By the mid-1920s, steam power was old hat, but electricity was still a new and magical technology. Lionel touted its electric trains as "More than a toy - AN ELECTRIC ACHIEVEMENT!" Out west, on a sparsely traveled mountainous railroad, General Electric Company and the Chicago Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway were trying to prove that electric power was the Future of American Railroading. Their five huge Bi-Polar electric locomotives had tamed the mountains like nothing before them and garnered national press coverage - especially with stunts like a 1924 "Battle of the Giants," in which a Bi-Polar easily won a tug-of-war against a pair of steam locomotives.
It was only natural, then, that Lionel would model its top-of-the-line locomotive on the Milwaukee Bi-Polar. The 381, introduced in 1928, was the largest and most elaborate of Lionel's Standard Gauge electrics. But it had a fatal flaw: its single-motor drive was inadequate to pull Lionel's top-end passenger cars, the State Set. The 381 was doomed to be forever categorized as a poor puller, and soon the State cars were led by the twin-motored, but more ordinary-looking 408E.
Consider, however, what might have been: At the same time the 381 was conceived, Lionel's designers built one sample of a "Super 381" - longer and more realistic than the production 381, and equipped with two motors. Whether the Super 381 was built in New Jersey or by the Italian toolmaking firm run by Mario Caruso, Lionel's works manager, is uncertain. What is certain is that the Super 381 was deemed too large for production, and it spent the next three decades stuffed and mounted in Lionel's New York City showroom, displayed alongside the legendary and even larger Brute. After the museum collection was broken up in 1960, the Super 381 moved through a succession of owners and resides today in a Pennsylvania museum.
Our replica of the Super 381 returns to the Lionel Corporation lineup for 2015, along with matching State cars so you can operate the State Set That Should Have Been. Equipped with two powerful motors, we offer the Super 381 decorated like the real-life Milwaukee Road Bipolar, as it might have looked on the Pennsy or New Haven electrified main lines, and as Lionel might have offered it in two-tone brown. Each version includes the 21st-Century features of Proto-Sound 3.0, including passenger station arrival and departure sounds, brake sounds, and speed control for steady speeds from a crawl to full throttle, regardless of hills and curves.
Note: This locomotive will not clear a tinplate Hell Gate Bridge