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The Handcarchief (Handcars)

By Bob Mintz                                                         Updated Spring 2020

First made in 1962 through 1966/67, the #65 Handcar was described as a “delightful addition to Lionel’s family of self-propelling motorized units…a “must” for every railroad layout.”

The word “handcar” did not appear on the car itself, and was made in either a dark or light yellow body. The vinyl in the blue and red men usually caused a chemical reaction with the body, and are usually found to “melt” together.

The handcar was a fun representation of railroad workers pumping their way down the tracks on an antiquated maintenance car.

This is a very interesting group to collect, with the Postwar version still available. Most of the series were regular issues available over the years, with a few that were only available in sets, some subtle differences as to the coloring, characters, and graphics, and of course, that one that was available for a special club issue, and in this case, as a second “add-on” type car, and actually as a “HCOFC”, (handcar on flatcar), something that I hear Lionel will have in their future catalogs.

The new 2003 add-on for the Rapid Surgical Response Train is an operational handcar on a depressed flat car. The “workmen” include Setonius, the NJ Medical School Mascot and his student serpent Caduceus. The cost is $75 plus shipping but only if you have previously purchased the # 21796 set from the New Jersey Medical School Alumni Association. There is a special package deal of both the train and flatcar/handcar for $350 including shipping. With only 487 sets made, this is certainly a limited edition piece. Orders can be made by contacting NJMS at 973-972-6864 or 800-477-7040 outside of New Jersey. All of the profits from the train set and add-on car go to the medical school scholarship fund and a portion are tax deductible.

I did a very unscientific experiment to see which handcar was the most powerful, and the result was totally surprising, or maybe not.

I set up a simple oval of 031 track, similar to what would come with a starter set. I then (gleeps!!!) put my # 65 on one side of the straightaway and the contestant, in this case # 18401, on the other side, positioned Mr. ZW to 12 volts and away they sped. The winner of the best two of three would take on the next challenger.

Despite the thought of melting men and burnt out motors in the back (actually front) of my mind, our Postwar handcar was the winner of this round… and each and every other bout, excluding the Toy Story version, which will not be out until July 04.

Pretty neat, huh? And totally unexpected.

#65 Lionel Lines
#18401 Lionel
#18403 Santa and Mrs. Claus
#18407 Snoopy and Woodstock
#18408 Santa and Mrs. Claus
#18413 Charlie Brown & Lucy
#18416 Bugs Bunny & Daffy Duck
#18421 Sylvester and Tweety
#18422 Santa and Snowman
#18425 Goofy and Pluto
#18426 Santa and Snowman
#18429 Workmen
#18433 Mickey and Minnie “8433”
#18434 Porky and Petunia
#18457 “#65” Handcar Postwar Celebration Series
#18459 Christmas (Santa and Mrs. Claus)
#18467 Train robbery bandit
#18475 Toy Story (Buzz Lightyear and Woody)
#18476 Mickey & Minnie
#18480 Hobo From #31953 “Riding the Rails” Hobo Train Set)
#26080 handcar from NJ Med School Alumni Assoc flatcar (not shown)
#18486 Donald and Daisy Handcar
#28425 Polar Express Elf Handcar

The year 2005 would produce two handcars that were not for separate sale, did not have their own SKU numbers, were on another piece of rolling stock (such as the handcar from the #26080 from NJ Med School Alumni Assoc. flatcar) and both were sold in totally different ways.

The cataloged #30011 Holiday Expansion Pack includes 4 FasTrack® straight sections as well as a Reindeer car; Santa's mobile workshop car; and a flatcar with Santa and Mrs. Claus operating handcar. This would be the fourth time that this particular couple rode on a handcar.

This would be the third time that this couple has ridden on a green handcar.  #18403 is a lighter color green and this handcar includes two screws to hold the frame to the body.  The next two darker green versions, #18459 and the latest, #26893 both have the screw holes plugged, but this last issue, #26893, does not have the mistletoe graphics to hopefully help distinguish it from the former.

The earliest green issue, #18403, would include the word “HANDCAR” in raised lettering, (as did the white version #18408), while the second green one, #18459, had a potted Christmas tree graphic. The latest, a silver handcar that is part of #26843 Flatcar, has what appears to be a mistletoe graphic.

It is interesting to note that even Mr. “HOHOHO” (perhaps he has been bellicosely repeating to the world at large the scale of trains he collects all along?) became aware of his lack of chivalry and changed one of his bad habits.

I recall reading back in the good ol' days, that when going on a date, it was protocol, when walking down the sidewalk with a woman, the man should be closest to the street. This reasoning was the result of the unlikely event that an automobile jumps the curb and strikes any pedestrians, the man would be crushed to death, leaving his lady friend to mourn his loss of life, sell his collection, and live happily ever after with someone else who did not spend every nickel he had on toy trains.

Such as the same with Santa, who was positioned farthest away from the potentially dangerous gear system in the first handcar issue, but mended his ways and became less politically correct after being scolded by pre-Martha Stewart types such as Ann Landers and her twin sister Dear Abby, for putting his significant other in potential peril.

Obviously, Charlie Brown; Mickey Mouse (twice); Porky Pig and Donald Duck did not get the memo. On the “pet friendly” roster, high marks go to Sylvester for putting himself in jeopardy at the expense of Tweety Bird, while Snoopy, Goofy [how one dog can have yet another dog as a pet is beyond me] and Setonius get the notice, “YOU'RE FIRED!”

The December 2005 issue by The Lionel Railroader Club (whose purchase was restricted to “members only”) includes a very familiar looking item. The operating handcar included in the new uncataloged #26089 Western Union Gondola for all intense and purposes, appears to be a remake of the #18429 Workmen handcar, but with some subtle differences.

The workmen appear to be exactly the same, but the latest issue handcar is a much darker brown, has the raised letters “LIONEL” and both sides of it have a graphic that says “LRRC 2005”, making this one totally distinguishable from the former issue.

In September of 2006, the Cascade Range Expansion pack was issued, which included #36801 Cascade Range Flatcar with Handcar. This would be the third time that the same two colored and shaped workmen have been used on a handcar. Previously, our original red and blue workmen were used on the original #65 Postwar issue, the #18457 Postwar Celebration Series remake, and two blue men on #18401. This current item would be the exact same color as the #26089, except for the fact that there are absolutely no graphics on it at all, just the raised “Lionel” lettering on both sides. If the gear covering is used as the standard, the guy in the green shirt has always been on the right side of the handcar.

Also in September of 2006, #28416 Hobo Handcar was issued, using the same two hobos that were on flatcar with handcar #18480, which was part of #31953 “Riding the Rails” Hobo Train Set. The differences here are the change of color from red to dark Brunswick green, the lack of the kerchief on a stick hobo insignia, having a PRR logo instead and lettering stating “28416 Built 2006 By Lionel”. If you were to use the gear covering as the standard as left, then this issue would have the two men change places, the hobo in the brown shirt is now on the right.


#26843 Flatcar (not shown) with Santa and Mrs. Claus operating handcar from #30011 Holiday Expansion Pack
#26089 LRRC Western Union gondola (not shown) with handcar and cable reels (not shown)

28416 Hobo Handcar

#36801 Cascade Range Flatcar (not shown) with Handcar from 30042 Cascade Range Expansion Pack

26893 North Pole Central Flatcar (not shown) with Santa & Mrs. Claus operating handcar from #30040 North Pole Central Operating Freight Expansion Pack

28420 Denver & Rio Grande Western Handcar


28428 Halloween Handcar

26897 Great Western Flatcar (not shown) with handcar from 30036 Great Western Expansion Pack


26371 Alaska Flatcar (not shown) with workers handcar from 30046 Alaska Work Train Expansion Pack

28444 New Haven Handcar
38202 Wild West Handcar
28474 North Pole Central Elf Handcar
38853 Santa and Mrs. Claus Handcar
81439 Halloween Pumpkinheads Handcar
81440 Western Union Handcar
49078 The Polar Express® Elf Handcar

82701 Escaping Snowmen Handcar

2035030 Toy Story Handcar

While we take pride in keeping articles like this current by adding new or updated items such as BuzzLightyear and Woody above, some such as this merit additional explanation.

There was an earlier version of this car in 2004, introduced by Lionel as: "Grow your Toy Story collection with our Toy Story Hand Car featuring Andy's favorite toys, Woody and Buzz!" As seen below, the catalog image is essentially the same, but in production, Woody is leaning forward concentrating on doing the work rather than holding his hat.

2004  #18475 Catalog Image

2004 #18475 Production Image

The pair appeared in three other products, as seen below:

36745 Toy Story Animated Gondola

11979 Toy Story Ready-To-Play Set, Battery Operated

2023100 Toy Story LionChief Set

It's learning such historical facts that helps make our hobby even more interesting.

Second Decade.
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