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.
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.
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.