May 17, 2012

Marathon prize sponsor: Lionel Trains

As if the whole concept of the Big Quiz Thing's Tenth Anniversary Marathon Quiz Show Spectacular weren't insane enough, we're making it just a lil' bit crazier with this sponsor prize. Guess what we're giving away?

A traaaaaiiiiin!!!!

That there is a Pennsylvania Flyer Freight Train, from the first name in model trains, Lionel. The choo-choo gurus have joined on as a Marathon sponsor (though Neil Young was most likely not informed), and this incredible piece of childhood-nostalgia hardware currently sits in a box in BQT Headquarters, just waiting for you to win it at the Marathon. Do not sleep on this: It retails for $250, and it is, to quote the Lionel website, "Everything you need to begin building your own Pennsylvania Railroad empire." An empire, I tell you!

Some factoids…

—The original Lionel train company was founded in 1900 by 23-year-old Joshua Lionel Cowen, right here in New York City. That's right: New York is the birthplace of model trains, making it even cooler than you realized.

—Lionel also introduced slot cars, as "racing automobiles," in 1912. I never had a train set as a boy, but I did have one of those pull-the-trigger-and-the-little-cars-go-racing-in-circles sets in my basement. So thank you, Mr. Cowen!

—Among the cognoscenti, the standard model-train size is referred to as "O-gauge." There have been O-gauge just about everything, including automatically raising bridges, a cannon, an exploding boxcar (?), and a friggin' rocket launcher:

The most badass train car known to man

—During World War II, Lionel helped the effort by ceasing production of trains, using the metal to make compasses instead. They did issue a "paper train" that was apparently a real bitch to put together, but that was probably the point.

—In the early '50s (Lionel's heyday, though ironically, the decade when train travel in this country was overtaken by automobiles and highways), there was a show on NBC called The Lionel Club House, hosted by—of all people—Joe DiMaggio. This is attested to on Lionel's official site and various other toy-related sources, but IMDb says nothing on the subject, so who knows.

Do you think Joe ever asked Marilyn to wear the little conductor's hat?

—The '60s were tough on model trains, and strictly speaking, the Lionel Corporation died in 1969. The current company, Lionel, LLC, is technically unrelated but owns all the trademarks and carries on the tradition. And yes, Neil Young—a model-train nut to the core—is intimately involved; he once had a 20 percent stake in the company, and remains a technical adviser. And this song rocks:

More about Lionel here. More about the Marathon here. Tickets here. It's coming!


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