Toy Trains Have Become Valuable Collectibles and Aren't Just for Kids Anymore
From the Print Edition:
Fidel Castro, Summer 94
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Condition is all important. Repaints are not as desirable as original paint, even if there are a few scratches on the boiler or cab. However, an O-gauge or standard-gauge train that has been outfitted with reproduction replacement parts usually will not have its value affected by much. In fact, some completely restored prewar trains command as much money as if they were all original. In this respect toy trains are unlike most other collectibles, where original condition has a definite link to price. With trains, very often the main criteria are simply that they look authentic and that they run.
Those innocent days when you could find an antique toy train in a garage sale for a few dollars are long gone, although it still happens occasionally. Unfortunately, most of the old trains have been snapped up by an enthusiastic and sometimes ruthless collecting fraternity. The good news is that these smokestacked treasures from the past eventually resurface for sale. Therefore, your best bet will be to join a train collecting club, where periodic "For Sale" bulletins are mailed out to all the members.
The two biggest organizations are the Train Collectors Association and the Toy Train Operating Society (see page 150). Then start attending the local train meet of these clubs, where there are always tables of trains being offered for sale. Two mammoth train swap meets are held annually at York, Pennsylvania and Pasadena, California, (contact the TCA and the TTOS, respectively, for more information). Subscribe to some of the other club and toy-train periodicals and start reading up on the types of trains that interest you.
Whether you decide to run your train on a permanent layout in the basement, a temporary stretch of track under the coffee table or are simply content to display a locomotive and couple of cars on a shelf, you'll be joining a diversified group of individuals who aren't afraid to admit to a second childhood, no matter what their ages.
Frank Sinatra runs his O-gauge trains around a layout designed to resemble his hometown neighborhood of Hoboken, New Jersey. Hugh Hefner has a seasonal LGB train racing around his Christmas tree. Opting for a more outdoorsy theme, Joe Regalbuto, who plays the part of Frank Fontana in the television series "Murphy Brown," has built an entire LGB empire in his backyard. And Jonathan Winters collects cast-iron pull trains.
It is an old cliché that he who dies with the most toys wins, but as far as toy trains are concerned, no truer words were ever written. Whether it's the nostalgia of prewar O gauge, the practicality and memories of postwar O gauge, the antique appeal of early tin and iron, or the novelty of LGB, toy trains are definitely a hobby designed to keep you on the right track
Rick Hacker is a writer based in Southern California.He is the author of The Ultimate Cigar Book. (Self-published, 1993, 300 pages, $34.95. P.O. Box 634, Beverly Hills, Calif. 90213.)
TOY TRAIN CLUBS
Train Collectors Association
P.O. Box 248
Strasburg, Pa. 17579
Toy Train Operating Society
25 West Walnut Street
Pasadena, Calif. 91103
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