With not a touch of modesty, the 1931 American Flyer catalog introduced the firm's new steam engine: "The magnificent realistic wide gauge Steam type locomotive Model 4696 is a faithful reproduction of the "crack" B. & O. locomotive, President Washington. The faithful design is a striking example of scale reproduction. It is conceded by the most critical, to be the finest miniature model ever made." In fact this description had a lot of truth to it.
Of course Flyer, like Lionel with its 400E, ignored the fact that the prototype locomotive had one more set of drivers than the model. But Flyer's fully die-cast steamer with "innumerable brass details," "complete connecting rod and valve action" and a red light that "shines through the fire box gratings - just like on real locomotives" was arguably better proportioned and more accurately detailed than Lionel's 400E introduced the same year.
Flyer's new model, which collectors would later nickname the "Brass Piper," was the direct descendant of a groundbreaking Ives product. Just a few years earlier, the Lionel and American Flyer catalogs had not offered a single steam-type locomotive. At the 1928 Toy Fair, The Ives Manufacturing Corporation had introduced its startlingly realistic, die-cast No. 1134 steamer, based on the B&O's President Washington 4-6-2 Pacific.
But just months later, Ives had gone bankrupt and been sold at auction to Lionel and American Flyer. Flyer took advantage of the Ives tooling to add "3 New Massive Steam Type Trains" to its 1929 catalog - in the same year that Lionel introduced its sheet-met-al-boilered 390E steamer with comically oversized drivers. Flyer's incarnation of the Ives model, numbered 4694, was a star of the catalog for two years, even gracing the cover of the 1930 edition. In hindsight, that cover appeared to preview the 4694's replacement, as it incorrectly depicted the engine with the additional details that would later appear on the Brass Piper.
In 1931, Flyer stepped up its game just in time to compete with Lionel's new 400E. Bumping the 4694 from the top of the line was the newly tooled 4696, touted as "America's Finest Steam Type Wide Gauge Locomotive." In many ways, the 4696 was a forerunner of what would become American Flyer's claim to fame after it was acquired by A.C. Gilbert a few years later: more realism and more prototypical proportions than competitive Lionel models. Cataloged from 1931 to 1935, the 4696 was introduced at a price of $43.50, the equivalent of several weeks pay for an average worker, and a princely sum in the depths of the Great Depression.
Newly upgraded with Proto-Sound 3.0, our 2015 edition of this tinplate classic brings back all the magic of the original - along with features that a child of 1931 could only dream of, including synchronized puffing smoke, passenger station announcements or freight yard sounds, and smooth, steady speeds anywhere from a crawl to full throttle.
Did You Know:
Because Lionel trademarked the term "Standard gauge," Flyer and other manufacturers referred to the same gauge track as "Wide Gauge."