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American Flyer Trains Basic Operating Information

The following information is provided to help understand some of the terms and other descriptions of parts and related items.

RFG also prints several booklets and manuals, that have more detailed information. M3103


American Flyer Trains were made in several gauges. When they were manufactured by The American Flyer Manufacturing Company, they were made in Standard Gauge and a version of “O” gauge. “O” Gauge is what Lionel is today, along with “O27”. They run on three rail track.

The most popular size of American Flyer is “S” Gauge, which runs on two rail track. It is scaled 3/16″ to the inch, slightly smaller than “O” Gauge. American Flyer was also made in “HO”, “O” Gauge and a scaled “O” Gauge of 3/16″ to the foot, by The A.C. Gilbert Co., after they bought American Flyer.

AC or DC Electric Current?

Most American Flyer “S” and “O” engines were designed to run on AC or Alternating Current. Although, the motors are what is referred to as “series wound”, so they can also operated on DC or Direct Current. Maximum voltage is 15 to 17 volts.

American Flyer engines also were made that would only run on DC, those engines have a “DC” after the engine number. Engines that have an “AC”, after the engine number will run on both.

All American Flyer Transformers are AC. The DC versions are called Rectaformers.

Early American Flyer “HO” engines ran on AC, while later versions run on DC. In general the power units for the HO are called DC power packs.

Connecting Power to the Track
“S” & “O”

The power from the transformer is connect to the track with the use of a Power Terminal.

690 American Flyer “S” Kit w/wires & Instructions
707 American Flyer – single contact “S”

“HO” uses a special track section to connect the power.

American Flyer “S”, COUPLERS

There are three major types of couplers:

Link Couplers were used from 1946 till 1952. They are the long black plastic shank with a sort of hook on the end. They may or may not have a black or brass round weight on the side.

Knuckle Couplers were introduced in 1952. They resemble real American style couplers and look like a fist. They have a working jaw or knuckle. There are two types of Knuckle Coupler.

The conversions type is used to convert Link Coupler equipment to Knuckle Coupler, they have a slot in the shaft.

Originally equipped Knuckle Couplers, have either a hole or a solid shaft.

Pikemaster couplers look similar to Knuckle Couplers, however they are part of the truck assembly, and have no moving parts. They are not repairable or replaceable.

There is also a nonoperating Knuckle Coupler that was used on some inexpensive sets.


There are several variations of Brushes and Springs used from 1946 to 1966. In 1946/47 the motor brush bracket used round brushes with a slot and a lever type spring. In 1948, a round brush with a smaller diameter shoulder and a coil spring, began to be used.

There are several engines with the same model number, that use different brushes and springs.


American Flyer cars, engines and accessories all were designated by an item number. In the “S” gauge line, early accessories, 1946-1959, carried a 3 digit number, starting with either a 5 or a 7. Most of the ones with a 5, a carry over from the pre WWII, “O” gauge line. The item numbers did not appear on the accessory itself.

Steam engines from 1946 to 1959, have 3 digits, beginning with a 2 or a 3. This number was stamped on the side of the engine, under the cab window, were the engineer would sit.

Diesel engines from 1950 to 1959, have a 3 digit number, beginning with 3 or 4. Not all had the numbers on the side.

Cars from 1946 to 1952, have 3 digit numbers. They either begin with a 6 or a 7. And one set of passenger cars that begin with a 5. The 7 was used on operating cars. These cars are for the most part equipped with link couplers. In 1953, with the introduction of Knuckle Couplers, the numbers were changed to begin with a 9. There are also some inexpensive cars with numbers beginning with 8.

In 1959 a new 5 digit numbering system was started, with all items starting with a 2. There are differences in manufacture for items with a 5 digit number from those same items with a 3 digit number. That is why some parts have a notation (5 digit).

American Flyer SMOKE UNITS

American Flyer had four types of Smoke and Choo Choo Units. The first type was introduced in 1946, it is the Smoke in Tender type, and denoted by S.I.T. The smoke unit is in the tender, or what some people refer to as the coal car, behind the engine.

The second type is a Smoke in Boiler unit. It is in the boiler or main part of a steam engine. It was used on the majority of steam locomotives. There are 2 versions, the early version has two chambers, an upper and lower. The later version has only one chamber were the smoke wick and coil are located.

The third type is also a boiler mounted unit, but is smaller and used in the Docksider and Franklin and Washington engines, and also the HO engines.

The forth type, also a boiler mounted unit, was used on the Casey Jones style, Southern engine.

All types were designed to use a liquid smoke fluid. The fluid was sold in either small soft red ampules or bottles.

Unlike Lionel, American Flyer never used smoke pellets.
RFG has Original Formula Smoke Fluid @ 2 oz.

American Flyer Horn and Whistle units

There are two basic American Flyer Horn or Whistle units. All the steam and diesel engines that had horns or airchime whistles, except for the model 314AW, were about the same. They all require a special activation unit. The activation units must be wired to the track.

The 314AW has a Lionel type whistle, it also requires an activation unit.

Disclaimer: Guides are submitted by readers and the views expressed belong solely to the author.

rfgco on Email
Owner and operator of The RF Giardina, Co., Inc. (RFGCO.com) since 1969.
Manufacturer of parts and supplies for American Flyer Trains and all other Toy Trains and Model Railroading. Selling mail order since 1969 and online since 1996.

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