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
green 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 was powered by a large can motor with bridge. 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.
The loco employed a Marx type reversing unit for directional control. 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 slightly longer at 21½" than Lionel State Cars and featured a few more details.
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 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'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. 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.
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.
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.