American Flyer Modeling Notes

What is Tinplate?

In magazines, books, and other S-scale web sites, you may find the terms "American Flyer" and "tinplate" used interchangeably. They generally refer to the same thing, although "tinplate" may also be used in reference to the products A.C. Gilbert manufactured prior to WWII models (i.e. O-gauge wheelsets).

What is "hi-rail"?

You may come across the term "hi-rail". This is generally within the context of a more scale-oriented use of American Flyer products. The National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) defines S-scale's hi-rail as anything needing code 125 (0.125") or taller rail. So, in very general terms, hi-rail refers to anything that uses or requires that size rail (due to the flange depth of the wheels), which includes all original American Flyer products, and a large number of Lionel, S-Helper Service, MTH, and other brands of equipment. These newer brands come ready-to-run with deep-flange wheels and the American Flyer-compatible claw couplers, which usually can be easily replaced with more scale-like wheelsets and couplers, if the modeler so chooses. Therefore, a hi-rail layout usually refers to someone who has built his or her layout using tall rail, so that it remains compatible with both original American Flyer equipment, as well as the newer S-scale equipment.

What's the Best Way To Clean Old American Flyer Products?

Many American Flyer enthusiasts who return to the hobby have encountered a white film on their American Flyer plastic cars when they've uncovered them from storage boxes in their basements or attics. It is commonly thought that the white film is mold. However, it is actually a mold release agent that was used in the early days of plastics manufacturing. To remove it, simply hold a hair dryer, set on hot, to the car and you'll see the mold release agent disappear before your eyes. You can buff gently with a soft cloth.

Early American Flyer Plastics

Dick Karnes, MRR remembers that in 1946 A.C. Gilbert used Tenite. It was a wood-based plastic. The material looked good when it came out of the molds, but it would eventually deform, because it never really solidified.

A.C. Gilbert eventually switched to using Bakelite. This was the first synthetic plastic. It was a significant improvement over Tenite, but its main downside was that there were no glues available at the time that would allow attaching anything to Bakelite, making kitbashing extremely difficult. Two-part epoxies finally solved that problem.

Later, A.C. Gilbert switched to using styrene, which we all know and love in our hobby. Both "polystyrene" and "ABS" are a common form of "styrene" used in the model railroading industry nowadays. Lego® blocks are a form of ABS, for example.

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