American Flyer Locomotive 300
Gilbert American Flyer built many versions of this Atlantic (4-4-2 wheel arrangement) style locomotive. The 300 is a scale model of the Reading Railroad prototype including the characteristic Wooten firebox. The Reading Railroad burned a type of coal that required an extra large firing area and this feature allowed the Gilbert motor to fit into the otherwise smaller Atlantic locomotive model.
The first American Flyer Atlantic product offering was in the pre WW II 3/16ths O gauge line. The tooling was modified for S gauge and became the workhorse of the basic entry level sets in the ’40’s and ’50’s and even into the 1960’s. This version has a die cast metal boiler with a sheet metal tender, and link coupler.
The earliest versions have sprung brass buttons at the bottom of the chassis that were designed to make contact with track clips for activation of signals. Later, the brass buttons were simply not included. Also the early versions simply say “READING” on the sides of the tender. The locomotives can also be dated by the narrow shank link coupler – 1946, or the wider shank link coupler – 1947, and by the manufacturing date stamped on the inside of the boiler (requires disassembling of the locomotive, however). The detailed trim pieces, complex valve gear, die cast boiler and reliable operation make the early 300 a desirable version of the Atlantic model in spite of its inclusion the low end sets. The ready availability indicates the large volumes of production.
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In 1950 Gilbert American Flyer added the “AC” suffix to the universal motor powered steam locomotives to distinguish them from the DC powered locomotives. Previously, there was no external way to determine which motor was in the locomotive (other than by trying to operate it with a transformer – if it worked it was AC if not it was DC). Otherwise the 300 AC version is the same as the previous 300 Reading Atlantic locomotive – of course there are exceptions. It is a high volume Gilbert product after all.
Gilbert paid a lot of attention to cost of manufacture and small savings on high volume production items add up to major amounts of money. The highly detailed Atlantic required many assembly steps and had many parts. During the three year life of the 300 AC, Gilbert spent engineering hours to reduce the numbers of parts and the manufacturing complexity. The boiler became a single piece casting instead of the previous 4 pieces. Handrails became cast into the boiler rather than separately applied. The complex valve gear was eliminated and replaced with a simplified setup. While Gilbert continued to promote the American Flyer line as a scale model product, the conclusion that they were selling toys for children rather than scale models for adult hobbiests was evident. The simplifications – in particular in these entry level locomotives – did not slow down the sales and perhaps the cost savings passed along in lower selling prices even added to the sales volumes. Atlantics were bundled into sets and didn’t show up in the catalogs as separate sale items, indicating that hobbiests did not buy them to add to a scale model system. The values for these locomotives indicate that they are extremely common and must have been produced in huge volumes.
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