I received my copy of the new 9th edition of the Greenberg Pocket Price Guide for Marx trains this past weekend. Marx used to print on its packages, “One of the many Marx toys. Have you all of them?” This book won’t completely answer that question, but at the very least, it gives you a start, and helps you avoid paying too much for the ones you don’t have yet.
Good news for Marx train enthusiasts
Kalmbach has decided, after more than a decade, to release a new Greenberg Pocket Price Guide for Marx trains (here’s my review). Although the O’Brien Collecting Toy Trains guides have a section on Marx, the Greenberg guides have always been more complete and more accurate. The most recent O’Brien guide from 2006 completely omitted Marx’s 3/16 line, a difficult flaw to overlook. That’s why the out-of-print Greenberg book from 2001 remained the standard for all these years and in recent years used copies commanded prices of $100 and more.
Lionel Fastrack review
How Lionel Fastrack compares to traditional tubular track and competing O gauge track is a common question. I own both, so I can probably make a comparison. Here is my Lionel Fastrack review.
For the most part, it’s not bad. But it’s not perfect. For some people, the drawbacks are easy enough to overlook. For others, they could be showstoppers. You’ll have to decide for yourself.
How to fix old Marx locomotives
I’ve been noticing that a post I made several years ago about my experiments fixing a Marx 490 train locomotive has been getting a disconcerting number of hits. Disconcerting, because I repeated some advice on how to fix old Marx locomotives from another web site that I later found, by experience, wasn’t all that good.
Here’s how I go about doing simple repairs on Marx trains today, now that I’ve done a few.
Cars for trains
Vehicles are a frequent topic of discussion on the various O and S gauge train forms. At times these discussions can get rather heated.
Since use on train layouts is rarely the objective of the companies making various diecast vehicles, there’s no true right answer to what one should or shouldn’t use. This is my personal philosophy. Take it for what it’s worth.
I run prewar and postwar Lionel and Marx trains on my layout, primarily. Most of them are undersize O27; I only have a handful of American Flyer cars that might perhaps approach proper 1:48 O scale.
Prior to the early 1970s, Lionel paid no particular attention to scale. Therefore I see little need to break out the scale ruler and be anal retentive about what vehicles will and won’t go on my layout. A Lionel 6014 Baby Ruth boxcar is very close to 1:64 scale, although it’s riding on trucks that are very close to 1:48. The famous Lionel 6464 boxcars are about 1:55 scale. Marx had a whole line of 1:64 scale O gauge trains; its cheaper plastic cars are also very close to 1:64. Some of its “deluxe” cars were closer to 1:60–somewhere in between the Lionel 6014 and 6464 in size. Maybe making them bigger than the 6014 for about the same price made them seem to be a better value for the money.
And for that matter, while A.C. Gilbert’s American Flyer division paid more attention to scale, Gilbert wasn’t shy about shipping off-scale stuff with the American Flyer name on it either. The trains themselves were pretty close to scale, but many of the accessories and buildings were too large or too small.
Needless to say, it doesn’t bother me then that a Matchbox VW Beetle is 1:55 scale but a Matchbox model of a larger vehicle, say a ’57 Chevy, will be 1:64 or perhaps even a bit smaller. If it’s the right era, I’ll use it.
Besides, park any of them outside a Plasticville house, and it’s clear to anyone that it’ll fit inside that garage. Therefore, it will look believable.
I do pay attention to era. Even a casual passer-by can tell the difference between cars from various decades. And I do think era sets the tone of a layout, so I draw my line at 1949. Postwar fans have it easier, as there are tons and tons of great vehicles from the 1950s and 1960s available. Since I stick to pre-1950, generally speaking I can only count on each manufacturer of Hot Wheels and Matchbox type cars offering one or two vehicles per year that I can use. If I drew the line later, I could probably find a couple dozen cars per year to buy.
Many cars have to be modified to suit my purposes, since I want everyday city street scenes, not a hot rod convention. In the case of the Hot Wheels ’32 Ford Delivery sedan I picked up at Kmart tonight (along with baby formula and a cordless phone–you gotta love it), the car is pretty tame. No jacked up wheels, no overly funky colors. It does have flames. Remove the flames with some nail polish remover or purple cleaner on a cotton swab, and I can probably pass it off as stock to a casual observer. Other times, it’s necessary to drill out the rivets on the bottom, swap out the wheels for more conservative ones, and maybe even strip and repaint the vehicle.
According to a car buff on an S gauge board I read frequently, prior to WWII cars tended to be painted dark shades of green, brown, blue, red, and black. Fenders might be a different shade of the body color. After WWII, the colors lightened up and two-tone paint jobs became popular.
The need to swap wheels means sometimes you have to buy cars just to get their wheels. So I’ll look for cheap vehicles with conservative-looking wheels to use as donors. This adds cost, but consider some people pay $20 and up for each vehicle on their layout. Compared to that, it’s still cheap.
Some people get irritated at having to modify vehicles before using them on the layout. It doesn’t bother me all that much. I think it’s part of the fun, and the result is that I have vehicles that don’t look like anyone else’s.
How eBay is ruining itself
A thread on one of the train forums I frequent mentioned today that the number of listings for Marx trains on eBay is down about 50% over what it was a year or so ago. Not only that, the listings are by and large the common, less interesting stuff.
Meanwhile, a debate rages on another forum I read sometimes, frequented by eBay sellers. On one side are the eBay apologists, saying they’ll just change as eBay changes. On the other side, people struggling to make a profit in the ever-changing environment are finding other venues to sell their wares and finding themselves a lot happier.The problem is that eBay is trying to create a sterile, retail experience. The big shareholders and the executives seem to think that’s what the consumer wants.
Another seller’s theory is that the people who sell brand new merchandise in huge quantities are less troublesome, causing fewer headaches for eBay and for the customers.
The eBay business books I’ve read talk a lot about people who drop-ship pool tables and other merchandise in large quantities, never touching any of it, and supposedly becoming millionaires by doing it.
But the people who put eBay on the map are the people like the ones I see every Saturday morning. They study classified ads the way a devout monk would study Scripture, looking for clues and carefully plotting out their routes. They get up before dawn and drive to their carefully chosen site. Their prey: The estate sale. They line up in the driveway hours before the sale opens, like bargain hunters the day after Thanksgiving. When the sale finally opens, shoppers come in, 10, 20, or 50 at a time, depending on the size of the house, while those who arrived later wait their turn. Any time someone leaves, those in the driveway gawk, trying to see what he or she purchased.
It doesn’t matter what item you can name, I know someone who goes out every Saturday looking for it. Some of these people are collectors, but some of them hawk their finds on eBay. They buy on Saturday and Sunday, then they spend hours the following week figuring out what exactly they have, carefully photographing and describing each item, then listing it, hoping to attract bidders.
The typical eBay addict doesn’t go there to buy a pool table, or the kind of things they sell at a suburban mall. Certainly there are people who buy those sorts of things on eBay. But those tend to be occasional shoppers. The biggest eBay addicts are the fanatics–the serious collectors who spend hours every day scouring new eBay listings, looking for items they don’t have in their collections.
And guess what? These collectors don’t buy from drop-shippers who duplicate the retail experience. The drop-shippers can’t get those kinds of collectibles. It’s the people who get up at 5 a.m. each Saturday to be first in line to prowl around in someone’s attic or basement who get that stuff.
The problem is that the people who do get that stuff have a difficult time becoming (and remaining) Powersellers. A Powerseller has to sell 100 items or $1,000 worth of inventory per month. If I wanted to sell vintage trains on eBay, there’s no way I could locate 1,200 items each year. Not in St. Louis. The $1,000 mark wouldn’t be much easier to hit.
So eBay is driving away that kind of seller. And as a result, eBay is going to lose that type of buyer as well.
I know for a fact there are plenty of collectors in Europe and elsewhere who are eager to take advantage of the low value of the dollar and buy a bunch of collectible American trains at bargain prices due to the exchange rate. Unfortunately the timing is horrible. The new eBay policies have driven away a lot of the people who sell the best items. So the foreigners with money to spend end up spending a lot less than they would like. Sure, they’ll buy the $10 items that are listed, but they’d really rather buy the $100 and $1,000 items that were listed last year but are conspicuously absent today.
Ten years ago, eBay was flying high. They weren’t the first online auction, but they were the most successful, precisely because they allowed ordinary people to sell ordinary (and extraordinary) things. I bought a number of things from online auctions in the mid 1990s, including the Lexmark 4039 laser printer I still use every day. I don’t remember now the name of the auction house where I bought it. I do know it went out of business shortly after eBay became widely known.
Lots of other companies wanted in on the action. Amazon, Yahoo, and others launched auction sites that looked and acted a lot like eBay. But they never went anywhere. The best sellers put their best stuff on eBay. The wannabes tended to just have second-rate stuff sold by second-rate sellers. Case point: I once tried to buy a lot of vintage train magazines from an Amazon auction. I won, paid my money, and waited. And waited. A week later I e-mailed the seller. No response. Finally after another week he responded, saying he’d been having computer trouble and asking if I still wanted the magazines. Well, since he offered me the refund, I took it. I spent the money on eBay instead.
Yahoo auctions are gone, closed about a year ago. If Amazon’s auctions are still open, they’re sure doing a good job of hiding them.
If another company wants to get a piece of eBay’s business, the time is right. There are lots of refugee eBay sellers looking for someplace a little cheaper, with a little more stable set of rules where they can sell. And if a large enough group of them take up shop somewhere, there are plenty of buyers more than willing to follow them there.
It may not happen this year. But I do think it’s only a matter of time.
An insider’s view of the Atari ST
I’m sure pretty much everyone who cares has already seen this on Slashdot or wherever, but I found this blog entry from Landon Dyer, one of the designers of the Atari ST, fascinating.
My lawnmower adventures
I’ve had the same lawnmower for the last 4 years or so. Maybe three. I lose count. It’s a piece of junk–worth slightly more, perhaps, than what I paid for it (nothing) but it didn’t work right when I got it, and this mowing season it just fell apart. And besides falling apart–the wheels really were coming off, and I couldn’t find anyplace that sold new ones that fit–it was getting to be impossible to start.
My wife found another one at a yard sale for $25. It didn’t start either, but at least it was in good physical condition and it was only a year old.
Cheap buildings for a train layout
I’ve read about The New Pretty Village, published in book form by Dover Publications in 1980, as a source of buildings for a train layout, particularly a layout featuring tin litho Marx or prewar trains. Now I’ve got one in my hot little hands. I found some pictures of a reproduction online, and Marx expert Walt Hiteshew’s layout has used them as well.
Whatever happened to… online politeness?
Very early in my BBSing days (1989 or so), I was talking to the operator of one of the first BBSs I called. He said he instantly bans anyone who engages in "flame wars."
I didn’t know what a flame war was, though I found out pretty fast. And they’re just as much a problem today as they were back then. Maybe more, since people can talk any time and they don’t have to wait for the BBS line to get un-busy.Gatermann and I were talking about how rude people can be online. It’s frustrating to me–probably the most frustrating thing about the ‘net. But that human contact is the best thing about the ‘net, so of course I always come back, no matter how torqued off I get.
But I think that’s the problem: Human contact. The computer dehumanizes it.
I first noticed myself dehumanizing when I was meeting girls on eharmony.com two summers ago. The girls outnumber the guys there, so if you’re a guy, unless you’ve really narrowed your focus, you’re going to get a lot of matches. It felt kind of like playing Alter Ego or another early game that tried to simulate human contact. I’d say something and try to see what they sent back. And it was at the point that I got to see one girl’s picture that it suddenly dawned on me that there was a human being sitting on the other side of that keyboard and monitor.
I don’t think some people grasp the concept of talking through a machine versus talking to a machine.
Of course, some people may just hide behind it. They can’t see the look of hurt on the other person’s face, and the other person can’t reach across the table and smack them when they have it coming, so they act like trolls and get away with it. Maybe they even relish it.
The most blatant example I’ve seen is a guy who swoops in on most of the train boards once a month or so. He’s a millionaire in Washington, D.C. (he’s a trash-hauling magnate, from what I understand), and supposedly has a train collection and layout that must be seen to believe. I’m told that in person he’s a great guy, and supposedly just about anyone can come into his house and see his layout just by asking.
But online, he’s a monster. He swoops in, says rude things, watches the volcano erupt as the people who disagree with him start screaming, and then the people who agree with him start screaming, and mostly just sits back and enjoys watching people bicker and throw temper tantrums.
That’s my worst experience, mostly because I stay out of chat rooms, except for a Yahoo chat room that meets on Saturday nights and talks about repairing Marx trains. The start of the whole conversation was Gatermann telling me about someone he knows signing onto a chat room. She got to talking to some guy she didn’t know from Adam, and almost immediately demanded to see pictures. And I’m not talking the kind of pictures you show to your mother.
Maybe some people enjoy being Dr. Jeckyl in person and Mr. Hyde as soon as they sign on to the Internet. Maybe some just can’t get the idea in their head that they’re talking to a human being, since they’re not hearing a human voice and they’re not seeing facial expressions.
Anymore, I try not to say anything online that I wouldn’t say in person to someone I expect to see again. And the funny thing is, that actually keeps me out of trouble most of the time.
To take care of the rest of the time, there are certain things that I just try to avoid talking about.