« "Sometimes I don't like to sit on my chair..." | Main | "I love wrench." »

October 16, 2005

"You have to buy my train! Now!"

A little over a week ago I decided to tempt fate and run a newspaper ad. It essentially reads:

"Wanted Old Toy Trains"
Let me give a good home to your old toy trains. (Lionel, etc.)

Then the ad lists my cell phone number for readers to call.

My purpose in listing this is to try and find some old trains to work on over the winter and try to revive. I'm a Lionel guy and most Lionel trains can be revived despite horrific amounts of damage and abuse.

The responses have been interesting to say the least. I had one fellow who called me and in broken english explained that I had to buy his trains because I had run the ad. After talking for a few minutes it was pretty clear that a.) they weren't anything I could use, b.) they weren't anything I could donate to a boys club and c.) he wanted a small fortune for them.

This is pretty typical. A lot of folks have heard that old toy trains are worth a bundle and in some cases that is true. However to be worth the big bucks the trains have to be in "brand new" or "mint" condition. The more trains have been played with the less they are worth. The majority of what you find at garage sales, attics, etc. would be charitably called "good" at best.

Another call I received was from someone that had a set from when he was a kid. "You're not a dealer are you?" were the first words from his mouth. Explaining that I was buying trains to run with my son opened the door and we talked for a bit. He agreed to show me what he had and I made the time to go see.

It actually was exactly what I was looking for. Alas the "they're worth a lot" fairy had smacked him with her wand as well. I made a very fair offer based on their condition which he wanted to think about. (Engine beat to death and locked up, rolling stock in similar shape.) After getting home I double checked everywhere, eBay and some collector guides, and called back to up my offer by $50. (I try to be VERY honest about this stuff.) He groused about eBay prices and I explained that part of my offer was based on closed auctions on eBay. Finally he said he would think about it and I knew I would never hear from him again.

This is to be expected. When I placed the ad I had hoped for the best but planned for the worst.

Another call came from a woman whose son had died but who still had the set he had played with as a child. After talking we set a time for me to come buy.

Within 20 minutes she called me back. From the sound in her voice she was very upset and about to cry. Turns out her worthless brother had stolen the train set from her basement. She was angry with him, upset about the loss of her son's train set and sorry for wasting my time. I told her it was ok and to simply keep me in mind.

People are pretty emotionally attached to model trains. They're almost always associated with Christmas as that's when most kids got them. Parents and children all have some pretty intensive memories and I try to be pretty respectful of that. I have a lot of the same memories.

Friday night I got a call and the fellow had a set and an odd engine. He gave me the numbers of everything he had and before going over I did some research. By the time I got to his house I was pretty educated and felt good going in.

Most of what he had was junk: Beat to death and a bit rusty to boot. He had a couple of nice cars that offset the worst offenders but overall it was $100 at best. In addition he had the engine he had as a child and a tender. The engine was on the lower side of "good" and the tender, not the original that came with the engine, was in similar shape.

In the end I offered him a package price for everything. He's in a cash crunch for a new computer and I tried to be fair to help him out. In the end he said he would think about it, but when I left I knew he was another person I wouldn't hear from. He wasn't about to sell his first toy train and the rest, cobbled together from eBay here and there, would go at a loss to what he had paid for it. (He admitted being caught up in trying to win some things.)

I'm hoping that before the ad quits running something good will come out of it: A nice freight set I can clean up. A single engine that I can strip down and rebuild from the wheels up. A lonesome caboose that needs a good home. We'll see.

Posted by Jim at October 16, 2005 08:43 PM


Post a comment

Remember Me?