American Flyer 9900 Zephyr

American Flyer 1935 Zephyr

American Flyer 1935 Zephyr

I guess that the place to begin with my train collection is this very nice example of an American Flyer Zephyr. This model was based on the real Zephyr, which is now on display at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago.

One common theme in the toy business is that when something new and exciting arrives on the popular scene, a toy and other models of that new thing soon show up in the market. It is hard to understate the excitement that America felt when the Pioneer Zephyr made its maiden run from Denver to Chicago in 1934. This new train was unlike anything that had run on rails before. Trains were steam powered, dark and smokey; the passenger cars were painted in muted shades of green. The Zephyr was unlike everything else, a classic example of the streamline style.

From today’s perspective, it is hard to imagine the excitement which this train created.  The United States was in the middle of the Great Depression.  People were out of work and there appeared to be few prospects for the future.  People took to the road to seek employment, illicitly riding on the truss rods of freight cars or on the “blind” of passenger train mail cars.  It was a desperate time.  And into that environment came this silver streak that captured the public’s imagination.

This new train used new technology.  Instead of dull green plates of steel, it used Shotwelded stainless steel using a manufacturing process that created passenger cars which are still largely corrosion free, 6 decades later.  Instead of a coal fired steam locomotive, this train used a Diesel.  The Pioneer Zephyr’s first trip was broadcast throughout the country by a new medium, radio.  In all, this train was a clear break from the past.  A toy was needed.

Many model train manufacturers stepped forward.

American Flyer Zephyr

American Flyer Zephyr

The American Flyer Zephyr of 1935 was made of cast aluminum, which nicely captures the stainless steel look of the real train.  Casting technology in that era was not as good as it is today, and these units were sand cast, with the resulting rough spots on the sides being polished out by hand, a very expensive process.  The curved segments of the train were not so easy to polish, and you can see some of the inherent roughness on the nose of the model.

This train was a one time affair; I believe that it is set No. AF 1327-RCT,  and it is an unique train.  Subsequent American Flyer offerings were made of lithographed sheet metal, a process which was considerably cheaper than the hand polished 1935 unit, but the 1935 Flyer unit has all the elements of the Pioneer Zephyr, from the baggage/mail car to the observation.

American Flyer Zephyr

American Flyer Zephyr

There were a few concessions to model railroad realities, but overall, the 1935 American Flyer Zephyr is an interesting model.

There aren’t very many of the American Flyer 1935 Zephyrs around today. Although cast of very durable aluminum, this choice of material would put it in very high demand during World War II, when aluminum was a scarce resource needed for airplane manufacture. As a result, many of the American Flyer 1935 Zephyrs were collected during patriotic community aluminum drives and made into tools of war. The streamlined Union Pacific M10000 met the same fate.

I consider myself to be fortunate to have this interesting model in my collection.


18 Responses to “American Flyer 9900 Zephyr”

  1. Chuck Lytle Says:

    When I was in junior high school (1958-61), Clarence Weaver of PRR movie fame, showed movies at the downtown YMCA on Saturday nights. One night he showed a film about a cross country race between this engine and one pulled by steam. Can’t remember the movie title. Quite exciting stuff for a youngster.

  2. Monte Bion Says:

    I own one. M. Bion (
    I’m a 78 man that received this as a Christmas Gift
    at a very young age during the war. What is the approximate value of one of these trains. It hasn’t been operated for years, but it does operate and is in good condition.

    • Riley Says:

      This is such an uncommon item, that arriving at a value is difficult. You don’t see them all that often. You could contact one of the auction houses such as Ralston, and they might be able to help. Otherwise, look on eBay and do a memorized search; they will contact you if one is offered.

  3. Ray Tuttle Says:

    Hi, I have one and am looking for the vestibule with the slot but could use either end. I hope some one can help me find one. you can call if you know of one. 913-682-1502

  4. Carl N. Cederstrand Says:

    The photograph at the top of this Burlington Zephyr article shows an American Flyer train that is missing the small push-on clips that are employed to clamp the bottoms of the swinging vestibules together. New clips are still available today from model train supply businesses. One may also obtain a sheet of new decals.

    The four exhaust stacks shown on the top of its diesel-elecrtic locomotive were cast in an alloy that disintegrates. New stack castings with attaching rivets are also available. The drive wheels had gears cast on the backsides. These gears also expanded and solidly locked the drive wheels. All these problems are instantly solvable with new parts. Just throw money at it. I have fitted all the necessary new parts so my Burlington Zephyr now runs very smoothly and well. Am I correct in believing that there were two and four passenger car train sets available? It sure does look nice with the locomotive pulling four cars.

    Carl N. Cederstrand
    1093 North Cheyenne Street
    Orange, California 92869-1956
    Telephone 714-771-1453

    • Riley Says:

      Because I don’t have a three-rail 0-Scale layout, I haven’t really pursued making my 9900 actually run. At one point, I was made aware of the replacement wheels and such, but have left things lie.

      To the best of my knowledge, the Flyer 9900 was available in this format for only one year, and that it was a four-car train. I am not aware of a two-car train, but that is not to say that Flyer didn’t do it.

      I do know that they only manufactured the 9900 in this manner for one year, switching over to a less expensive approach with subsequent production. Sand-casting technology in that era was pretty crude, and to achieve that nice shiny look required a lot of hand work, grinding and polishing. The R&T trolley car kits of the late 1940’s early 1950’s are another example. So, it’s not out of the question that there might have been a two-car set offered.


    • Ken Schultz Says:

      I have been told by a friend that restores Zephyrs that in 1934 AF produced a 2 car set (baggage car,and observation car) with the small 9910 engine. In 1935 they added the new coach car to that set, and also produced the new bigger/ longer power car 9914 which came with a 4 car set of baggage car, 2 coaches, and the observation car. In 1936-39, the smaller power car was no longer produced. No AF produced set ever came with more than 1 baggage car, as you so often see offered on auction sites.

      • Riley Says:

        A lot of what turns up on eBay is being sold by those who have bought estates and are selling off the assets. Some of them have little, if any, idea as to what they’re selling, so you end up with odd combinations.

        My resource for what little I know about Flyer is from a Greenberg book that was published in the 1980’s; I have nothing in hand that can add more to what I vaguely remember.

        Of course, the collectors love those “Factory error”, Factory misprint”, etc, so there’s incentive to come up with that extra baggage car to create a “rare set”. I simply don’t know.

        On the other hand, I have two Märklin “Adler” 1985 sets in Gauge 1. One is a Factory-mint set, with the engine and three cars. I have a second set which was bought as a “Dent & Ding” because it is missing one of the cars. As a joke, I put together a five-car Adler and photographed it, which led to much consternation on the part of collectors who follow such things. I had to publicly post the background of that five-car set just to calm people down……

  5. Bill mahan Says:

    I recently came into possession of a three car aluminum 9900 Burlington Zephyr O gauge model with articulated wheels and with painted cardboard “vestibules” between the cars. It is in superb condition but don’t know if it runs. It is set up with lights in the three cars and headlight for the power car. I have not seen another model like this online. Underside of castings appear to say “W.C & E Co., Racine Wisc. Patts. Appld. For.

  6. Richard Herman Says:

    I have a BURLINGTON ZEPHYR set like this with an engine and 2 cars, a middle coach and back coach. Label on the bottom of the engine says “MADE BY AMERICAN FLYER MFG, CO CHICAGO ILLINOIS PATENTED.” I have not seen it run since I was a kid. Have track and American Flyer transformer. Any info is appreciated. Would be happy to share photos.

    • Bill Mahan Says:

      Since my posting last October, I have had the engine to my Consoli Burlington Zephyr serviced and the train runs great! Lights work and while I won’t run it often, I like trains that do run.

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