The common post on a Marx transformer

When you want to phase transformers, it’s good to know the common (in Lionel terms) or base (in American Flyer terms) post. It’s a shame that Marx didn’t label which of its posts was common. So here’s how to find the common post on a Marx transformer.

It’s a good thing this is fairly easy to figure out, because Marx transformers are dirt cheap. I bought one for exactly one dollar at the last train show I attended, and the vendor wanted to sell me a box full of them for $5.

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How to tell if a Lionel tender has a whistle

One of the things Lionel did that set its electric trains apart from its competitors was integrating a whistle in the tender that was included with its steam locomotives. Because of the added play value and charm, the whistling tender is a sought-after feature, even in this era when electronic sounds are so inexpensive that even dollar store toys sometimes have them.

Here’s how to quickly tell if a Lionel tender has a whistle.

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Greenberg Marx errors: The windup 490

I’ve written before about the Greenberg Pocket Price Guide for Marx, and I frequently recommend it, especially to newcomers, because it’s very easy to end up spending $30 on a car that’s only worth $10. I know when starting out we prefer to spend our train money on trains, but by saving you from overpaying, the guide quickly pays for itself.

The guide isn’t perfect, though. One of the items it omits is the clockwork 490 steam locomotive. Read more

Need a load for your Marx plastic flatcar? Look to Tonka.

In the late 1950s, Marx sold a flatcar, labeled #5545 and lettered for the CB&Q (Chicago, Burlington & Quincy), with a large black clip in the middle. Marx shipped it with a pair of miniature trailers. These frequently got separated from the flatcar, so frequently you’ll find the car, sans vehicles, in the cheapie boxes at train stores and under the tables at train shows. The trailers are worth considerably more than the flatcar alone.

But there are some common, relatively inexpensive toys that work well on these common plastic freight cars.

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How to use price guides

Pricing collectibles is more art than science, and most guides have some errors in them, so large (or at least very vocal) numbers of people mistrust them.

I still use them, however. Knowing how they’re produced–or would be produced, in a perfect world with perfect data–helps someone to use them to maximum effect. The principles are the same for any guide, whether you’re talking trains or video games or baseball cards or any other collectible. Read more

The greatest European tinplate train collection in the United States is on display

Two years ago, Jerry Greene made a splash when he attempted to put his huge, one-of-a-kind train collection up for auction. He had quietly amassed 35,000 train items, and only a handful of people knew about it.

Transporting the collection to Sotheby’s let that cat out of the bag. It became the subject of a short feature in the October 2012 issue of Classic Toy Trains, and relentless speculation on all of the major online toy train forums.

The collection, now known as the “Jerni collection,” didn’t sell–it was a one-buyer-take-all affair–so now portions of it are on display at the New York Historical Society. Read more

An easy DIY Lionel-compatible high-side gondola

My preschool-aged boys and I made train cars this weekend. Yes, I introduced my boys to the idea of making train cars from scratch–scratchbuilding.

They aren’t finescale models by any stretch. But the project was cheap–no more than $30 for the pair of cars, total–and it was fun.

Here’s how we made these simple train cars, so you can too. Read more

The Skyline mystery solved

In the 1940s and 1950s, Skyline of Philadelphia manufactured and marketed a line of toy train-oriented building kits. Actually, there were two lines: One was a line of building kits made of cardstock and wood, and one was a smaller line of lithographed tin buildings, similar to the inexpensive toys made by the likes of Louis Marx, Wyandotte, and countless others in the days before ubiquitous plastics.

I’ve long suspected the two product lines came from the same company, but had no evidence to prove it. Until now: Ed “Ice” Berg produced scans of a Skyline catalog containing both paper/wood and tin litho buildings, side by side.

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The difference between local and traveling train shows

I took my family to a train show–The Great Train Expo–this past weekend. I’ve been going to shows for about 8 years or so, and while we had fun, I ended up not spending any of the money I brought with me. At least not on myself. I think I have an idea why. There’s a difference between local and traveling train shows.
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