheel change occurred sometime in 1910 or early 1911. This also suggests the red primer cars appeared for a short period around 1911-1912. We can also assume this red primer period only lasted a few months at most.

Sometimes the red primer may be difficult to discern as, unlike yellow primer cars, on some of the cars the red primer can blend in with the paint color making it less obvious to notice. All of the cars that the author has either personally viewed or based on information received from other contributors suggests that red primer ten series cars only came with long straight couplers. The only exception to this observation appears to be the #15 tank car. If you happen to have a piece with different couplers, please share it. Also if you are aware of any other methods of identification for these red primer cars we ask that you share that also.

Below is analysis each car.

The #11 flat car is the hardest car to find. As of the date of this writing only one is known to exist. It is possible that since the maroon paint on the flat car is very similar to the primer color people may have this car without realizing what it is.

Please re-examine your Manufacturing era flat cars. The first indication would be long straight hook couplers. (assuming the coupler(s) are still present.) Then check the bottom for the red primer. If you discover that you do have one, we ask that you share it with author. In trying to determine the transition of flat cars into the red primer #11 we have not observed any of the #11 flat cars with yellow primer and short crinkle couplers. We would assume a yellow primer short crinkle coupler #11 would be the predecessor of the red primer #11. However we are aware of at least 3 examples of yellow primer #11s with short straight couplers and single rivet trucks (type 4.) So we can speculate that an overproduction of early yellow primer #11 flat cars was made and Lionel did not mate them to trucks until it was time to sell them. It is possible that the scarcity of the #11 red primer may be due to fact that the inventory of short straight #11s that was being sold with yellow primer embossed cars was used during the initial production of red primer cars, thus negating the need to produce red primer 11s until Lionel was close to the end of red primer production.

The next car would be the #12 gondola which appears to be the most common of the red primer cars.

Like the 11s, the paint on the sides of the car is very similar to the red primer color on the bottom of the car. So again carefully examine all your red MFG #12s. The bodies on the yellow primer embossed #12s are a brighter red than the red primer #12s. The cars after the red primer period appear to shift back to the brighter red.

From a collecting point of view many of the red primer #12s exist which gives collectors an opportunity to upgrade condition.

The #13 cattle car is unique in the fact that you can see the red primer through the side slats as well as the bottom.

Viewing the car from the side, the interior red primer offers a noticeable contrast to the green exterior. Similar to a yellow primer #13 with long straight couplers, the red primer 13 has the same vertical slats on the doors with the body having 6 slats.

This car is a very tough piece to find. Unlike red / maroon cars there is no mistaking a red primer #13.

The #14 box car is interesting in red primer. Its exterior is red with black highlights over the embossed ribs.

The black rib detail is consistent with the embossed yellow primer version as well as a non-primer version The number on the side of the red primer boxcar is rubber stamped CM&STP and 54087 while the yellow primer predecessors are known to exist with the number 9050. The 54087 number did survive past the red primer box cars and continued even when Lionel stopped blackening ribs. A red primer black ribbed version also exists rubber stamped NYC&HRR and numbered 5906. The inside of the doors on the #14 do not have red primer on them while the inside of the doors on the #13 have the red primer. Neither the 13 nor 14 has red primer on the underside of their roofs.

The #15 tank car is the only piece that is an anomaly that we cannot seem to fully understand. A yellow primer short crinkle version has not been observed yet unlike any other red primers a short crinkle red primer exists.

And also unlike any other red primer cars long crinkle coupler #15s also exist. While every other red primer piece we have observed only has long straight couplers we have yet to observe a #15 with long straight couplers. The #15 is also the only red primer piece that we have observed with the hollow eyelet (hollow rivet) truck (Type 5) with rivet details (this is on the long crinkle coupler version).

The girder on the #15 is painted solid black over the red primer. The inside of the girder is red primer. Red primer can also be seen in the chips in the black paint on the beam. This contrasts to the short straight coupler yellow primer #15s, which have the yellow primer exposed on the bottom of the girder rivet detail is now embossed on the tank body. The wire hoop step from the early cars is switched to a built up step. The yellow primer #15s had a hole drilled through the center of the wooden ends; this hole is eliminated on the red primer. The dome is black in color where on the yellow primer versions the dome maintains the body color. The wood ends on the short crinkle version retain the maroon color of the body while the long crinkle version has the wooden ends black. The long crinkle version of the #15 is clearly manufactured after all other red primer production has ended on other freight cars.

There appears to have been no design changes in the #16 ballast car when it transitioned to red primer.

You will see the red primer on the bottom of the couplers and on the bottom of the ballast car where is sits above the girder. Like the #15, when the #16 transitioned to red primer the bottom of the girder no longer has its primer exposed.

The #17 caboose is the only red primer car where two different versions are known to exist.

The #17 caboose transitioned from a flat side version with short crinkle couplers to the red primer. The earliest red primer #17 has embossed ribs and has the roof from the flat side predecessor.


Examining three examples, we found yellow primer on the bottom of the roof of two examples with the 3rd example having red primer on the underside of the roof. This is the only car that we see a mix of yellow and red primer. We can determine that Lionel had an overproduction of yellow primer roofs. This caboose is numbered 5906 and rubber stamped NYC&HRRR. The 2nd version of the caboose maintains the 5906 and the NYC&HRRR, but the font slightly changes. The ribs, while in the first version are all red, now match the #14 with black highlights. This caboose has been seen in red and maroon. The roof on this caboose does not show any primer and the cupola now has black shades.

Like the #14 we see an identical version of this caboose without red primer. It appears that when the non-red primer version of the caboose lost the black highlights, the rubber stamped number changed to 342715, and it now had long crinkle couplers. At this point the awnings on the caboose are no longer painted black and shortly after they are eliminated.

The rarity of the red primer cars leads us to conclude that they were produced for at the most a few months before Lionel eliminated red primer altogether. The scarcity level of individual pieces such as the ratio of 11s to 12s may not seem to fall into proportion with the ratio of earlier or later 10 series cars; but keep in mind we do not know if Lionel sold all red primers together or not. There isn't any documentation available to substantiate when each type of car was sold so we have determined that that there is a possibility Lionel may have sold yellow primer #11s at the same time they sold red primer #12s. We do know based on consists that have been bought from private homes there appear to have been era crossing of the various ten series cars. However, without a set box or other documentation a mix of yellow, red or no primer from an original owner could simply be a Lionel customer going back a year later to purchase another ten series car to add to their train set. Most retailers (not just toy train retailers) usually order new inventory before old inventory was completely sold out. Thus, for purposes of this article, Lionel dealers would receive whatever Lionel had in stock to meet the number of items ordered (which also can be why we have what appears to be era crossing.) For this era of time we have to make assumptions based on what we (the author and other collectors) have examined in the condition they are found. As with any article written about the early train manufacturers the information presented is accurate based on what we have examined, but can change with the next new discovery. We invite readers to offer more information, send us your opinions, thoughts or other evidence/information. We will be happy to revise the article and/or post comments based on this new information.

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