“The largest and most powerful model locomotive ever built,” proclaimed the 1931 catalog that introduced the 400E. Lionel spared no hyperbole in announcing its new steam engine: “Never before in the history of model train building has such a powerful locomotive been offered the American boy. This new 400E is the master of them all — a veritable giant of the rails.
“In its creation, Lionel engineers have faithfully reproduced in steel, copper, brass and nickel, all of those fine and minute details that are found only in the largest, most modern railroad engines. Its long, low lines, its beauty of color and design and its mechanical precision opens the door for every boy to greater fun and enjoyment.”
The catalog cover depicted a real engineer praising the model to a pair of knicker-clad boys: “‘Just like mine’ says Bob Butterfield, engineer of the 20th Century Limited.” Apparently the engineer of the New York Central 4-6-4 Hudson ignored the fact that the 400E was short one set of drivers, to enable it to negotiate standard gauge curves. The inside of the catalog featured three more engineers praising the realism of Lionel’s models, with the slogan “Lionel trains are the trains railroad men buy for their boys.” Outfit No. 423E, a freight set headed by the 400E, would set you back $72.50 in 1931 — about the same price as a train trip from Chicago to San Francisco, including a sixteen-day stay in the city by the bay.