I was talking to a friend the other day about trains and especially about rust. He was very concerned about being able to get the trains out next year and enjoy them without having to clean or refurbish them again. Here’s the best way to store Lionel trains.
The best way to store Lionel trains is in the living space of your home. Try to avoid storing them in a garage or attic if you can. A basement is OK if it’s not too damp. The box they came in is ideal, but there are acceptable substitutes. You also need to be careful how you wrap them.
Wrapping Lionel trains safely
Many people wrap their trains in bubble wrap or newspaper for protection. While this is OK for short term protection, like when shipping, it’s not ideal in the long term. In as little as a year, the bubbles on the bubble wrap can leave a permanent impression in the paint on the train. That’s exactly the opposite of what you want.
Likewise, newspaper can damage the paint. Newsprint is very cheap paper, and as such tends to be acidic. Over time, the acid in that paper can damage the paint. The key word is can. I know we find boxes of trains all the time stored in attics wrapped in newspaper without any problems. But if they’re your heirlooms and you want to be careful to avoid problems, don’t use newspaper.
Archivists use Tyvek sheets to wrap items for protection. Tyvek is a paper-like substance but it’s tougher and softer. Look for unprinted Tyvek sheets to avoid getting ink on your trains.
The best way to store Lionel trains, if you want more protection than just a box provides, is to wrap them in Tyvek, then add a layer or two of bubble wrap for extra cushioning before putting them in a box. You just don’t want the bubbles coming into direct contact with the trains themselves.
Lionel train replacement boxes
If you don’t have the box your train came in anymore, that’s OK. You can buy Lionel train replacement boxes, especially for older vintage trains, but you’ll pay a premium. If you’re not a collector, you probably don’t want to go to that expense. You’re paying a premium for a custom-sized cardboard box, a premium for the custom-sized inserts, and yet another premium for the Lionel name and logo.
Then again, if you want to display your nicely boxed trains when they aren’t in use, it’s nice to have this option.
Toy train box substitutes
While some people store them in plastic containers, I prefer to store them in boxes where they can breathe a little. Otherwise you run the risk of moisture collecting inside the box.
My favorite toy train box substitute is a trading card box designed to hold a few hundred standard 2 ½ x 3 ½-inch cards. They come in a lot of different lengths and aren’t very expensive. While the days of a sports card shop at every street corner are long past us, many comic book stores and other hobby shops carry these boxes.
If you want something free, one of the most popular storage boxes of all time seems to be a liquor box. The boxes tend to be pretty tough and have dividers to hold bottles in place and protect them. You may find usable boxes sitting out back or in their dumpster. Or if you go inside and ask for one politely, they’ll probably give you one. It’s easier to give one to you than it is to break it down and toss it in the recycling.
After you wrap your trains and place them in your box or boxes, toss in a packet of silica gel. Any moisture that gets in is more likely to go into the cardboard than the train, but the silica gel is cheap insurance.
Each year before you pack your trains back up, dry out the silica gel packets for about 90 minutes at 245 degrees Fahrenheit in your oven.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.