Author’s Preface: In researching for this article, the author and collaborators encountered reports of a number of vat car variations. Some we were able to verify, others we couldn’t. In this article, when you see “unconfirmed” in parentheses, that is our signal to you that we were unable to confirm the authenticity of the associated variation. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a true variation, just that we weren’t able to verify its authenticity. So when you encounter one of these pieces, draw your own conclusion.
That said, let’s talk about vat cars.
In 1960, Lionel® introduced a completely new car to its lineup. It was the #6475 Pickles Vat Car, a metal-framed car with plastic superstructure composed of a roofed, open girder-frame body with four vats inside. The roof had simulated hatches over the vats. The car body was unpainted tan plastic, while the roof was painted either light brown or dark brown. The vats, four cylinders of plastic, were yellow with black hoops and staves (may appear brown if black is thin), and the word “Pickles” in red. Note that the word “Pickles” is only on one side of each vat. When all the vats are properly aligned with the word “Pickles” on one side, the other side will show only hoops and staves. (See photo) The trucks were usually AAR trucks with operating couplers, although some examples have been reported with different trucks (unconfirmed).
This version of the Pickles Vat Car ran as a cataloged item thru 1962. Lionel also released an unknown quantity of these cars with the word Pickles in red, but without the hoops and staves. This version is not generally considered a factory error because Lionel knowingly released the cars in this configuration.
The #6475 Pickles Vat Car was the first vat car Lionel produced, but it would be far from the last. Many more vat cars would follow over the years. The long line of successors began in 1963 when Lionel produced the Libby’s® Vat Car, again bearing the same #6475 of the Pickles cars. It had silvery adhesive labels around the vats, printed with Libby’s® Crushed Pineapple in red and dark blue. The car body came in either medium-blue or aqua. The trucks were either Arch-bar trucks or AAR trucks, with fixed, non-operating couplers. Some examples have been reported with different trucks and couplers (unconfirmed). The car was an uncataloged release included in Libby’s® promotional outfit, set #19263.
These three vat cars, all numbered 6475, comprise all of the Lionel vat car production during the Postwar period. Of course you could say that there were five 6475 cars, two Pickle cars, one with a light brown roof and one with a dark brown roof; the Pickles car with no hoops and staves; and two Libby’s® Crushed Pineapple Vat Cars, one in medium-blue and one in aqua.
Although it was not Lionel factory production, there was another interesting vat car produced during the Postwar period using Lionel® parts. About 1965, a dealer by the name of Joe Ranker produced and released what is considered a legitimate post-factory alteration. This is what has come to be known as the Heinz 57® Vat Car. Mr. Ranker had labels made that carried the Heinz 57® logo and affixed them to the vats, and released the cars as his own limited production.
Fundimensions resurrected the vat car in 1974 with the production of the #9128 Heinz® Vat Car. The car body is gray plastic with a red painted roof. The yellow vats have green printed hoops and staves and a large green pickle with Heinz® emblazoned across it. The car ran through 1976.
There have been two variations of the 9128 Heinz Vat Car reported (unconfirmed), in addition to the common car with green lettering on yellow vats. (See Greenberg's® Guide to Lionel® Trains,1970-1991, Volume I) One variation reportedly has turquoise lettering on light yellow vats, and the other reportedly has turquoise lettering on medium yellow vats. We haven’t seen one of these cars.
After 1976, Fundimensions released five more vat cars before the company was sold and became LTI (Lionel Trains Inc.). Add to that the Atlantic Division TCA Budweiser® Vat Car in 1984, and you have seven total vat cars produced during the MPC/Fundimensions era. The #9132 Libby’s® Vat Car came in 1975, followed by the #9146 Mogen David® Vat Car in 1977, the #9193 Budweiser® Vat Car in 1983, the Atlantic Division TCA Budweiser® Vat Car (also numbered 9193) in 1984, the #9106 Miller Lite® Vat Car also in 1984, and the #9107 Dr Pepper® Vat Car in 1986 (production carried forward into LTI production).
Two variations of the 9146 Mogen David Vat Car have been reported. (See Greenberg's® Guide to Lionel® Trains,1970-1991, Volume I) One variation has medium tan vats and a dark blue car body, and the other has lighter tan vats and a slightly lighter blue car body. Our collection of vat car photos accompanying this article shows both variations, although in our photos it is hard to see the difference between the blues of the car bodies.
In 1984, the Atlantic Division of the TCA produced a vat car as a club car. The division had earlier decided to create a train of club cars with one for each county in the division. According to individuals involved in the production, a committee was formed to carry out the project. It was decided that the #9193 Budweiser® Vat Car would be used to produce the 1984 car, and that this piece of rolling stock would be the car for Camden County, New Jersey.
The cars would be unchanged from the original #9193 cars, except the four vats were to be redecorated with ADTCA-related artwork. Silverized stick-on wrappers with four different decorations were ordered for the vats, one with a green pickle on it, one with a red tomato, one with the Atlantic Division logo, and one with green lettering that said Camden County 1984. The tomato was to recognize the importance of the Campbell’s Soup Company®, a major industry in Camden County, and famous for their tomato soup. The pickle was to recognize the history of vat cars in carrying cucumbers to processing plants where they were pickled.
The committee met regularly and applied the stick-on labels to the car. Atlantic Division members were sent flyers advertising the cars, and orders were taken from those flyers. A total of 157 cars were produced. Each car was numbered, and a label with the car’s number was placed on the bottom of the car. Due to the limited production, the cars are generally hard to find.
There was one more, somewhat obscure vat car produced in the MPC/Fundimensions era. In 1985, William E. Miller, Jr., at the time Nabisco® Products’ Divisional Sales Manager for the Northeast, had a run of vat cars produced to use as sales incentives. The car was the #9106 Easy Cheese® Vat Car, licensed by Nabisco®, makers of the Easy Cheese® product.
Using the Lionel #9106 Miller Lite® Vat Car and post-Lionel vat decoration, Bill had 238 of the Easy Cheese® Vat Cars produced. Except for the vats, the rest of the car was left alone, and the number remained #9106. Easy Cheese® labels were placed over the original Lionel labels on one end of the car’s box.
An additional 12 cars were produced using the #9193 Budweiser® Vat Car, for a total of 250 cars. These twelve red cars were not supposed to happen. But the team putting together the Easy Cheese® Vat Cars ran out of #9106 Miller Lite® Vat Cars, and someone got the idea to use the #9193 cars to finish the planned 250 car run. Bill protested, but the twelve cars were made anyway.
The reader is cautioned about any red 9193 Easy Cheese® Vat Car. True, it may be one of the original twelve. But since the vats are the only thing unique about the cars, and both the #9106 Miller Lite® Vat Car and the #9193 Budweiser® Vat Car are common on the market and relatively inexpensive, it is a simple matter to make a red #9193 Easy Cheese® Vat Car by switching the vats. You should never pay more for a red #9193 Easy Cheese® Vat Car than you would for a blue #9106 Easy Cheese® Vat Car.
As a result of its relatively unknown status, the Easy Cheese® Vat Car does not appear in most price and collector guides. The rare guide that does list the Easy Cheese® Vat Car only lists the blue #9106 version. One guide in which the blue #9106 version was listed was in Version 3.09 of the TrainTracker® collection software. TrainTracker® listed the car as NRS, No Recorded Sales, another indication of the car’s scarcity.
LTI Vat Cars
LTI’s first vat car (excluding the production of the Dr Pepper Vat Car carried over from MPC/Fundimensions) was the #16225 Budweiser® Vat Car, an uncataloged beauty with a dark gray body and black painted roof. The vats were the really striking feature. The white vats were decorated with a gray wood-grain pattern and a three color (black, gold and red) Anheuser® “A” and eagle logo on opposite sides of each vat. The uncataloged car was only available from an Anheuser-Busch® catalog. The car was produced in 1990, and has proven to be a popular and sometimes hard to find item.
LTI produced three more vat cars during its era, for a total of four (five if you count the carry-over production of the Dr Pepper® Vat Car). In 1994 it was the #19420 Lionel® Lines Vat Car, the #19421 Hirsch Brothers® Vat Car in 1995, and the uncataloged #52044 Eastwood® Vat Car also in 1995.
One additional car from the LTI, or Richard Kughn, era deserves mention, the #52061 NLOE Stern’s Pickle Products® Vat Car. This car was produced on a Lionel blank (no decoration or lettering at all) by the Nassau Lionel Operating Engineers of Long Island (NLOE). It was the club’s 1995 Club Car. Richard Williams, the Club Car Chairman, did the artwork and design, and had the actual decoration done by Pleasant Valley Process Co.
From Richard’s design, the car’s blue plastic body was painted white with red lettering, and the roof became silver. Red plastic vats got yellow stick-on labels with red, green, and white Stern’s Pickle Products® artwork. If you look in the collectors’ guides, you will find this car listed with the #52061 (it may be listed as 6-52061). And although #52061 does not appear anywhere on either the car or the box, it is the correct number for referring to the car. That’s straight from Club Car Chairman Richard Williams. Here is why.
Lionel assigns a number to every product that leaves the factory. When sold to NLOE, the blank cars were assigned the number 6-52061, with the description undecorated standard issue Vat Car w/die-cast sprung trucks. The cars came in standard issue LIONEL® orange, blue, and cream window boxes. So #52061 is the correct product number.
So why does the number #8395 appear on both the car and the box? NLOE uses a 4-digit numbering system for its club cars, the first two digits for the year the club started (1983), and the second two digits for the year of issue of the car (1995). So the number on both the car and the box is #8395.
Like the Easy Cheese® Vat Car, many collectors do not realize that the NLOE Stern’s Pickle Products® Vat Car exists. Many of those that do know of the car’s existence have never actually seen one. That’s because this car is from a very limited production (only 114 produced), is hard to find, but very desirable to many Lionel® vat car collectors.
Lionel LLC makes Vat Cars big time.
The popularity of the vat car was well established by now, and no previous Lionel ownership seems to have grasped this more than Lionel LLC®. Under their tenure, new ones have come out with regularity. As of this writing, the number of vat cars produced under Lionel LLC® stands at 15 and counting. The #19940 LRRC (Lionel® Railroader Club) Inside Track Vat Car (uncataloged) was first in 1996, followed by the #19441 Lobster Vat Car in 1998. The year 1999 saw three new vat cars, the #19446 Pittsburgh Paints® Vat Car, the #19447 Mama’s Baked Beans® Vat Car, and the #19772 Lionel® Visitor’s Center Vat Car. The turn of the Century brought us the #19480 Valentine’s Day Vat Car and #19481 Easter Egg Dye Vat Car in the year 2000, followed by the #19490 PWC (Postwar Celebration Series) Libby’s® Vat Car and #19491 Christmas Vat Car in 2001. The year 2002 was a good vat car year, bringing us the #29411 Sherwin-Williams® Vat Car and the #29412 Tabasco® Vat Car, and the #52283 Artrain® USA Paint Vat Railcar. In 2003, vat car production continued with the #29429 Campbell’s Soup® Vat car.
The #52283 Artrain USA® Paint Vat Railcar from 2002 was produced exclusively for Artrain USA® by Lionel. The Artrain® Vat Car was produced using the #19490 PWC Libby’s® Vat Car, but the Libby’s® vats were removed by Lionel and new vats with painted Artrain® artwork were produced, rather than the common practice of applying stick-on labels over the Libby’s® vats. Only 200 cars were produced, and were/are available as a contributor premium in return for a $125.00 contribution to Artrain®. Artrain USA® is the nation’s only art museum on a train, taking visual art exhibitions and programs to communities across the country. A limited number of these cars may still be available from Artrain USA® by visiting their web site at http://www.artrainusa.org.
A special note is warranted about the #19490 PWC Libby’s® Vat Car. In 1998, Lionel LLC® began what they called the Postwar Celebration Series. Items in the PWC Series are re-issues of what Lionel LLC® called “our favorite O and O-27 rolling stock, engines, and accessories.” The #19490 PWC Libby’s® Vat Car, being one of that series, is a re-issue of the #6475 Libby’s® Vat Car from 1963, and as such is essentially just like the 1963 version. In fact, both cars bear the 6475 number. And both are marked “BLT BY LIONEL” with no date.
However, there are differences that allow toy train fans to separate one from the other. For one thing, the trucks are different. The 1963 version usually came with fixed coupler arch-bar trucks or AAR trucks, while the #19490 PWC version came with die-cast sprung trucks with magnetic couplers. In addition, the vats on the PWC version are painted silver rather than having silver adhesive labels
Lionel LLC® purposefully places markings o.n the PWC cars to differentiate them from the original issues. The first marks to look for on the #19490 are the letters “PW” in a small font after the number 6475 on the lower right on each side of the car body.
Then turn the car over and you should see the Lionel Postwar builder’s plate.
Another special limited production vat car produced by Lionel LLC® is the #29423 Wellspring Vat Car. This vat car was made by Lionel® for Wellspring Capital Management (the current owners of Lionel Trains LLC®) to give to employees and investors for the 2001 holiday season. A special greeting card, signed by Wellspring associates, was included with each car. Because of its limited production and target recipients, this car is very scarce and difficult for collectors to acquire, but can sometimes be had, usually at a premium price.
Lionel LLC’s® latest vat car is the World of Disney® Vat Car, #6-29440. The car is part of the World of Disney® Train Set # 6-31947, cataloged in Lionel’s® 2003 Train Catalog, both Volumes 1 and 2. The car is light turquoise with a yellow roof. A large Disney® logo is painted on the yellow roof in a paint matching the base color of the car body, making this the first vat car with lettering on the roof. Along the lower side of the car are the words "Disney®", "Tinker Bell" and "Pixi Dust". The four red vats have different photos of Tinker Bell.
Along the lower side of the car are the words "Disney®", "Tinker Bell" and "Pixi Dust". The four red vats have different photos of Tinker Bell.
And now for the mystery. This car is a Disney® licensed product. So, one would think that Disney® would have had to approve all graphics, printing, etc. The word Pixie should have an “e” on the end, not “Pixi” as on the side of the car. Lionel® is almost known for its’ misspellings. But why did Disney® let this error get by?
As for availability, according to Lionel®, the car will not be available for separate sale. However, it has already begun to find its way onto the market from set break-ups. And it has begun to be referred to as the Tinker Bell Vat Car.
The release of yet more new vat cars will certainly continue into the future. They have proven too popular to ignore. We can only imagine the great new vat cars yet to come.
This article could not be considered complete without making mention of and thanking those individuals who contributed to the article. Of course the article would not have happened without the contributions of my collaborators, Joel Fugazzotto and Bob Mintz. The great collection of vat car photos were not mine alone, but heavily contributed to by Gordon Wilson, Dr. Paul Wasserman, Garry Spear, and of course Joel and Bob. Bob Mintz took care of collecting the photos and doing whatever needed to be done (MintzMagic®)to make them useful for the article (Thanks, Bob). So there may have been others who contributed to the photo collection that I am leaving out, for which I apologize. Gordon Wilson also provided lots of technical assistance for the article. Special thanks are due Bill Miller and Stuart Rankin for their information about the Easy Cheese® Vat Car. And Richard Williams deserves special thanks for his information about the NLOE Stern’s Pickle Products® Vat Car. Stuart Rankin again came to our assistance with information about the Wellspring Vat Car. Information about the Artrain USA® Vat Car was contributed by Sally Eastman of Artrain®. And contributing information about the ADTCA Budweiser Vat Car were Bill Miles Jr., Garry Spear, and Gordon Wilson.
As a final note, it must be said that this article has simply attempted to give a brief overview, in text and photos, of the regular production Lionel vat cars, with a few extras thrown in. It is beyond the scope of this article to examine all of the variations, post-factory alterations, fakes and frauds that may exist. Some of these, when known to the author, have been mentioned. We do not claim to be experts on variations, fakes, and frauds, and we apologize for any omissions or errors. For additional information on this subject, the reader is directed to the Greenberg’s® Guide series, especially the volumes on Variations, and TCA Standards Committee publications and videos.
"Author's Post-Script: What a project this has been! When I started it, I never envisioned the road we would take. And I never expected to make contact with and correspond with so many terrific train people. That just sort of developed as the article research went along. I am very fortunate to have had that experience and made those acquaintances.
And I certainly never imagined that the research would lead to Bob Mintz and so many others helping me to add some really great vat cars to my collection! I know that I spent a lot of money, but I am grateful just the same. With just a few more, I will have every Lionel® and Lionel-derived vat car produced, at least that I know of. My vat runneth over. – Jon Bonds"
6475 Pickles, tan/brown/dark green, vats yellow/thick black hoops & staves, red "Pickles", AAR trucks
6475 Pickles, tan/brown/dark green, vats yellow/thick black hoops & staves, rear of vats showing no red "Pickles", AAR trucks
6475 Pickles, tan/brown/dark green, vats yellow/thin black (looks brown) hoops & staves, red "Pickles", AAR trucks
6475 Pickles, tan/brown/dark green, vats yellow/thin black (looks brown) hoops & staves, rear of vats showing no red "Pickles", AAR trucks