Train Collections Gone Bye

I've been buying train collections for almost 20 years now. Last year I purchased over 25 collections that cost me more than $5000.00 each. Of course I purchased many smaller collections, but even so had you told me that I would be purchasing that many collections within one year when I was first starting out, I just wouldn't have been able to believe you. I can hardly believe it now!

I'll never forget the first collection that walked into my coin store. The coin hobby had taken a turn for the worse, and my interest in my childhood past time had returned with a vengeance. I had a wonderful HO spaghetti pike that had been built to ridiculous proportions. I remember taking off work around the X-Mas Holidays so that I could work on my massive growing pike. I had no idea what I was doing, nor any plan. I just had gone out and bought as much track as I could afford, and started laying track. If you've never heard of the term ‘spaghetti' layout, that is what it is. A layout with no plan, and that goes the way of the wind or the will of the engineer. And there is nothing wrong with that type of layout, because let's face it, the object of a layout is to have fun. And fun I did have back then!!

Well to get back to the subject, I had put a sign in front of my coin store that I bought Electric Trains. Little did anyone know that I didn't know the first thing about electric trains at the time. (Some would way I still don't!) As a matter of fact I didn't even own a book. So when that first train collection walked in my store door, I just scratched my head looking at it. I remember now there was a Marx 666 set along with I'm pretty sure two sets of Marx UP Plastic diesels, which are pretty rare these days. There must have been two or three boxes of trains. I was really excited, because they looked so big compared to those HO trains I had been fooling with in the past couple of years.

The figure $35.00 came into my head. I felt pretty sure that I was going to be OK, being the expert coin buyer that I was, but hadn't a clue as to the trains real worth. For all I knew I paid $30.00 to much.

And I was off to the races. My first train purchase from a non-retail store.

At first I purchased mostly Marx trains, because the Marx factory was located some 10 miles from my store. And if you ever get a glimpse of one of my first price lists you would find them heavy with Marx trains, a little bit of Lionel, and hardly any American Flyer at all.

I'll never forget one Memorial Day the store was open and this guy came walking in the store with a Boxed Marx Set. We opened it to find a Tin Canadian Pacific Passenger set. I have no idea how much I paid for the set, might have been around $100.00, but I know once I bought it I sold it for way to little, but then again I learned the hard way many times that you don't worry about the sale afterwards. There is absolutely nothing you can do except make a fool of yourself!!

My first lengthy buying trip took me to Indianapolis to purchase a Lionel MPC collection which was hot stuff back then. I remember flying into the Indianapolis Airport with my son Charlie who was thrilled to come along with his dad on that buying trip. I remember that trip distinctively as I lost my lucky half dollar in the cab that took us to the U-haul store. I had worn that coin almost down to unrecognizable, and was very proud of that fact. Being a coin dealer and all at the time, that was traumatic.

One of the more stressful collection deals that I have had in my life was another trip with Charlie, this time to the Kansas City area. We were buying out the Lionel inventory of a train store there called the ‘Spotlight'. (At least I think that was the name.) Everything went pretty smoothly there, except for Charlie had disappeared to play with the owner's kids at his house. After 3 or 4 hours of wheeling and dealing, I was getting tired and starting to feel a little insecure that Charlie was elsewhere. To be honest I had no idea where he even was.

Finally I did catch up with my kid at the owner's house, where we had a nice sit down dinner. But time was starting to become a factor as it was getting to be late and we still had to pack, and then drive down the rode some before calling it a night. So when the owner asked if I wanted to see his train collection, I passed with embarrassment because I knew he wanted to show me. But it was becoming a long day.

Finally we got to the hotel after an hour or two of night driving. And that is what started a phenomenon that I can't explain. In the middle of the night I have this dream that I go down to the parking lot in the morning, and the truck full of trains is gone. I've had that dream so many times over the years. And what is worse is that dream is usually followed by another dream of my waking up with much relief that it was only a dream. Then I look out the window only to find the truck full of trains isn't where I parked it. At that point the Twilight Zone theme starts, and I go bonkers. Wouldn't you? Is there a shrink in the house?

Another thing I remember about that collection though was sort of an after thought, just before leaving after packing the truck. The owner said, hey you want these boxes too? I looked at them, wasn't sure what they were. (My head was spinning by then.) So I said, ‘Oh sure', trying to be a sport, and threw the 10 or so boxes on the truck. It turns out those were original cases full of Lionel Catalogs from the 1950's. That sort of got me started onto the road of having the largest inventory of ‘mint' Lionel Catalogs anywhere. I purchased another paper collection in the Washington, DC area, and at one time had over 1000 mint in the case 1950 catalogs. And of course piles of every other catalog Lionel made back from the mid 60's. You just have to be at the right place at the right time!

One of the nicest surprise collections I ever bought was in Niagara Falls, Canada. I had gone up to look at this collection, which was a really nice collection of Lionel Post War Trains. I don't know the story why I went up, but evidently I hadn't learned that you don't go up and look, and return empty. You go up, look, and haul away.

At any rate I thought about the collection for a week or two after looking. At the time it was quite a bit of money for me. Around $20,000.00, so maybe that is why I thought about it. Today the collection would probably be closer to $75,000.00. Finally after him-hawing, I did return and purchased the collection.

I found some wonderful surprises including the two versions of the 2338 Milwaukee, and many of their variations. All of the 6464 series cars were there along with the majority of what Lionel made in Post War. I was a happier and happier as I unwrapped each piece. Why I hadn't looked through the collection when I was there, I haven't a clue.

The dustiest collection I have every purchased was in an Indiana suburb of Chicago. This was a huge basement with all the walls covered with racks of trains. Unfortunately the trains had been sitting out for years, hadn't been covered and were extremely dusty. We are talking layers and layers of dust. And every single piece was MPC type (later Lionel). I guess I had assumed since almost everything had boxes that the trains were in the boxes. Not the case. I remember having to vacuum almost every piece finally when I got them back to the store, and then match the piece to the box. Now I know better to ask about dust and boxes before committing to a price!

The largest collection ever purchased was very big indeed. I had to rent a large ryder truck to haul this one away. I never met the Doctor that owned the collection. He had a broker sell it for him. It seems the good Doctor had a spending disorder of some type. You see the large building that housed his train collection also housed comic books, toys, and many other collectibles. I guess his impulsive buying became to much, and he decided to go cold turkey. I was very happy to help!

I'll never forget that journey back through the back hills of Kentucky. Charlie was with me once again, and the roads are not exactly straight back there. We were both sea sick by the time we finally got back to the main road. I purchased that collection around 1 ˝ years ago, and I still have some of the inventory!

Another great surprise collection was one in Eastern Indiana. This was on a farm that was absolutely impossible to find. Thank goodness that the two gentlemen that were selling me the collection agreed to meet me at the general store.

This was another collection that was very hard for me to gauge what I should do with. We wrote back and fourth for some time until they finally convinced me that it would be a good deal. This was the second largest collection I had ever purchased, and it was all post war Lionel. Unlike the Niagara Falls collection I looked this one over while I was there, and was pleasantly surprised. Among many different rare varieties there were two 6464 Rutland solid shield Boxcars. Almost impossible to find, and they hadn't been mentioned in the inventory. I knew at the time there was something good about the cars, but didn't have a clue until I got them home and studied the books a little that they were that rare. My friend Ed Dougherty finally confirmed they were real, and I was a happy camper!

A dream American Flyer Collection was found in the Boston area. It seems a Lionel Collector had run across an old time dealer's widow and purchased all the Lionel and American Flyer. Thank goodness he didn't want the Flyer, as I purchased it all from him. And back 6 or 7 years ago you would have found a lot of ‘mint' American Flyer' in my inventory. That was fun!!!

And then there are the bummers!

How about the time I purchased a collection in Illinois near Chicago where the owner failed to mention that he had decided to keep around 1/3 of the collection after we had decided on a price. This was the third largest amount I had paid for a collection, so it was quite an investment. There was a lot of stuff piled in his living room. So much so that I only spot checked it. At the time I don't know why I didn't go into it more deeply because I had this bad feeling. But of course I was in a hurry to get home, so I took his word for it.

I am a little more careful now though, as this turned into a bad situation, even though he did send me a check for part of the inventory that was missing. That was a screwy deal.

One of the smoothest deals I have ever had happened today down in Ohio near the Ohio River. My son John who slept four hours for the trip accompanied me on this one. We didn't get lost, he was a nice guy, it was an easy deal, and we got home safely. I even have a good suspicion that everything is included even though I didn't go through everything. Now that is a fun deal, and this Lionel Post War and MPC inventory will be appearing soon on our database. Lot's of nice stuff!!

A not so fun deal would be a collection I purchased in California last week. This is a huge American Flyer collection that will be appearing in our database in the near future. Actually this is by far the largest American Flyer collection I have ever purchased. I had planned on going to San Diego to watch the World Cup Golf event on Saturday, as I thought I would be able to finish the deal on Friday. That didn't happen to say the least!

So we look through some of the collection, then decide to call it for lunch and to go to the bank to let them check out the Cashier's checks that I had brought along. I'm not certain if Californians in general aren't that trusting, or if it was just this guy, but we were at his bank for around an hour while they checked the checks out. In addition they checked out my licence and credit card. By the time we were finished, I was surprised that they didn't fingerprint me!!

But that's OK, I understand. He didn't know me from Adam, especially since this had been a referral. (Incidentally I paid the guy a nice finder's fee for getting me the deal--hint hint!!!!)

The thing that got me was when we sat down while they were checking me out. They guy says ‘Charlie I want $2000.00 more than what we had discussed over the phone'.

I just about went through the roof. I mean come on I had just spent a whole lot of money on traveling, traveled some 3000 miles, was totally committed and this guy tells me he wants more money? I don't usually get into heated arguments, but I made an exception here. Wouldn't you?

After he dropped the subject we went back to finish looking through the collection, which I did thoroughly this time, and I told him that my offer stood as was given. He pulls me over to look at an additional set that wasn't on the list. The set is worth maybe $800.00, he tells me he wants an extra $2000.00. Of course I pass, but just to be nice I tell him I'd go an extra $1000.00. He thinks about it, then sort of drops it. Five minutes later he says, OK we have a deal at the extra $1000.00 figure. We shake.

Back at the bank where they are doing something weird with my Cashier's Checks to assure that I can't stop payment on them, which I can't anyway, we sit down and I give him the little bit of cash that we had agreed on over the phone. No sooner does he count the money, but he says, ‘Oh, by the way, that set isn't included.'

Well, my blood pressure went up a little as you can imagine. That's not the way I deal, and I don't like to deal with people like that. As a matter of fact had he said that before I had paid him I would have just left without purchasing the collection, but what are you going to do after he has your money!

Two good things about this collection though. 1) We got to do the collection outside in the warm California Sun. 2) This will make many of my American Flyer customers happy. And let's face it, that's what I'm here for.

The prettiest collection I have every bought was around a year ago across Lake Erie in Chatham, Canada. The scenery traveling around Lake Erie was spectacular. The collection was great to!! But the most fun I had on that trip was the bar brawl that I witnessed in Windsor. You can tell those Canadians like Hockey!!!

I didn't mean to make this article this long, but once I got started, well where do you stop? I could go on and on and on. Maybe some other time I'll tell you about some other collections I've bought over the years. (I forgot about the Florida Collections. That's a whole book in itself. Maybe we'll do that next time.) In the mean time, why don't you buy some trains from me? That would make some memorable conversation. You could tell everyone that you bought this piece from that guy that talks to much, but never says anything!!!!!

 Back to Archives

Revised 3/7/99