Harlan K. Creswell created Liberty Lines in the late 1970's in Seattle, Wa. He developed and hand-built tinplate Standard
gauge locomotives, including a #600E 4-6-4 Hudson steam locomotive, a #608E 0-6-0 steam switcher, and an Olympian #3281
Bi-Polar electric. Creswell also reproduced State Set cars in Standard gauge and produced some Standard gauge freights.
Harlan Creswell started collecting tinplate trains in 1975 through a chance encounter with an old Lionel
train he came across in a second hand store. Over the next 3 years he lived the life of a toy train addict, collecting
everything that he saw, regardless of brand, condition, gauge or type. By 1978 he realized that his house was about to be
overtaken with his collection and that is when he decided it was time to change things up and try to build trains by hand.
Using hand tools and homemade patterns his first efforts were to make tenders for his American Flyer
#4695 loco and Lionel #384. Next came an attempt to build an Erector Hudson locomotive. This
required making dies and jigs for shaping sheet metal. Harlan then decided to build a Lionel 400E. He made several attempts
at reproducing several parts for the loco. Then he realized that what he really wanted to make was the locomotive that Lionel
stopped short of actually ever making - a true Standard gauge 4-6-4 Hudson that looked like a Hudson, not a compromise
engineered by a committee.
Creswell set out to build a model with very specific criteria that were conditioned by traditions established in the toy
train world combined with his own personal preferences. The first criteria were that the loco would have to be made primarily
of metal or castings. Second, it would need to utilize a strong motor, stronger than the Lionel #400E or #381. Third, the
basic detail components such as wheels, stacks, side rods, cow catchers, domes, bells, whistles and steps would need to be
the same as those utilized in pre-war era Standard gauge locomotives. Fourth, the center of gravity would need to be kept low
and the pulling point very low to the track. Fifth, the locomotive must be able to pull a prototypical number of cars, in
this case 20 Pullmans, as did the real Hudsons on the 20th Century Limited. Sixth, the loco would need to corner at a high
rate of speed without tipping or derailing. And seventh, The loco would need to include as many of the traditional features
as possible, such as smoke, operating whistle, chugger sounds, and a dramatic array of lights.
Design drawings were developed in June of 1978, and by September Creswell had a working 3-rail model. He
took his model to a couple of train club meets and became immediately aware that there was substantial interest from Standard
gauge collectors. People thought that Creswell had actually cut apart some Lionel #400E's to get the body and cab components,
but he explained that he rolled the boiler metal himself using an old engine lathe in his shop, and had assembled the frame
from individual girders and components. He wanted to follow the same philosophy that the original ALCO and NYC Railroad
builders used when creating the Hudson prototype. That being emphasis on beauty of line and "slavish devotion to the
horizontal line". This concept of design was dictated by the many low bridges and tunnels that existed on the NYC prohibiting
use of tall smoke stacks and domes. The result was a sleek low design with external trappings that gave the Hudson an effect
of motion even when it was standing still. It has an inherent balanced beauty that has earned it the title of the most
beautiful steam locomotive ever designed.
The Liberty Lines 4-6-4 NYC Hudson was a limited production locomotive and only around 25 were ever produced. There was no
real tooling for these, as Creswell did a lot of the work by hand. Creswell designed what little tooling there was by
initially using paper patterns to shape the metal parts and then gradually shifted to stamped parts and molded castings.
The metal used for the boiler was heavy gauge and was done to add weight as well as provide protection from dents. The loco
was assembled from several dovetailing metal components as the design was too complex to allow for 2 or 3 stampings only.
The total parts count for the loco was around 400 individual pieces. The visible joints were soldered then the assembled loco
was soaked in an etchant to improve paint adhesion. It was then washed, rinsed, boiled in rust treatment fluid and primed.
The primed parts were placed on a shelf for a few days to dry before final painting. The final finish coat was shot in one
operation and then baked in an oven.
After final assembly the loco was pull tested using a Martindale oz./inch tester and then track tested
by pulling gondolas loaded with 30 pounds of iron weights. The large numbers of parts, plus the testing and fitting required
during assembly rendered any form of mass production prohibitive. Individual locomotive hand assembly required 3 weeks to
complete. It was not Creswell's intention to make large numbers of the #600E locomotives. He wanted to turn out sufficient
numbers to provide those interested in something different and out of the ordinary to have a locomotive that was more complex
than anything that Lionel ever produced in Standard gauge.
The #600E's were built starting in 1979 and did resemble the Lionel #400E
loco, but with the proper 4-6-4 Hudson running gear configuration. It was not a scale model, but as Creswell intended,
it had toy-like charm similar to the Standard gauge trains produced by Lionel, Ives, and
American Flyer in the early 20th century. They were offered in 5 basic colors: black, light gunmetal,
dark gunmetal (grey), 2-tone blue and 2-tone green with copper trim. They were also available in kit form. Options included
smoke, bell, whistling tender and chugger. The engine was accompanied by a 12-wheel tender with nickel journals labeled New
York Central. The loco and tender had almost all brass/nickel trim with flags and flag stands. The loco with tender measured
35" long. The Creswell Hudson was powered by a large can motor with bridge rectifier. The motor was mounted on a machined
block, which also had details to hold several helical and spur gears to put power to the wheels. All drivers were powered
through another set of spur gears on one set of drivers, similar to the Lionel super motor gearing. It used
McCoy Lionel drivers, with the center driver being flangeless. These were the same
red spoked, nickel rim, steam locomotive wheels used on several 6-drive Standard gauge engines as produced by
modern era manufacturers such as Classic Model Trains/Classic Model Corp.,
McCoy, and Lee Lines Industries. The Liberty Lines Hudson loco employed a Marx
type reversing unit for directional control. Operating green LED's were fitted to the front of the boiler as marker lights.
The cost for one of these locomotives in 1979 was $730.
Liberty Lines tinplate Standard gauge Commemorative
passenger cars complimented the #600E Hudson loco. They were made available in two lengths. The shorter ones were slightly
longer at 21½" than Lionel's 21" pre-war era Standard gauge State Cars and featured a few more details. A longer 26"
Liberty Lines version was also produced. Creswell offered his State Cars in 2-tone blue, 2-tone green and also in an orange
with brown combination. Liberty Lines was the first to offer a Standard gauge State Baggage car. The Liberty Lines passenger
cars featured celluloid window inserts and colored transoms. The roofs were removable to access the interior light bulbs, but
there was no interior seating or vestibules. The cars featured latch type Lionel couplers, typically found on their pre-war
era tinplate trains, and were compatible with any Lionel Standard gauge trains for 3-rail track. The baggage car came with
four doors, brass journals and brass plates. The 2-tone green baggage car brass plates read 'Liberty Lines', 'Pennsylvania'
and the number '411'. The green Pullman featured a black roof and doors, ivory window inserts, and brass plates that read
'Liberty Lines', 'Pleasant Valley' and the number '6414'. Other versions of the Creswell Pullmans are adorned with various
brass name plates, including California, Cleveland, and St. Marie.
The Liberty Lines Standard gauge 608E 0-6-0 switcher is one of the toughest modern era locomotives to acquire. It is believed
that less than 15 of these were built. The #608E drive mechanism relied on a rubber O-ring as a drive belt. Both the drive
shaft and motor shaft pulleys were made of rubber as well. Like the #600E, it featured a large 24 volt DC Hathaway can motor
equipped with a bridge for AC operation. The 8-wheel slope-back tender featured a backup light and was labeled for the
Pennsylvania RR. The switcher was fitted with a knuckle coupler on the front, but the tender had a tinplate latch type
coupler on its rear end. The side of the #608E locomotive cab was marked with a built date builder's plate reflecting the
year it was completed.
The Liberty Lines #3281 Standard gauge Bi-Polar Olympian was created in the early 1980's following 2 years of developing
paper, wood and various configurations of metal models. It too was a toy-like semi-scale tinplate locomotive, similar in
style to the other Creswell offerings. Harlan Creswell's original intentions were to produce a close model of the original
prototype with as much detail as possible, equipped with a quiet power plant. Examples of the Creswell designed Bi-Polar
Olympian have shown up in an olive drab livery and in the Milwaukee Road's tri-color (black, maroon, and orange) paint
scheme. The option of a ringing bell was offered to buyers for an extra $50. Creswell and Liberty Lines produced items
through the early/mid 1990's. Products remained primarily custom built to order.
Liberty Lines locos appeared in some photographs accompanied by some custom Standard gauge freight cars,
thought to be made by Harlan Creswell, but these are believed to have been prototypes built by Creswell that were never really
produced in quantity as a product offering. There is little information on these cars, and there have not been any catalogs
or flyers uncovered to indicate what freight cars were being created. The scarcity of these cars is very high, and only a few
are actually known to exist. A gondola is definitely known to have been produced, while there is a hopper that has been
discovered and it is speculated to also be a Liberty Lines model.
Due to the limited production numbers of Liberty Lines trains they are quite scarce. Due to their beauty and design, they are
quite desireable. The scarcity and desirablity of these trains have driven the sale prices up considerably, when they do
show up in auctions or for sale at train meets. In a November 2017 on-line ebay.com auction of the Craig Miller Train
Collection, a Liberty Lines #600E hit a gavel price of over $5,000. At a December 2019 Stout auction, a Liberty
Lines Standard gauge State set 2-tone green baggage car sold for $725. At another Stout auction conducted in
January of 2021, the same type of baggage car sold for $1,300. The matching 2-tone green State set Pleasant
Valley Pullman sold for $3,000 at the same auction. In the past, Stout has auctioned other Harlan Creswell
hand made creations, including a #608E in May of 2016 that sold for $1,150. Collectors, especially those who covet the
Standard gauge tinplate toys of
their youth, always are on the lookout for any available Liberty Lines products. When asked to list their favorite Standard
gauge locomotives, Standard gauge operators always include the Liberty Lines #600E, alongside classics such as the
Boucher #2500 Pacific in blue, the Lionel #400E, #392E, #390E, #408E, #402E, #381E locomotives,
Ives #1124, American Flyer #4637 Shasta, Jad Lines Hiawatha, McCoy Cascade E2, and
CMT Erie Camelback. It was Harlan Creswell's intention to provide tinplate Standard gauge collectors in
the modern post-war era with a product that was durable, attractive and that filled a gap in the offerings from all the other
manufacturers, past and present. He enjoyed his enterprise of making these toys, and as a result his tenuous efforts are
greatly appreciated by a fair number of collectors.