As you possibly know, recently I announced that I would no longer be attending train shows after may years. I guess you could say that I am retired from train shows. I have done literally hundreds of train shows over the years. Most of my experience was good, but some bad. I'd like to share with you some of those experiences.
The first train show I ever attended was a Greenburg train show in Pittsburgh many years ago. I didn't set up, but just walked around. This was when I was still a coin dealer, and only thinking about changing over to trains. I was impressed by the number of old trains that were for sale at that show. My only experience with hobby shows up to that time was the many coin shows I had done over the years. That show I remember seemed to have a more friendly atmosphere than most coin shows I had attended, which could be stuffy sometimes. Little did I know that soon after that I would be selling at those shows.
A year or so later I attended my first train show as a vendor in Parma, Ohio. I don't know why this show was first for me, but I do remember attending a sales meeting for my job in Cleveland that Friday night. We were supposed to meet just Friday, so I had scheduled the show probably knowing I would be able to attend on Saturday and Sunday. As it turned out the sales meeting was shortened because the sales manager wanted to go out drinking with his staff. I didn't join them, although they coaxed me. They had told me to check back with them the next morning, and when I returned at 8AM, there was a sign that the meeting would resume at noon.
Well, needless to say I valued that job very little, because I went to the train show instead. I was surprised they didn't fire me for not showing up, although they had known I had plans.
I was a total rooky at the show. I was amazed at how many trains I sold. I had just purchased an American Flyer collection before the show, and it took me a while to figure out that the book price for American Flyer at the time was way under actual retail. (Someone later told me that was because the authors of some of the books at the time were still buying American Flyer trains, so they wanted to buy them cheap! I am not sure if that was true, but it easily could have been for both American Flyer and Marx trains.) But it was nice leaving the show with much more money than trains, which became more and more difficult with time throughout the years.
I'll never forget a guy offering me half of what I was asking on a whistling billboard because ‘it squeaked' at that Parma show. I was happy that I told him no, because shortly there after someone told me all you have to do is put a drop of oil on the armature pin to stop the squeaking. (I told you I was a rooky!!)
Of all the shows, I think I liked the Parma show the best. It was not only a very friendly atmosphere, but there was a lot of action at that show. Over the 7 or 8 years that I attended that show, I remember on several occasions buying some nice sized collections from people coming in the show and asking. Not only did they bring trains in, but on at least two occasions I had to go to their houses, because there was to much stuff to haul in the show. Besides, why did I want them to bring it to the show to all those other hungry buyers of trains.
I remember taking a list of trains for sale from a train store in Kansas City, and asking everyone there to give me their opinion of whether I should buy the inventory. Thank goodness the overwhelming opinion was to go for it, as in that inventory was some original cases of old Lionel catalogs from the 1950's that I was able to scoop up at an extremely good price. That's how I got my start in the catalog business. I still have some of those catalogs left to sell!
I think the second train show that I attended on a regular basis was the Greenburg Show in Pittsburgh. Now this show I found was much more restricted as to what you could and couldn't do. For instance one of the rules for the show was that no dealer was allowed to pack early on Sunday afternoon. I can still hear good old Joe on that microphone over and over throughout. "Dealers, you are not to pack up early. Anyone who disobeys this rule will be disciplined." (Well, maybe he didn't say 'disciplined', but it sure seemed like it!)
Every time I heard that announcement, it made me feel as if I was back in high school. At first I did adhere to the rule, but as time went on, I was always trying to invent ways to get around the rule. I mean I had a 2 ½ hour trip to get home after I fought my way down the elevator with two or three trips full of trains. I think towards the end I was always out first. A record I am very proud of. (And I never got kicked out!)
That show was a very nice show though. Actually I think it still goes on today three times a year. There were some very nice layouts and displays.
When we first started doing that show I stayed at my in-laws house, which was across town. Later I stayed at the Radison which actually housed the show. One thing about the Radison was it's pool. Of course my kids were younger then, and we loved going down to the pool especially in the Winter. That is because you could swim outside in the snow. The kids were amazed that you could go outside and swim when it was so cold. Both Charlie and John enjoyed that pool many times. I think I was able to take Kathy a couple of times as well.
And the Stewarts were always in back of our table. They became like family to us after a while. That is one thing I love about train shows, you get to know people who eventually become very good friends. That was one of the reasons I avoided quitting that show for years. It was always so nice talking with Francis and Bill. And I learned a lot from them as well.
I remember one time I was standing behind my table minding my own business, and I saw this guy run by with another chasing him. I recognized the one that was being chased as a man that lives in my area and visits our store periodically.
As it turned out I guess he had been caught stealing some trains from a dealer, and he was eventually apprehended. But they put him with an older security guard, from whom he escaped.
When I got home, I found out who the guy was and called Greenburg to tell them I'd do anything I could to help them prosecute the guy. They told me in so many words that they were to busy to bother with it. That irked me a lot!
The guy still comes in my store every once in a while. We always watch him very, very closely!!
The Greenburg show was excellent for sales, mainly on Saturday. I often wondered why they didn't make it just a Saturday show, and skip Sunday, although I do remember one time having a great Sunday.
I'll never forget a Summer Greenburg show, where I had purchased a large MPC collection locally. At the last minute before the show, I was able to get an extra four tables, but they were several rows away from my regular tables. I handed the old post war trains, while Bob Zimmer, a good friend handed all the newer MPC trains. I think at that show we did around $8000.00 which was a very strong show for Greenburg for us. The surprising thing was that Bob had taken in around $6,000.00, while I pulled in only $2000.00 with the old stuff. Amazingly back in the late 80's, early 90's MPC Lionel was actually more popular than the older Lionel. Of course things are back to normal now, but it boggles my mind to think that people actually wanted the newer used stuff more. Of course now it is a different situation as that used MPC today is consider almost as old as the Post War as time has moved on.
The reason I eventually quit doing Greenburg, well one was waking up from a nightmare of Joe threatening to kill me if I started packing early!!! But actually sales diminished over the years at that show as well as most of the shows I did. Finally Greenburg decided to double the size of the show, pulling in more dealers. At that point, I decided there just wasn't enough pie to split into that many pieces, so I split!!
I don't think that there are many mall shows anymore. Those were absolutely grueling. They started on Friday, which you had to be there from 10AM to 9PM, then Saturday same hours, then Sunday 10AM to usually 4PM. I hated those shows so badly mainly because it was the general public that was asking the same questions over and over. I almost went bonkers!
I remember a show in Cleveland at one of the malls once where Bob Zimmer and myself attended selling trains. At the time I was doing some computer programing, trying to develop an in house inventory and point of sales program to help run my business. Back then, they didn't have laptops, so I brought my whole computer. And I was hard at work programming throughout the whole show. One time Bob left to do something, and this guy needed some help. I am embarrassed to say I really didn't want to help the guy, but did. I don't think I was born to be a face to face retailer. Maybe that is why I like the Internet so much!! But some of those mall shows were pretty good, and it was always easier to buy trains at them, because you got the general public to bring in their trains and try to peddle them. I still hated the shows though. Bad attitude!!
There were a number of other shows that I have done over the years. But of course the most famous, and most fun show was York. I avoided doing York for years, even after everyone I knew told me over and over that it was the show to sell at. They all told me how much they sold, and how crowded it got. I believed them, but York, Pa. is quite a ways away from Erie, Pa. and I knew it would be very difficult to get a room anywhere close. It just sounded like a real big hassle. And was!!
I'll never forget the first York show I attended. My Son Charlie and I arrived Friday morning in a driving rain store around an hour late. I had brought just a couple of trains. Primarily I brought old Lionel Catalogs, and finally when we finally got the stuff in the Purple Hall, and then figured out where to park the car, we set up.
At that show I found out what they were talking about as I think I sold more catalogs than I had ever sold at one setting, and also sold all the trains I had brought. And of course I returned again and again.
One show I couldn't attended, so I send Bob Zimmer who took only bagged junk and nothing else. I almost fell down when I returned to tell me he sold everything. $3000.00 worth of junk!
And I'll never forget the flood that hit and ruined some trains one year (thank goodness none of mine.) Nor will I forget the time that we remembered we had left a box of trains under our table on the way back home. Unfortunately an honest person didn't find it!
Now I guess I have but one train show going, and that is this cyber train show that appears here on our web pages. I have very fond memories of many train shows gone bye, but to be honest, I think my favorite is the one we attend these days!! Thank you for making it possible.
For questions or comments, please email or call us at
(814) 833-8313. Fax: (814) 838-3237
Train City, 3133 Zuck Road, Erie, Pa. 16506
All Rights Reserved