The American Flyer Number 14 Electronic Rectiformer, Number 15 Directronic Rectifier and Number 16 Electronic Rectiformer were made in the late 1940’s and on into the 1950’s to provide DC power for the series of American Flyer DC steam locomotives produced in the same time period. The Number 15 was produced to provide DC power for the HO product line as well.
In the pre World War II time period, Gilbert produced several locomotives and pieces of rolling stock with DC activation. Locomotives with DC activated reverse units and whistling baggage cars activated by DC superimposed on the track while AC on the track provided the power for operation. This caused some difficulties and warnings about the inability to operate locomotives with the DC reverse control and the DC activated whistling baggage cars in the same train.
After World War II the technology and devices for converting AC to DC with enough power to operate the motors in locomotives became available. Introduced in 1947 with the Number 332 Union Pacific 4-8-4 Northern locomotive type and the 342 Nickel Plate Road 0-8-0 Switcher the DC motored locomotives were shown on the same tracks as AC powered locomotives with the ability to control them separately with “Directronic Propulsion”. Available again in 1948 and 1949 these locomotives had their catalog designations changed in 1950 although remaining powered with DC motors. The 332 became the 332DC and the 342 became the 342DC. A version of the 4-8-4 Union Pacific Northern with the electronic horn in the tender was cataloged as the 334DC as well. Many of the other locomotives became the xxxAC to provide differentiation from the DC versions – possibly in response to dealer and consumer complaints regarding the inability to easily distinguish an AC powered locomotive from a DC powered locomotive. The unsuspecting purchaser would arrive home and be unable to operate the recently acquired locomotive with the transformer. Less happy would be the new owner trying to operate the newly opened present on Christmas day and needing to wait until the stores opened again to relieve the disappointment.
These DC locomotives provided competition for the Lionel Electronic Set that enabled reversing, whistle activation, dump car activation and uncoupling anywhere on the layout by transmission of specific frequency signals on the track along with the power. It is not clear if the American Flyer introduced DC power stimulated the Lionel Electronic Set at this point, but they would have both been bragging rights for the sale of trains.
The three DC power units were created to provide power to operate the DC locomotives. The Number 14 Electronic Rectiformer contained a transformer to produce low voltage AC and a rectifier to convert the low voltage to DC. The AC was separately available to power lights and accessories on the layout. The Number 14 was cataloged in 1947 and 1949. It provided 150 Watts of power. The Number 15 Directronic Rectifier was produced from 1948 to 1952 and was designed to be an add on to a standard transformer. The Number 15 took the transformer AC output and rectified the AC into DC to operate the locomotive. In 1950 the Number 16 Electronic Rectiformer was introduced to provide DC power for operating locomotives and AC power for accessories. Vacuum tube rectifiers were used in the Number 14 and 16, while the Number 15 used selenium rectifier technology.
While the DC power had some advantages in the operation and control of locomotives, it caused a lot of extra wiring for the activation of remote controlled operating cars. The pushbuttons from the time period have extra wires and contacts to enable AC activation power to be delivered to the operating car simultaneously with the DC power for the locomotives. Some replay of the difficulties mentioned earlier of the pre war conflict between the DC locomotive direction control and the DC activated whistle in the baggage car. It would not have been possible to operate the Pennsylvania Railroad 314AW 4-6-2 Pacific at the same time as one of the DC locomotives or with one of the DC power units in general as the DC would have activated the whistle in the tender.
The Korean War effort created a shortage of the magnetic material needed for the manufacture of the motors and 1950 was the last year of production.While the four year production life of DC operation of American Flyer S gauge locomotives did not continue after the Korean War, the DC operation of HO trains including the American Flyer HO products continues to this day and modern DC power packs can provide power for the DC American Flyer Locomotives.